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It was the dawn of professionalism, and the game officially went professional at the start of the 1996 season.
It was also the birth of Sanzar, the southern hemisphere governing body formed between the rugby unions of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
It would later become known as Sanzaar when Argentina joined the fray (officially in 2016).
The start of professionalism also saw the launch of two new major competitions – Super Rugby and Tri-Nations, or Rugby Championship as it became known, with the addition of Los Pumas from the 2012 season.
With sport currently in lockdown due to the coronavirus, Sport24 felt fit to look back at the professional era, with Herman Mostert picking his all-time greatest Springbok XV during this period.
Here follows a Springbok team of the professional era (since 1996):
15 – Percy Montgomery
The Bok fullback in the 2007 World Cup final just pips Andre Joubert in this regard. In the days when rugby players still kicked ‘torpedoes’ (kicking a ball with a spiral, giving it considerably more distance), there was no better exponent of this than “Monty”. The 102-Test Springbok also had a penchant for scoring key tries.
14 – JP Pietersen
Another 2007 World Cup hero, the former Sharks flyer was a deceptively quick right wing who racked up an impressive tally of 70 Tests. He was solid under the high ball, a good defender and a decent tactical kicker. Edges Breyton Paulse and James Small for the No 14 jumper.
13 – Jaque Fourie
Another 2007 World Cup winner, Fourie is one of the best centres ever produced by South Africa. His organisation on defence and eye for a gap made him one of the leading outside centres in world rugby.
12 – Jean de Villiers
The former Bok skipper was deceptively quick in his younger days, was a great distributor and always kept the opposition on their toes with his unpredictability and opportunism. His value is underlined by a staggering 109 Tests despite suffering some horrific injuries.
11 – Bryan Habana
A Springbok legend. A try-scoring machine with 67 dot-downs in a staggering 124 Tests. An easy choice, with the late Chester Williams the closest contender.
10 – Handre Pollard
He is for me the most complete Springbok flyhalf of the professional era. His calm demeanour was vital in last year’s World Cup win. Aside from a sound kicking game, Pollard’s physical presence and ability to attack the gainline set him apart from other contenders like Morne Steyn and Joel Stransky.
9 – Fourie du Preez
You have to be pretty darn good to eclipse the great-late Joost van der Westhuizen, but Du Preez’s tactical genius gives him the nod at scrumhalf. Always calm under pressure, Du Preez was vital to the Springbok cause, especially in the triumphant 2007 World Cup, the 2004 and 2009 Tri-Nations campaigns, as well as the 2009 British & Irish Lions series. The sign of a good player is always one who appears to have a lot of time under pressure and Du Preez was exactly that.
8 – Duane Vermeulen
A hard-as-nails eighthman. He was a key cog in the 2019 World Cup triumph and will go down as an all-time great.
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit
Without doubt the best rugby player on the planet in 2019 and fully deserved his World Rugby Player of the Year accolade. Du Toit’s versatility – he can also slot in at lock – makes his name one of the first written down on the coach’s team sheet.
6 – Schalk Burger
A Springbok legend of 86 Tests and one of the hard men who put his body on the line for province and country.
5. Victor Matfield
A great leader and a genius at lineout time. He will go down as an all-time great and it’s incomprehensible to omit a player with the record number of Springbok caps – 127. He will captain this team.
4. Eben Etzebeth
The burly lock’s physicality is right up there with his predecessor Bakkies Botha, but the former is a more mobile and skilful player and therefore gets a starting spot.
3 – Cobus Visagie
A technically great scrummager, the burly tighthead was the anchor of the Springbok scrum during a less successful period in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
2 – Bismarck du Plessis
Another hard-as-nails player with immense power. He was also great in general play and a menace at ruck time.
1 – Os du Randt
A legendary 80-Test loosehead prop and one of only two Springboks to play in two winning World Cup finals.
16 – Malcolm Marx
A similar type of player to Bismarck du Plessis and would make a perfect like-for-like substitute at hooker.
17 – Tendai Mtawarira
No-one better for loosehead cover than “Beast” with 117 Test caps.
18 – Frans Malherbe
He just pips Balie Swart for tighthead cover. The 2019 World Cup winner is a powerful scrummager.
19 – Bakkies Botha
Would be a like-for-like replacement for Etzebeth.
20 – Bobby Skinstad
What a terrific option for a “supersub”, a role Skinstad performed with aplomb during South Africa’s victorious 1998 Tri-Nations campaign. Keeps Juan Smith out of the match-day squad by a whisker.
21 – Joost van der Westhuizen
The late former scrumhalf was world-class. He boasted a terrific pass, immense speed and was a fearless defender. Started 78 of his 89 of his Tests but would be another valuable “supersub”.
22 – Frans Steyn
The other Springbok to win two World Cup finals. His prodigious boot and versatility make him the ideal backline replacement.
23 – Breyton Paulse
A terrific finisher with pace to burn, the 64-Test veteran also punched well above his weight on the defensive front. He was also one of the best tactical kickers. His experience sees him get the nod ahead of Cheslin Kolbe.
What does your 1996-2020 Best Springbok 23-man squad look like?
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