They've won two World Cups, yet didn't even appear in the first two tournaments, in 1987 and 1991.
South Africa's rugby history is a glorious chapter of power, talent and excitement. Going way back into the 1930s and then the 1950s, players from the Republic have consistently lit up the rugby fields of the world with their skills.
Click the image on the right to see the South Africa Dream Team.
So who do you choose to play in a Springbok dream XV? Frankly, the arguments will rage whatever the names pencilled in alongside the individual positions. So much ability has been available to the South Africans over the years that you could choose five dream teams and still have a side able to take on the best in the world.
So at the risk of completely alienating some of the greatest players ever to have worn the Springbok jersey, here is my South African dream team, with some of the other candidates who came so close to qualification.
Two players dominated my thinking at full-back: H.O. de Villiers and Andrew Joubert. De Villiers was the full-back who really pioneered the attacking role for the No. 15. He only played from 1967 to 1970 in the Springbok jersey and won just 14 caps because injury prematurely ruined a great career. But de Villiers was a master at getting into the line and making the extra man. He was a superb player at his peak.
So too was Joubert, the man they called 'the Rolls Royce' of full-backs. Joubert won 34 caps between 1989 and 1997 and he was a lethally quick raider and superbly balanced runner. He glided rather than ran and was a thrilling sight at full speed. He also had loads of courage, playing in the 1995 World Cup final against New Zealand with a broken hand. Nevertheless, de Villiers just got my nomination for his overall class. But we shouldn't forget Percy Montgomery, the record breaking Springbok full-back who has been such a wonderful servant and player for the Springboks in recent years.
Three players were uppermost in my mind for the wing positions: Jannie Engelbrecht, Tom van Vollenhoven and Bryan Habana. Engelbrecht was a strong, thrusting, powerful runner with a jolting hand-off; van Vollenhoven a tough, nuggety type of player who even managed to keep Tony O'Reilly quiet in one of those Tests during that famous 1955 Lions tour. Habana is a sheer speedster, a phenomenal sprinter although not perhaps as great an overall rugby player as the other two. Nevertheless, I chose Engelbrecht and Habana to offer power and pace out wide.
Two legends filled my centre positions. John Gainsford won 33 caps between 1960 and 1967 and was a superb, strong running centre. Gainsford was a classic performer: quick and powerful but highly skilled too. He had to play. Alongside him I put Danie Gerber, a player of which the world saw far too little because he had the great misfortune to be at his peak in the 1980s when South Africa was ostracised for its apartheid policies.
Gerber was a genius, one of the greatest centres ever produced by South Africa. He played Test rugby for 12 years, from 1980 to 1992, yet won only 24 caps. Strong, fast and a powerful, he was a devastating broken field runner.
And for a back-up at centre, I'd have Jean de Villiers, that craftsman of a player from the modern era, on the substitutes bench. A nice symmetry here – as a boy, Jean met John Gainsford and picked up plenty of tips from the master.
Now to the half-backs and what a choice ! Not, perhaps, quite so much at fly half. There have been some worthy players here, Piet Visagie, Naas Botha, Henry Honiball, Joel Stransky among them. If you want a point scoring machine, Botha has to be your man. He was a phenomenal kicker, playing in 28 Tests from 1980 to 1992. In that brief period, he scored 312 points, quite extraordinary. But as an overall, more all-round player you'd probably go for Piet Visagie. However, points scoring is crucial to any team and no-one approaches Botha on that score.
The riches simply overflow at scrum half. Take your pick – Dawie de Villiers, Joost van der Westhuizen or Fourie du Preez. My choice is van der Westhuizen for his lethal, spring heeled speed off a standing start, his vision and general tactical awareness. But Du Preez isn't far behind and de Villiers was a master tactician, a fine captain and a player with a rapid pass. But, crème de la crème, van der Westhuizen wins the jersey.
The front row has candidates with power, bulk and scrummaging technique everywhere you look. One whom I couldn't go past was the recently retired Os du Randt, a long, loyal servant of the Springboks who played Test rugby from 1994 to 2007 and won 80 caps. With du Randt on the loose head, I chose the sheer scrummaging power of Mof Myburgh on the tight head. Myburgh was a bull of a man, a massive, immovable creature who seemed to laugh with his neck. Few ever moved him around. The former Northern Transvaal prop HPJ Bekker was pretty close but I stand by my selections.
At hooker, I'm going for Uli Schmidt, 17 times a Springbok from 1986 to 1994 and a superb hooker technically as well as being a player with a terrific desire to prevail.
Second row again offers great riches. The present encumbents, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, are hard to go past. But you have to remember such fine players as Frik du Preez, Johan Claassen, Jan Pickard and Tiny Naude, the man with a siege gun kicking boot.
My choices? Matfield wins a place for his classical line-out work, a peerless jumper. Alongside him I include the hard working, highly talented Avril Malan. I couldn't leave out the man who was a true giant of Springbok rugby. Malan, who played 16 Tests from 1960 to 1965, was a superb, much respected Springbok captain. He was raised in the same area of Pretoria that later produced Uli Schmidt and Naas Botha. Malan came through the classic Stellenbosch rugby background and was a superb ball handling forward, big and powerful.
What? No du Preez, South Africa's Player of the 20th century, I hear you say? Of course, how could you exclude the great man who played for the 'Boks from 1961 to 1971 and won 38 caps.
Only thing is, I pick du Preez on the flank, a position he played very often and with huge effect. Du Preez was so fast he once beat Barry John for sheer pace on the outside, some trick. He was strong, committed, courageous and fiercely proud. What a warrior!
Trouble is, lots of other candidates deserve a mention for back row slots, the likes of Butch Lochner, Rob Louw, Gary Teichmann, Morne du Plessis, Jan Ellis, Piet Greyling, Francois Pienaar and that superbly clever rugby man Tommy Bedford, a guy with a real rugby brain.
Try picking an open side and a No. 8 from that lot. Jan Ellis gets the No. 7 jersey in my side, a dynamic, hard tackling, fast raider off the side of the scrum who never ever stopped until the day he retired. He was a terrific competitor, a quality operator.
And the No. 8? He isn't even in that list. But I go for Hennie Muller who played in 13 Tests between 1949 and 1953, only playing once on the losing side. Muller was credited with inventing modern rugby No. 8 play. He played in a 4-0 series victory over the All Blacks in 1949 and captained the Springboks on their 1951/52 Grand Slam tour of Britain, Ireland and France. His nick name was 'Windhond' which means greyhound in Afrikaans, due to his exceptional speed around the field.
So here it is, South Africa's list of all time greats. Let the discussions and arguments start...