Cape Town - Ten years ago on Friday, John Smit jubilantly lifted the Webb Ellis Cup as South Africa secured their second RWC in only four tournament attempts, seeing off England 15-6 in the Paris showpiece.
The side that began that final already contained several players acknowledged as among the planet’s very finest, and further major honours would follow for some of them - like the 2009 Tri-Nations, the last time the Springboks have won the southern hemisphere event now branded the Rugby Championship.
It is a sign of how significantly the Springbok star has waned in more recent times that when Sport24 selected a hypothetical combination, drawn berth-by-berth from either the 2007 RWC final XV and the team which ran out for the courageous 25-24 defeat against the All Blacks at Newlands earlier this month, it quickly became a notably lopsided exercise.
By our judgement, only current lock and acting captain Eben Etzebeth and - using a bit of a positional-shift licence for 2007 icon Smit! - fast-rising hooker Malcolm Marx would make the cut from the present crop, even if some other positions saw a fairly tight, tough decision made.
In fairness to the Boks of 2017, teams winning World Cups are always going to be popular and iconic, and hardly come around every day, whilst Allister Coetzee’s charges are also still relatively inexperienced in many slots and only in mid-passage in developmental terms toward the 2019 World Cup.
But here’s that combo, based primarily on reputations at respective times ... any special quibbles?
Fullback: Percy Montgomery v Andries Coetzee
Monty certainly had his off-days in Tests but he was also a highly durable, mercurial character (already boasting a decade of international experience by 2007) who would go on to amass 102 caps and had some fine skills and an authoritative left boot. He was top points-scorer at that World Cup, with 105. Coetzee, another “leftie” in the last line of defence, is very much still finding his feet at the highest level and not yet sure of his Bok berth.
Right wing: JP Pietersen v Dillyn Leyds
Some of tall, powerful-striding Pietersen’s best and most thrilling exploits came in his younger years, and RWC 2007 was very much part of that era; he was 21 at the time and a regular menace to defenders at the tournament. Leyds has only had two starts at No 14 thus far for the Boks, and shown no more than flashes of his Super Rugby X-factor thus far …
Outside centre: Jaque Fourie v Jesse Kriel
As well as being a strong physical presence and tackle-breaker or eluder, Fourie was renowned for his organisational ability and great awareness of situations on defence. Kriel is sturdy and spirited, but a bit more diminutive, and question marks remain over the attacking punch of his present alliance with Jan Serfontein.
Inside centre: Frans Steyn v Jan Serfontein
Luckless Jean de Villiers had flown home injured earlier in RWC 2007, so the substantial versatility of big unit and wunderkind (at the time) Steyn came into vital focus in the closing stages. He could also give the ball an almost uniquely massive thump out of hand or off the tee, something that is not a feature of Serfontein’s game even if he was a willing and forceful ball-carrier against NZ at Newlands recently.
Left wing: Bryan Habana v Courtnall Skosan
No contest, alas ... and not through any special flaw on Skosan’s part, even if he is another of the present Bok back three whose berth is under ongoing scrutiny. Habana was the flying wonder of the World Cup, registering an unrivalled eight tries along the way, and would later go on to be named then-IRB Player of the Year. Um, you can’t beat that.
Flyhalf: Butch James v Elton Jantjies
The Bok backline always had at least a reasonable expectation of getting onto the offensive fast when the combative James (seven years a Test player, come RWC 2007) was in the flyhalf channel; he was more than happy to take the ball flat and bash it up to the advantage line himself, even if his tackling technique would get him into occasional peril with officials. Jantjies is an altogether silkier, more subtle type of pivot, but still hampered at times by inconsistency and error and thus unable to feel completely nailed down.
Scrumhalf: Fourie du Preez v Ross Cronje
Choice: Du Preez
Again here, the consummate vote of confidence for the 2007 man is facilitated more by his own rare genius than by glaring limitations from Bok incumbent Cronje. Du Preez was at his very best in the French-hosted jamboree - a sniper supreme as well as educated and calm tactician, and almost unstoppable in the pre-final meeting with England, when the Boks ran near-riot 36-0.
