With the rugby spotlight having shifted north following the start of the Six Nations, Quintin van Jaarsveld selects an overseas-based South African XV.
There’s an ever-rising wave of South African-born players plying their trade around the world. Whether it’s past or present Springboks or stars on the rise, South African thoroughbreds are highly sought after guns for hire and have carved out successful (not to mention lucrative) careers in competitions such as the Gallagher Premiership, Champions Cup, PRO14, Top 14 and Top League.
A team of such elite expats, as you’ll see below, would rival any in the northern hemisphere showcase, which kicked off last weekend. It’s important to note that injured players, as well as those who have climbed the ladder to represent their adopted nations at Test level, were not considered for selection.
Thus, World Cup winners Lood de Jager, RG Snyman and Handré Pollard were omitted, along with a slew of South African-born stars showcasing their skills in the Six Nations.
15: Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz)
Japan’s Top League has been one of the hardest-hit major rugby competitions and is where many South Africans find themselves in limbo, including Le Roux. The acclaimed Chasing the Sun docu-series showed just what an important role the fullback played in the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup triumph amidst criticism from plenty of fans that often bordered on character assassination. The 31-year-old’s a proven playmaker, dependable under the high ball and has an educated left boot.
14: Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)
The biggest little man in the game today, Kolbe has grown into a titan at Toulouse and taken the rugby world by storm in recent years. The diminutive dynamo was nothing short of sensational for the Springboks when they won the Rugby Championship and World Cup in 2019 and continued to solidify himself as one of the best players in the world in the disrupted 2020 season. The multi-talented magician even impressed when he started at flyhalf for his French club last February. He’s a prolific point of difference for club and country…a human highlight reel.
13: Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles)
Japan hasn’t been kind to Kriel. The former Bulls centre sustained a tournament-ending injury in the Springboks’ World Cup opener against the All Blacks and has had his wings clipped at the Canon Eagles by the Covid-19 pandemic. Probably the best-conditioned Springbok – which says a lot – the 26-year-old’s a freak athlete, one seemingly carved out of granite and whose hard running punches holes in the best of defences.
12: Damian de Allende (Munster)
Four of South Africa’s top No.12s take centre stage abroad. André Esterhuizen brings the hurt for Harlequins, robust Rohan Janse van Rensburg has been superb for the Sale Sharks, Jan Serfontein’s still making an impact at Montpellier while De Allende’s domineering presence has been powering Munster in midfield. Even with Frans Steyn and Cornal Hendricks also breathing down his neck, the former Stormers stalwart made the Green and Gold No.12 jersey his own with a stellar World Cup campaign.
11: Makazole Mapimpi (Red Hurricanes)
The ultimate diamond in the rough who, through incredible intestinal fortitude, overcame harrowing hardships to etch his name in Springbok history as the first South African to score a try in a World Cup final. There are bigger, more agile and more polished predators around – not to say Mapimpi’s not a great athlete – but none possesses the drive that makes the 30-year-old the most prolific Springbok try-scoring machine in recent history.
10: Johan Goosen (Montpellier)
With Pollard still recovering from knee surgery, the flyhalf berth falls to Goosen. A wunderkind at Grey College, he never truly got the Springbok run a prodigious talent like him was expected to enjoy due to injuries. The former Cheetahs playmaker only has 13 Test caps to his name, the last coming against Wales in 2016. Still only 28 and a versatile virtuoso – potent at pivot, fullback and in the midfield – his impending move from Montpellier to the Bulls could reignite his Springbok career.
9: Faf de Klerk (Sale)
One of the most popular players in the world with his blonde locks and famous South African speedo, the ex-Lions scrumhalf has gone from strength to strength at Sale. Having initially made a name for himself as a lethal livewire around the fringes of the ruck, De Klerk’s now the complete package – a tried-and-tested tactician, an unrivalled giant-killer on defence and still as dangerous as they come.
8: Marcell Coetzee (Ulster)
The Bulls-bound loose forward is finishing up a testing but ultimately triumphant tenure at Ulster, where he showed remarkable resolve to overcome career-threatening knee injuries and become one of the world’s best back-rowers. The prodigious boy that set sail from the Sharks in 2016 will soon return to South Africa a grizzled man, one with superhuman physical and mental toughness, an otherworldly gas tank, the respect of the entire rugby world and, hopefully, set for a second, more glorious Springbok run he so richly deserves.
7: Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse)
Based on form alone, Jannes Kirsten would’ve cracked the nod for his consistent excellence that helped Exeter Chiefs claim a historic domestic and European double in the 2019-20 season. Elstadt’s another prime example of a player who had to move abroad to realise his full potential, that being becoming a Springbok. He’s been a tenacious terror at Toulouse, one fuelled by an insatiable hunger for more Test rugby.
6: Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Jubilo)
Like his Exeter Chiefs teammate, Jacques Vermeulen is the form foreign-based South African flank on his side of the scrum. Sharks supporters who haven’t followed his heroics would be amazed by how he’s grown into a truly world-class flanker. Smith’s someone who’s not making such noise – through no fault of his own, being stranded in Japan – but is a proven pilferer of the highest order and a pit bull of a ball-carrier.
5: Franco Mostert (Honda Heat)
Serious injuries ruled Sale’s De Jager (shoulder reconstruction surgery) and Munster’s Snyman (knee) out for selection. Instead, another of the four pillars of the Springboks’ World Cup triumph slots in at No.5. Mostert’s not as “big in Japan” as he wants to be due to the pandemic, but he’s as skilled and athletic as he is hard-nosed. Meanwhile, Jean-Luc du Preez’s reinvention at lock at the Sale Sharks has only bolstered the regular back-rower’s hopes of a Springbok recall.
4: Eben Etzebeth (Toulon)
The former Stormers star found his feet in France toward the end of his first season at Toulon last year, earning himself a contract extension to 2024. His feared physicality has been on full display, with the monstrous lock mauling many a man. More often than not, moves abroad see players evolve and Etzebeth’s recent standout showing at flank hinted at great possibilities à la Pieter-Steph du Toit.
3: Vincent Koch (Saracens)
Casual fans would be excused for thinking Koch’s fallen off the face of the earth. He’s still the scrummaging steamroller he was as a member of the Springbok “Bomb Squad” in Japan but is flying under the radar in a Saracens side floundering in the Trailfinders Cup, a pre-season warm-up tournament for the second-tier RFU Championship after the salary cap breach scandal cost the club their place at the Gallagher Premiership table.
2: Malcolm Marx (Shining Arcs)
Like Le Roux, Kriel, Mapimpi, Smith and Mostert, Marx has been out of the spotlight in the Land of the Rising Sun because of the pandemic. While he’s been usurped by Bongi Mbonambi in the Springbok starting line-up, he’s still every bit of the beast that made him the world’s best hooker at the Lions. As a side note, the Springbok selectors are likely to look north to fill the third hooker slot vacated by Schalk Brits, with Akker van der Merwe (Sale Sharks), Joseph Dweba (Bordeaux) and veteran Bismarck du Plessis (Montpellier) tearing it up overseas.
1: Coenie Oosthuizen (Sale)
The 30-Test Springbok behemoth has carried on where he left off when he departed Durban in 2019 with some colossal performances for the Sale Sharks. A relentless wrecking ball when it comes to carries, Oosthuizen’s greatest strength is his powerful scrummaging, particularly, his ability to put the opposition under pressure on both sides of the front row.