Van der Linde ready for Springbok comeback

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The Independent Online

Leinster prop CJ van der Linde completes the unlikeliest of Test match comebacks when he joins the Springbok squad for tonight's match against France in Toulouse. But his return could have an unwelcome consequence for the Heineken champions.

The burly South African admits he was astonished to be called up last weekend for the remainder of the South Africans' northern hemisphere tour. Tonight, he is on the bench for the 'Boks in Toulouse, an unlikely ending to a year dogged by injury troubles with the Heineken champions.

Van der Linde admits he thought he'd turned his back on Test rugby when he arrived in Dublin. "When I signed for Leinster, I knew that overseas guys were not likely to be picked for the Springbok side. "

But all that changed once Leicester had beaten the touring South Africans last weekend and in the process so demolished the 'Boks front row that two of its members on the night were forced to return home through injury. Van der Linde admits "I got a phone call on the day after the Leicester match and I was quite surprised.

"I didn't think the overseas guys were going to get picked but it's a great honour for me to get picked again. I will definitely make use of this opportunity. Leinster were very nice about it; they said, no problems. But it is just for this tour."

It is, but it could yet mean the termination of van der Linde's stay with Leinster next May. He has a clause in his contract which says he can be released at the end of this season if he wishes. And although the South African wasn't exactly saying so yesterday, it could well be that if plays well again for the Springboks, he may want to return home at the end of this season, thereby making him eligible once again for the international side.

"I have not talked about my long term involvement (with the Springboks)" he said. "I still have two years left on my Leinster contract but there is that clause that says I can leave at the end of May 2010. We will have to see and make a decision on that in the future.

"But I would obviously like to play in South Africa again."

Van der Linde is fully aware that if he wants to play any part in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, he would have to go home next May to fight for his old Springbok place. Although the conversation yesterday in the South Africans' Toulouse city centre hotel was hypothetical, it sounded very much as though this sudden recall to the 'Bok squad had set the tough prop thinking.

"First I would have to talk to Leinster and see how they feel about the whole situation, then make a decision on that. I haven't sat down with the Leinster officials yet so nothing is set in stone. First I have to talk with them and see what the future holds."

I asked the South African if he didn't feel he owed Leinster something after barely playing for them in his first season in Dublin. "They are not like that, I'm sure they don't see it like that. In the beginning, I felt bad sitting there not playing. But I don't feel I owe them. However, I do want to make the most of this year and play as many games as I can for them. They have been very good, they supported me through the whole injury and were very professional about the whole situation.

"Leinster is a very professional club and I have learned a lot about how the northern hemisphere does certain things, how they play their rugby over here. There are a few things I have taken into my own personal armour.

"It was frustrating, missing most of last season. I would like to have been on the field rather than in the stands. But that's rugby; it's a part of life."