Eighth-man: Danie Rossouw v Francois Louw
Slightly tricky one, this, as both Rossouw in the 2007 RWC final and Louw against the All Blacks very recently were essentially in “makeshift” capacities at No 8. Louw is particularly more familiar with a flanker’s duty, whereas Big Danie already had greater knowledge of the eighth-man duties and was also a fine blind-sider or lock. He gets the nod, especially because of that famous, critical, try-saving tackle on the touchline on Mark Cueto in the World Cup final!
Blindside flank: Juan Smith v Pieter-Steph du Toit
Just a little belatedly, Du Toit finally put beyond doubt his adaptable credentials to No 7 flank when he put in a thunderous shift there against NZ at Newlands. But he is still more renowned as a lock, whereas just-retired lanky, yeoman servant Smith has had varying periods where he has counted among the best and most industrious blind-side flankers in the world.
Open-side flank: Schalk Burger v Siya Kolisi
Kolisi has made massive strides this season, especially since finding what I believe to be his most suitable terrain at No 6, but you can hardly overlook the virtually prime-of-his-rugby-life Burger as your demonically committed open-sider, can you? Burger was 24 at the time of the RWC triumph, and only three years on from having being named IRB Player of the Year.
No 5 lock: Victor Matfield v Lood de Jager
Beanpole De Jager showed encouraging signs in his start at Newlands recently of recapturing his industrious form of the 2015 World Cup, when he filled in at times for the very Matfield, occasionally troubled by niggles as he went through his fitting international swansong as most-capped Bok of all time. But Big Vic was at just about the pinnacle of his illustrious career in 2007, aged 30, seriously athletic and a globally unrivalled lineout expert, both on own ball and for great nuisance value on the opposition throw.
No 4 lock: Bakkies Botha v Eben Etzebeth
Of course the temptation is huge to pair Matfield with his long-time Bulls and Bok second-row buddy Botha, a genuinely hard man of rugby who was the perfect foil for Matfield. For many years their alliance could not be bettered by any other nation. But Etzebeth, amazingly still only 25, is right up alongside Botha as an “enforcer” and more like a fuel-injection version of the Loftus favourite when it comes to mobility in open play. Yes, he just cuts the nod for No 4.
Tighthead prop: CJ van der Linde v Ruan Dreyer
Choice: Neither … John Smit shifts in here, and leads our combo
For reasons that will become apparent right below, we have chosen to overlook both tightheads. Van der Linde was a brawny, talented front-ranker but his career was so often blighted by injury, whilst Dreyer has proved too much of a penalty liability at the set-piece this year and may be lucky to retain the No 3 jersey on the Euro tour. So the solution? Shift chunky hooker Smit to his “other” front-row position, where he operated in as many as 13 of his 94 starts for SA - including when the Boks beat the British and Irish Lions in a 2009 series.
Hooker: John Smit v Malcolm Marx
See also the category immediately above for further explanation. Smit was often dead-eye accurate with his throw-ins, a key part of a hooker’s armoury, much to the appreciation of his major lineout ace Matfield ... and of course a fine scrummager in the middle. But the barnstorming Marx, 23, is developing in all facets at a rate of knots in 2017, including a near-perfect Test against NZ recently. He is also a lethal carrier and pilferer. With Marx’s 119kg frame alongside him, Smit ought to fare fine as set-piece anchor-man, thank you!
Loosehead prop: Os du Randt v Steven Kitshoff
Choice: Du Randt
The flame-haired Kitshoff finally got a maiden start against the All Blacks at Newlands, and only confirmed his emerging pedigree. But he is another player in this exercise yet to reach his potential best levels in international rugby ... and impeded for these purposes by the presence of the universally revered Du Randt, a behemoth of a prop with surprising mobility and record winner of two World Cups, an admirable 12 years apart. It’s simply got to be Os.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwingJohn Smit lifts the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007 (Getty Images)