Cape Town - The Springboks broke a 10-year drought on Saturday when they clinched the Rugby Championship (formerly Tri-Nations) against Argentina in Salta to lay claim to being premier southern hemisphere side.
So just how well do they stack up when measured against their Bok counterparts of exactly a decade ago, who landed the 2009 title after pipping New Zealand 32-29 in a Hamilton humdinger?
I opted to pick a combined XV from the respective starting line-ups as a gauge of that, and it ended up being a very tight exercise.
Taking the liberty of making a positional switch or two, and also bearing in mind that two players are “neutralised” by having been part of squad plans in both 2019 and 2009 (the starting loose-head prop each time, Tendai Mtawarira, and versatile Frans Steyn) representation is shaded by the earlier-era Boks.
Of the 13 berths not involving the admirably durable crossover duo, seven are taken by 2009 heroes, and six from Rassie Erasmus’s fast-emerging 2019 crew.
In fairness, bear in mind that the team of 10 years ago were on the crest of a proven wave, many of them coming off the World Cup success of 2007 - under John Smit, who also captains my selection - and also a British and Irish Lions series triumph just ahead of the Tri-Nations.
Here’s the line-up:
No 15: Willie le Roux (2019) v Frans Steyn (2009)
Le Roux’s a renowned sorcerer, but the Steyn of the time (currently being used as an impact sub in midfield) was a powerful presence both physically and with that bombing boot in the last line of defence; the latter attribute had helped a lot in the Hamilton title-clincher.
No 14: Cheslin Kolbe (2019) v Odwa Ndungane (2009)
Ndungane was a whole-hearted “Mr Reliable” for SA. But he wasn’t blessed with special pace or X-factor and on those grounds the plucky little dynamo who is Kolbe (outstanding against both NZ and Argentina) edges it.
No 13: Lukhanyo Am (2019) v Jaque Fourie (2009)
Reasonably straightforward: Am is gradually finding his feet for the Boks, but Fourie is a legendary figure of the outside centre channel with his organisational skills, defensive acumen and amazing strength on his feet.
No 12: Damian de Allende (2019) v Jean de Villiers (2009)
Again, fairly clear-cut despite De Allende’s strong showing against the Pumas. De Villiers is another Bok great with his 109-cap career and cutting edge (renowned opportunism, too) in his berth.
Choice: De Villiers
No 11: Makazole Mapimpi (2019) v Bryan Habana (2009)
The 2019 incumbent, while a true flier, isn’t yet established in his spot. Habana is a legend of left-wing play, 2007 World Rugby Player of the Year and RWC winner, plus second most-capped Bok.
No 10: Handre Pollard (2019) v Morne Steyn (2009)
Pollard has everything Steyn boasted as a Springbok … only more. His directness and bodily strength make him doubly dangerous, and he was a massive factor in landing the recent Rugby Champs silverware.
No 9: Faf de Klerk (2019) v Fourie du Preez (2009)
De Klerk’s always a tiger for the national cause, but Du Preez was a globally-revered genius of scrumhalf play at his peak, with a rare game-reading ability.
Choice: Du Preez
No 8: Duane Vermeulen (2019) v Pierre Spies (2009)
Thrilling athlete though he could be when games opened up sufficiently, Spies wasn’t always too prominent at the coalface, where Vermeulen is simply a tough-as-nails combatant.
No 7: Pieter-Steph du Toit (2019) v Schalk Burger (2009)
Burger played blindside flank in the Hamilton clincher, but I have other plans for him (read on!). So that role goes to the very much on-the-up Du Toit, the former lock adjusting wonderfully to the side of the scrum … and existing SA Rugby Player of the Year.
Choice: Du Toit
No 6: Kwagga Smith (2019) v Heinrich Brussow (2009)
At his vintage best, Schalk Burger (he of such demonic energy) was primarily a “six” for the Boks, so the popular, world-renowned figure eclipses both lower-centre-of-gravity diggers to the jersey here, despite Brussow’s killer showings specifically against the All Blacks during 2009.
Choice: Neither … it’s Burger
No 5: Franco Mostert (2019) v Victor Matfield (2009)
Mostert’s an admirable pro with a ceaseless engine, and especially strong in Salta on Saturday. But Matfield is an all-time lineout legend, and still SA’s most capped player. Nobody, surely, has ever wreaked havoc on opposition throw-ins more?
No 4: Eben Etzebeth (2019) v Bakkies Botha (2009)
Difficult … and no doubt my choice will attract controversy. Both Etzebeth and Botha are ace, front-lock meanies of highest standing. But Etzebeth’s superior athleticism earns him my nod.
No 3: Trevor Nyakane (2019) v John Smit (2009)
The way is clear for the rising tighthead force who is Nyakane (utterly lethal at scrum-time in Salta) to claim the spot, as Smit instead enters the radar for the hooker berth – see below.
No 2: Bongi Mbonambi (2019) v Bismarck du Plessis (2009)
Du Plessis was arguably a nose better than Smit in this berth, which partly explained the latter’s Test spell as a tighthead in order to accommodate both. Mbonambi’s on an upward curve, too. But I want RWC-winning Smit’s calm, revered leadership for my combo, so he fits in here.
Choice: Neither … Smit cracks it
No 1: Tendai Mtawarira (both 2019 and 2009)
Encouragingly, the “Beast” of the current international season is showing all the relish he demonstrated when he first burst onto the Test scene. It is a tribute all of its own that he was wearing No 1 on both the 2019 and 2009 occasions when the Boks scooped the Rugby Champs/Tri-Nations honours.
Choice: Well, obviously ... Mtawarira
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