From Burgersdorp to Twickenham: Fourie completes his journey

Back-rower's first start for England ample consolation for Springbok snub back in his native South Africa
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The Independent Online

Geographically speaking, the B-word is central to the current England set-up. Andrew Sheridan, the folk-hero front-rower with a cauliflower ear on one side of his head and a musical ear on the other, was born in Bromley; Tom Croft, fast developing into a flanker of the very highest quality, hails from Basingstoke; Dave Attwood, the ambitious young lock, is a Bristolian. So how about Hendre Fourie, the latest in a long line of open-side contenders for a place in next year's World Cup squad? Bury St Edmunds, perhaps? Bethnal Green? Er... no. Not quite.

Fourie comes from Burgersdorp, the oldest town in South Africa's far-flung Eastern Cape and home to the Dutch Language Monument, raised in homage to the glory of the Afrikaans tongue. "I'm still proud of where I come from, but I'll be equally proud of this England shirt," he said yesterday after being granted his first start at international level. "I've been here five and a half years now, and I do all the things the English do. If I go to South Africa these days, it's for a holiday."

Heaven knows, Fourie is not the first southern hemisphere import to wear the red rose. There were two New Zealanders – the centre Shontayne Hape and the hooker Dylan Hartley – in the side that saw off the Wallabies last weekend, and there has been a significant South African influence since a full-back by the name of WB Thomson arrived from Matabeleland in 1892 to blaze a trail subsequently followed by Mike Catt and Matt Stevens, to name but two of the more recent examples.

However, this latest one looks like a Springbok, sounds likes a Springbok and plays like a Springbok, to the extent that it is difficult to work out why the Springboks never picked him.

"I was off their radar," said the 31-year-old Leeds back-rower. "Back in 2005, I was playing for Free State University and was in and out of the Cheetahs squad. They weren't showing me much love, and when my fitness coach suggested I should get away for a bit, I came here and started playing for Rotherham.

"Things snowballed from there, and as I've heard nothing from the rugby people in South Africa since I qualified for England and declared myself available, I'm not bothered about them or what they think.

"The important thing for me is that my family are really proud. I've had only good responses: I think my mother shed a few tears when I won my first cap off the bench against the All Blacks a couple of weeks ago.

"In fact, a friend sent me a text message to say that the people in Burgersdorp were so happy, they celebrated as though South Africa had won the World Cup all over again."

More than anyone, with the possible exception of his South African countryman Marco Wentzel, it was Fourie who kept Leeds in the Premiership last season. But with refereeing interpretations at the breakdown, his primary sphere of operations, making it more difficult for "over the ball" specialists to perform their dastardly deeds, there was a widespread assumption that he would be less effective this term. The reality has been wholly different.

"Most people were talking about Calum Clark or Andy Saull breaking into the side, but Hendre came through the back door by putting together a string of quality performances," said John Wells, the England forwards coach, who, as a good man of Leicester, was quick to recognise the overtly Leicesterish quality of his rugby.

As the Springboks themselves will be in town this time next week, Fourie will soon have all the recognition he can handle.

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