The fact that it takes a full 15 players to fill up a rugby side – 23 if you count the whole match-day squad – means there are bound to be players whose best work flies under the radar.
Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks are no different on the eve of the ninth Rugby World Cup, which begins in Japan on Friday.
For every match-winning Handré Pollard penalty, RG Snyman offload or Cheslin Kolbe goose-step dominating the headlines, there’s an unacknowledged team-mate doing all the dirty work just so they can hog the spotlight.
Here are five of the Boks’ unsung heroes going into the World Cup:
Franco Mostert (lock)
For a man whose nickname is “Sous” (sauce), it is ironic how much of the unseen work Mostert has dedicated himself to in the Bok team.
In a team with the likes of Snyman, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, many would have expected Mostert to be at the back end of the lock queue.
Yet there he is in the starting line-up, buried under a pile of bodies after one of his many tackles or moving said bodies after someone else has made the tackles, all this done at a work rate that often sees Mostert make the acquaintance of each blade of grass on the park.
Damian de Allende (inside centre)
There hasn’t been a more maligned Springbok player since Louis Koen and Braam van Straaten were chosen for Harry Viljoen’s 2001 end-of-year tour. If I were to have a stab at why the Stormers man gets such bad press, it would be that he hasn’t developed into the explosive and skilful player he threatened to be on debut.
We were told De Allende was a great passer of the ball, but we’ve barely seen more than a handful of passes in the seven years since he made his first class debut.
But the catch is that De Allende, with his desire to carry time and again and get off the floor to make one more tackle, is ideal for the game the Boks want to play.
Lukhanyo Am (outside centre)
The Lukhanyo Am-Jesse Kriel debate is one that refuses to die down on social media platforms. Depending on who you speak to, the muscular Kriel is better because he scores more tries, and Am is a Conrad Smith waiting to happen.
The simple truth is that Kriel is the better athlete and Am is the better rugby player.
Consequently, Am’s status as the starting outside centre comes in for a lot of questioning.
On one level, it should be because he has yet to show the attacking form he has in Super Rugby in tests.
But what most people are missing in the meantime is the incredible work he does to kill threats before we can even see them coming in defence.
Francois Louw (replacement loose forward)
This time last year, “Flouw” looked every bit a flou loosie who, at 33, seemed well and truly past it. So when he was roped back into Erasmus’ training squad ahead of the Rugby Championship, the rest of us imagined he’d be one of the players to wash out when the World Cup squad was named.
However, not only has he earned his place in the squad, he has given Erasmus insurance that he has a calm head to come on in the mayhem of the final quarter of a test.
His ability to cover all three loose forward spots is certainly an added bonus.
Aled Walters (conditioning coach)
One of Erasmus’ biggest changes was bringing the well-travelled Welshman (he has worked in Wales, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland) into his coaching team.
The Boks have always been big, imposing men, but, in recent history, they could be relied on to run out of puff in the final quarter of a game. With the intensity Walters has brought into training, he has presented the Boks’ opponents with the relative nightmare of facing big men who can seemingly run forever.
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