Boks of ’95 v now: Who’s better?

2015-06-24 12:06

Cape Town - It’s a difficult and pretty subjective exercise, so don’t hang me for it.

You aren’t always comparing apples with apples, and rugby has changed much more than some may think in 20 years.

But we thought it might be fun anyway, on the anniversary of the immortal Springbok World Cup success of 1995, to engineer a comparison between the possible Bok personnel to be employed on key occasions later this year and Francois Pienaar’s heroic starting XV at Ellis Park.

Here we go ...

15. Andre Joubert v Willie le Roux

Both men have that appealing “make things happen” factor from the last line of defence. But the ’95 fullback, who played the final with a broken hand, was a particularly composed, complete player and less error-prone than the risk-taking (though let’s not discourage that!) incumbent.

My choice: Joubert

14. James Small v JP Pietersen

I might have been swayed toward the long-striding Pietersen a few years ago. But he seems to have lost some of that defence-splitting X-factor on attack, and let’s never forget the tenacious job Small did of marking a certain Jonah Lomu at Ellis Park.

My choice: Small

13. Japie Mulder v Jean de Villiers

The former had a productive alliance with then-Transvaal team-mate Hennie le Roux, and possessed strong leg-drive at outside centre. But for his years of yeoman service and overall midfield nous, the 2015 (touch wood) Bok skipper is hard to overlook.

My choice: De Villiers

12. Hennie le Roux v Damian de Allende

De Allende has been a very rare shining light among SA backs in Super Rugby this year, and may well command inside centre for the Boks over the next few months. But he remains raw internationally, so the clever, multi-skilled Le Roux should crack the nod, yes?

My choice: Le Roux

11. Chester Williams v Bryan Habana

Two iconic wings, as well as distinguished poster figures for post-apartheid transformation. But you’d have to think Habana, at his rocket-like peak (when he would have been a World XV shoe-in), is the slightly superior pick.

My choice: Habana

10. Joel Stransky v Handre Pollard

The still-developing Pollard may well go on to become one of the Boks’ very best at flyhalf. But there are understandably still some rough edges, and partly on emotional grounds I suspect many would lean toward the dropped-goal darling of ’95!

My choice: Stransky

9. Joost van der Westhuizen v Fourie du Preez

Eish! We are talking two genuinely world-renowned scrumhalves here. They are slightly different beats in playing style, with Joost the combative - though also elusive - gladiator and ‘FDP’ renowned for his game-bossing and great awareness.

My choice: Dead heat

8. Mark Andrews v Duane Vermeulen

An unfair comparison, of course. Standout lock Andrews, to his credit, agreed to temporary deployment as eighthman for the crucial last two games of RWC ’95, and fared decently enough. But Vermeulen is a modern specialist, near-legend of the berth.

My choice: Vermeulen

7. Ruben Kruger v Schalk Burger

The sadly deceased Kruger was an unassuming battler of repute, but versatile Burger (capable of occupying all three loosie spots) is a former IRB World Player of the Year and just does not know how to switch off that engine ... 

My choice: Burger

6. Francois Pienaar v Francois Louw

Phew, tough one, actually. Bath-based “Flo” has become the Boks’ very efficient main fetcher in recent seasons. But heart could well over-rule head for a few pundits in this duel, and Pienaar’s revered leadership 20 years ago played a big, big role on that giddy day!

My choice: Pienaar

5. Hannes Strydom v Victor Matfield

Big Hannes was an ever-professional, no-fuss second rower for the Boks or Transvaal. But Matfield is also a World Cup winner (12 years onward from Strydom) and arguably the lineout king of all rugby history.

My choice: Matfield

4. Kobus Wiese v Eben Etzebeth

Hmm, two enforcers of the No 4 jersey, even if in significantly differing eras. Wiese had a scarily hefty build and must have been a scrummager of repute. The emerging Etzebeth, meanwhile, is not yet the finished article for SA but has fine athletic skills to accompany his grunt.

My choice: Dead heat

3. Balie Swart v Jannie du Plessis

Another conundrum: in truth, the Boks have probably boasted tightheads of deeper gravitas than either man. But they’ve been in right places at right times for respective RWC glory and hats off to them for that. Big Jannie has been overworked for a couple of years and his spot this year is under threat from someone like Frans Malherbe.

My choice: Swart

2. Chris Rossouw v Bismarck du Plessis

The first-named player deputised with aplomb at hooker in RWC 1995 after James Dalton’s tourney-ending disciplinary episode. But Du Plessis is a far more prolifically-capped man at Test level, and at times branded the planet’s finest in the No 2 shirt. Also a turnover-generator par excellence.   

My choice: Du Plessis

1. Os du Randt v Tendai Mtawarira

“Beast” has had some glorious moments at loosehead for the Boks, including that famous dismantling of Phil Vickery on the Lions’ 2009 tour, but Du Randt is a true legend, staggeringly mobile for a huge man, and only South African RWC dual winner!

My choice: Du Randt

Summary: My survey sees seven of the class of ’95 earning positional preference, compared to six from the current brigade ... with two dead heats. So the RWC heroes of 20 years ago steal the Sport24 spoils.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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