20 August 2007
While the Springboks will be representing South Africa at the Rugby World Cup there will be many other players with South African connections, turning out for other countries, in France in September.
Not surprisingly, minnows Namibia, SA’s neighbour, is most heavily influenced by South Africa, but even some of the powerhouses of world rugby contain some SA influence.
Cape Town-born Stuart Abbott, who enjoyed World Cup success with defending champions England in 2003, is one of three centres in the 30-man squad. He qualified to play for his adopted country because his mother is English.
A product of Diocesan College, widely known as Bishops, he studied economics at Stellenbosch University. Later, he played rugby for Northern Free State, Western Province, the Stormers, and SA under-23.
Alongside Abbott, veteran Mike Catt, with 71 caps to his name, has been chosen as one of three flyhalves. Like Abbott, Catt was part of England’s World Cup winning squad, and qualified to play for the team because he has an English mother.
Catt was born in Port Elizabeth and attended Grey High School, which is recognised as being amongst the finest schools’ sporting nurseries in South Africa. He earned provincial under-21 honours for Eastern Province, but was struggling to crack the senior provincial side when he went on holiday to England.
While there, he took part in some training sessions with Bath and suddenly he had a new home, turning out for the English club. It wasn’t long before he progressed from club rugby to international rugby.
In the pack, former Kearsney College schoolboy Matt Stevens, who respresented South Africa at junior level, will serve as cover at both loosehead and tighthead prop.
Like Stuart Abbott, Wallabies’ lock Daniel Vickerman attended school at Bishops in Cape Town.
He represented South Africa at the Sanzar/UAR under-21 Championships in Argentina in 1999, playing in a team captained by SA’s World Cup captain John Smit.
South Africa won the tournament, which also included New Zealand, Ireland, Argentina, England, Australia, and Wales.
The New Zealand team they beat in the final included, among others, Doug Howlett, Aaron Mauger, Nathan Mauger, Rico Gear, Chris Jack, Andrew Hore, and Carl Hayman. Some of the South Africans included Jaco van der Westhuysen, Lawrence Sephaka, Gerrie Britz, Wylie Human, Wayne Julies, Frikkie Welsh, and Johan Roets.
Eric Sauls coached the South African side while the assistant coach was Jake White, the current Springbok coach.
Vickerman qualified to play for the Wallabies by serving a qualification period after moving Down Under. He played for Australia under-21 and Australia A before making his debut for the Wallabies against France in 2002. He has since gone on to play nearly 50 tests for his adopted country.
Although New Zealand’s All Blacks do not have a South African-born player in their World Cup squad, there is a South African connection. Greg Somerville attended Dale College in King Williams Town as an exchange student in 1995.
A key member of the Crusaders and the All Blacks, he has represented New Zealand in 55 tests.
The World Cup hosts, France, have included Pieter de Villiers in their line-up. A 63-test veteran, he attended Stellenbosch University for whom he turned out at tighthead prop.
Although he is a French international, De Villiers carries both French and South African passports.
Durban-born Roland de Marigny will turn out for Italy at the World Cup. A product of Westville Boys High, he played Super 12 rugby for the Sharks and the Bulls.
In 2000/01 he moved to Italy to play for Overmach Parma. After spending more than five years playing in the Italian league he qualified to play for Italy and made his debut in the 2004 Six Nations Championship against England.
He currently plays his club rugby for Cammi Calvisano.
Ulster lock Carlo Del Fava was also selected for Italy, but injured a knee in training camp, which has forced him out of the World Cup.
He was born in Umtata, but his family moved to Durban while he was young. He attended Queens College and played rugby for the Natal Sharks.
Del Fava qualified to play for Italy because of his Italian father and made his debut in the 2004 Six Nations Championship against Wales in Cardiff.
The USA, who will face the Springboks in the World Cup on 30 September in Montpellier, has four players with South African connections.
