07 October 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

RWC 2019: SA-born stars representing other countries

Fresh off Lappies Labuschagne leading hosts Japan to a seismic upset over Ireland in Fukuroi on Saturday, Quintin van Jaarsveld highlights South African-born players representing other countries at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

With South Africa’s embarrassment of rugby riches, not every elite player can be a Springbok. Whether it’s a matter of timing or prospects slipping through the cracks, many players with the potential to don the Green and Gold never get the honour of doing so.

Instead, they head abroad where they forge a new path and chase a new goal. After paying their dues and proving their worth in the required three-year residency period (to become eligible for selection), those who make the greatest impression earn their way onto the Test arena for their respective adopted countries.

Over a dozen such stars are in action in Japan, many of whom have already made their mark with standout pool-stage performances. Let’s look at 14 elite expats showcasing their skills in the ninth global showpiece.

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Lappies Labuschagné (Japan)

Pretoria-born Pieter Labuschagné, better known as Lappies, played an integral role in Saturday’s historic 19-12 win over Ireland, who entered the tournament as the world’s number one team. The ever-present loose forward led by example, making 16 tackles and 25 metres with his strong ball-carrying, while beating two defenders.

The ex-Bulls star made the move to Japan in 2016, where he joined Kubota Spears and is a key member of the Sunwolves side. He made his Brave Blossoms debut as captain in the 34-21 win over Fiji in July.

Wimpie van der Walt (Japan)

A typically powerful and physical South African utility forward, Van der Walt adds considerable muscle and mongrel to the Japanese pack. He’s featured in both of Japan’s World Cup clashes so far and added impetus off the bench against the Irish. Born in Brits, the 30-year-old got his start at Western Province, representing the union at Under-19, Under-21, Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup levels.

He played most of his rugby for the Eastern Province Kings and also had a stint at the Bulls before finding a home at the Red Hurricanes. He’s made over a dozen appearances for the Brave Blossoms.

Kotaro Matsushima (Japan)

The Pretoria-born Sharks Academy product was the talk of the rugby world after scoring a hat-trick in a Man of the Match performance in Japan’s 30-10 win over Russia in the tournament opener in Tokyo. The wing sensation continued his fantastic form against Ireland, making 54 metres, a line break and beating three defenders.

The 26-year-old cut his teeth at the Sharks, representing the Under-19, Under-21 and Vodacom Cup teams and had stints at the Rebels and Waratahs. A Suntory Sungoliath staple, he’s been in the Brave Blossoms’ set-up since 2014.

CJ Stander (Ireland)

Undoubtedly the best of the bunch, Stander is THE one that got away. The former Bulls player has proved over the course of his 35-Test career for Ireland, dating back to 2016, just what a big asset he could’ve been to Springbok rugby.

The Munster No.8 also has a British and Irish Lions Test cap to his name, coming off the bench in the final Test of the drawn series against the All Blacks in 2017 after having made five tour appearances against the Super Rugby franchises.

In his first World Cup, the George-born 29-year-old has already put together two huge 80-minute performances, kicking things off with a Man of the Match display in the 27-3 win over Scotland. Only lock James Ryan has more than Stander’s 31 tackles (none missed) or his tally of carries (26) and metres (60).

Jean Kleyn (Ireland)

Klerksdorp’s Kleyn came through the ranks at Western Province, picking up winner’s medals in the 2012 Under-19 Provincial Championship and Under-21 tournament the following year. The second-rower made his Stormers debut in 2014 and made 15 more Super Rugby appearances for the Cape franchise before his move to Munster in 2016.

Somewhat of a surprise selection in Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad, the 26-year-old made his Ireland debut as a starter in the 29-10 win over Italy in August and is yet to make his tournament bow at the time of writing. At 2.03m and 121kg, Kleyn has the frame to make a big impact.

Dane Haylett-Petty (Australia)

The fullback was fantastic on attack in Australia’s 29-25 loss to Wales (his 31st Test) at the weekend, scoring a try and racking up an unrivalled 117 metres while making three clean breaks and evading four defenders.

Unlike the above-mentioned players, Durban-born Haylett-Petty didn’t play any significant rugby in South Africa as he immigrated to Australia with his family at the age of 10. A Sevens star early on, he made his Super Rugby debut for the Western Force in 2008, playing 51 games in all for the Perth franchise, before making the jump to the Rebels in 2018.

