In the shadow of a legend

South Africa's rebuilding continues as Teichmann brings his new generation of Springboks to an expectant Cardiff; Paul Trow meets the man who has to fill the boots of Francois Pienaar
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The Independent Online
When a national hero is evicted from the captaincy of his country, his successor must feel as if he is drinking from a poisoned chalice.

Phil de Glanville is having a fiery enough baptism as English rugby's new head boy even though Will Carling stepped down of his own accord and is still in the team. So spare a thought for the man following a captain whose exploits united one of the world's most volatile societies and whose departure was anything but voluntary.

When Francois Pienaar celebrated last year's World Cup triumph with President Mandela and the rest of the Rainbow Nation, Gary Teichmann, a far-from- youthful, uncapped No 8, was watching on television. Less than 18 months later, Teichmann leads South Africa into Test combat for the eighth time against Wales in Cardiff this afternoon while Pienaar, Saracens' latest recruit, faces an uncertain international future.

Yet it was only in September 1995 that Teichmann made his debut in Johannesburg. His other 12 caps have all been won in the last six months, a glittering period which has also seen his province, Natal, reach the Super-12 final and win the Currie Cup.

He initially came in to the side when Pienaar was ruled out with a neck injury. And even though Pienaar soon reclaimed his President's beloved No 6 shirt, Teichmann stayed in the back row. And when Pienaar fell from favour after the Springbok's less-than-dominant display in last summer's Tri-Nations series, Teichmann, a veteran of just six internationals at the time, was asked to steer the ship back on course.

"Francois is a very good player and an outstanding captain, but he has played a lot of rugby over the last two or three years," Teichmann said. "The country was against him being dropped, but my job was made easier because we had a lot to prove."

The Durban-based corporate finance consultant, who is 30 next month, thought his chance of Springbok honours had gone when he narrowly missed out on the World Cup squad. "Not playing in the World Cup was difficult because I had a chance of being in until the last weekend, but I had to accept the selectors' decision. I didn't go to many of the games - I watched most of them on TV. Everybody got involved and interest in rugby has really grown since - more people are starting to play, particularly in the townships, and a lot of ground work is being done."

After a stuttering start to his leadership (defeat in the home series with New Zealand followed the Tri-Nations), he has regrouped impressively over the past six weeks with two Test victories apiece in Argentina and France. "The present side is similar to the one which won the World Cup, though the pressure isn't on us so much. After we'd won, there was enormous expectation that we would keep performing and winning, but the team hasn't changed too much since then."

Apart from the axeing of Pienaar and Leicester's new fly-half, Joel Stransky. "Joel has lost form since the World Cup," said Teichmann. "Our current fly-half, Henry Honiball, has played well all year. Our management is saying that no one can hold on to a place on reputation alone."

Now that Stransky and Pienaar have joined English clubs, Teichmann fears for their Springbok futures. "If they're committed until May, they won't play in the Super-12 as that starts in March. Then it will be difficult to get back into the international side. They won't get the exposure in front of the selectors.

"You couldn't play full seasons in both South Africa and Britain. Our union don't want us playing all year round without a break now we're under contract. Why should they pay all that money and then find you've got injured playing for someone else?"

But surely Pienaar and Stransky are entitled to pursue financial reward before passing their sell-by date, something they would have had less chance of doing at home after the squabbles which marred South African rugby following the World Cup?

"The change to professionalism wasn't easy in South Africa," Teichmann admits, "but it's slowly coming together. The last year was always going to be tough, particularly for us as World Cup holders. Constraints were put on us, but that's all been sorted out although there still isn't the big money available in South Africa as in England."

Next summer's British Lions tour may change all that, though. "I haven't even thought about it yet," said Teichmann, who will take a six-week break after today's game. "We've been on the go all year and I'm just looking forward to flying home."