Centre Phillip Eloff was born in Thabazimbi and is nicknamed “Thabu” by his teammates. His childhood rugby hero was the legendary Springbok centre Danie Gerber.
He’ll be playing in his second World Cup, having turned out for the Eagles four years ago in Australia. Eloff was a try scorer in the USA’s 39-26 win over Japan, which saw the Americans snap a string of 10 losses in succession at the World Cup.
Chad Erskine was born in Pietermaritzburg and matriculated from Maritzburg College in 1998. A scrumhalf, he represented South Africa at under-21 level and played polo for SA at schoolboy level.
Erskine made his US Eagles debut in August 2006 against Canada.
Like Erskine, Owen Lentz, who was born in King Williams Town, also played for South Africa at under-21 level. Although he is a hooker, Eagles’ coach Peter Thorburn likes Lentz’s versatility so much that he has said he may use the player at flank too.
Lentz played Currie Cup rugby for Border and Eastern Province from 1999 to 2001 and for SA under-21 in 2001.
And just to show that front rowers are not all macho men with rough edges, Lentz is an art teacher.
Although Francois Viljoen was born in Oakland, California, he grew up in South Africa. He played under-13 rugby for Natal and for the Blue Bulls under-21 team.
Viljoen attended Pretoria University, a rugby powerhouse, and, like Phillip Eloff, says Danie Gerber was his childhood rugby hero. The player he respected the most was Andre Joubert, the Springbok World Cup winning fullback, who played in the 1995 final with a broken hand.
Viljoen is a Bulls’ Super 14 supporter, so this season’s competition must have brought him a lot of pleasure as the Bulls became the first South African winners of the southern hemisphere showpiece. Not surprisingly, he lists Loftus Versfeld as his favourite ground.
Just north of the USA, Canada has named two players with South African connections in its World Cup squad. Nick Trenkel was born in Randburg, but moved north as a youngster.
A centre, he played for British Columbia at under-16, under-17, and under-18 levels, captaining the under-18 team to the national title in 2004.
In 2006, he returned to South Africa to attend the Rugby Performance Academy in Cape Town.
DTH van der Merwe, a versatile backline player, who covers a number of positions, is also South African-born.
He played for Boland at under-16 level before his family emigrated in 2003, moving to Regina. He then turned out for Saskatchewan at under-18 and under-21 levels. Later, in 2005, he moved to Victoria, British Columbia.
That leaves Namibia’s team, which was recently humbled 105-13 by the Springboks. There are plenty of Welwitschias’ players who have spent most of their rugby-playing lives in South Africa.
Namibian captain Kees Lensing played for his country in the 2003 World Cup. He has played Super 14 rugby for the Bulls and the Sharks, and also had a stint with Leeds in the UK.
Although he has played little for the Sharks this year, the chances are that he would have played for the Springboks in years gone by had he not turned out for Namibia.
Loose forward Jacques Burger, a product of Windhoek High School, plays for Griquas. He has represented his country at Craven Week and under-19 level, as well as playing for Free State under-19.
Centre Piet van Zyl and prop Jane du Toit are with the Boland Cavaliers, eighthman Jacques Niewenhuis is with the Falcons, while Marius Visser and Hugo Horn play for the Border Bulldogs.
Sharks’ hooker Skipper Badenhorst was also chosen for the World Cup, but he chose to retire from the international game, citing family commitments.
Tinus du Plessis and Nico Esterhuyse play club rugby for Stellenbosch University, Johannes Redelinghuys is with Kimberley Tech, the same club Jacques Burger belongs to, and Lu-Wayne Botes plays for Johannesburg University.
So, there are 27 players, apart from the Springboks, with South African connections who will be in action at the World Cup.
Some are distant connections, such as Greg Somerville and Nick Trenkel, while others, like many of the Namibians, play their rugby in South Africa.
Two of the 27, Carlo Del Fava and Skipper Badenhorst, were selected to play in the World Cup but won’t be traveling to France due to injury and retirement respectively.