He also made history in the opener against Australia, when he became the first-ever Springbok to score in all four ways possible (try, conversion, penalty and drop goal) and was excellent throughout the tournament.

Bernard le Roux (France)

A call the evening before he was due to sign a contract with the Lions, a move reportedly set in motion by Jake White, changed the course of Le Roux’s career back in 2010. That call convinced the man from Moorreesburg to join Racing 92 on a short-term contract as medical joker instead, and he’s been in France ever since.

Equally adept at flank and lock, Le Roux – who stands 1.97m tall and weighs 116kg – made his Les Bleus bow against the All Blacks in 2013 and is featuring in his second World Cup.

WP Nel (Scotland)

A consistent performer for the Cheetahs, who he represented in 56 Currie Cup games and 46 Super Rugby matches, Nel took his career to new heights after joining Edinburgh in 2012. A mobile tighthead, strong ball carrier and powerful scrummager, the Loeriesfontein-born brute made his debut for Scotland against Italy in 2015.

In his second World Cup and at 33, his workrate is still up there with the best in the business, as highlighted by his whopping match-high 18 tackles in the loss to Ireland (his 31st Test).

Allan Dell (Scotland)

Underrated for most of his career, Smith was often a silent assassin and always did the hard yards. He was a powerful ball carrier, a fierce and tireless tackler and a great lineout jumper, which saw him make several appearances in the second row. His greatest strength, however, was his Nel’s fellow front-ranker, Dell’s efforts in Durban, where he represented the Sharks in the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup, caught the eye of the Edinburgh brass and he set off for Scotland in 2014.

The Junior Springbok, who qualifies for Scotland through his Paisley-born grandmother, made his Test debut against Australia in 2016, and has 27 caps to his name at the time of writing. Hailing from Humansdorp, the 27-year-old started in both of the Scots’ pool games so far and was particularly impressive against Ireland, making 14 tackles.

DTH van der Merwe (Canada)

Van der Merwe was born in Worcester and plies his trade at Scottish club Glasgow Warriors, but he’s a legend of Canadian rugby. The utility back, who covers fullback and centre but plays most of his rugby on the wing, is playing in his fourth World Cup for the Canucks.

He was the lone shining light in the heavy loss to Italy, making 124 metres, four clean breaks and beating five defenders in what was the 33-year-old’s 59th Test.

Braam Steyn (Italy)

The 27-year-old loose forward has shown good form in his first World Cup. After a solid opening outing in the 47-22 victory over Namibia, he had a cracker against Canada, scoring a try, running for 62 metres and making a match-high 11 tackles in the 48-7 win.

Born in Cradock, the former Junior Springbok started his senior career at the Sharks in 2012 before setting sail for Italy. Currently at Benetton, Steyn has made 35 appearances for the Azzurri dating back to 2016.

Shaun Davies (USA)

Durban-born Davies started at No.9 in the Eagles’ tournament-opening loss to England. It was his World Cup debut and 26th Test. Davies moved to the United States to attend college where he helped Brigham Young University win two National Championships (2009 and 2012), earning Man of the Match honours in the 2009 final.

The Glendale Raptors ace won his first Test cap against Russia in 2013 and helped the Eagles soar to a historic second consecutive Americas Rugby Championship victory in 2018.

Ruben de Haas (USA)

At 20 years of age, De Haas is a scrumhalf on the rise. Born in George, he immigrated in 2009 with his parents to Arkansas, where he made a name for himself at Jessieville High School. He captained the USA High School All-Americans (USA Under-19s) and featured for the USA Under-20 and Selects sides before inking a deal with the Cheetahs in 2018.

He made his Test debut from the bench in the 45-13 win over Chile last June and made his World Cup bow when he replaced Davies 10 minutes into the second half of the clash against England in Kobe.

Hanco Germishuys (USA)

The Kimberley-born back-rower made his presence felt in his first World Cup game against England, making six tackles and two carries in his 20-minute cameo off the bench.

He honed his skills in the Gloucester and Sharks academies, represented USA at Under-19, Under-20 and Selects levels and currently plays for Austin Herd. A loose forward with an eye for the tryline, the 23-year-old has scored seven tries in his 18 Tests to date.

Marcelle Brache (USA)

Brache was born in the USA but was schooled in Cape Town at Rondebosch Boys. He was something of a late bloomer after he put in some superb performances for UCT in the Varsity Cup.

He went on to represent Western Province and the Stormers before joining the Western Force. He then went back to the States to play his rugby and now is a full international.

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