Peter Bills: South African players continue to shine

Talking Rugby Column

Another day, another big rugby occasion and another South African shines. Is there no end to the constant supply line of top class rugby players from the southern hemisphere country which is the Rugby World Cup reigning champions?

Last weekend in the Heineken Cup semi-finals, South Africans again distinguished themselves. Tight head prop Brian Mujati was on show for English club Northampton and Gavin Hume played for French club Perpignan.

Given his side’s difficulties under pressure all over the field, Hume was hardly a stand-out player for Perpignan. But Mujati, who has been a revelation since arriving at Franklin’s Gardens in the East Midlands, had another superb game.

Mujati has come on so well, impressed so many people that even the Springbok selectors are said to have suggested that he could yet be a bolter for the South African World Cup squad later this year. Northampton fans would understand why.

They have seen his immense improvement and top form, both as a scrummager, the No. 1 priority, of course, for a tight head, but also in terms of ball carrying and line-out lifting assistance.

In any other country, Mujati would probably be first choice tight head. But the Springbok selectors prefer to choose players who stayed at home to play their rugby and, let’s face it, with the likes of Jannie du Plessis around, they’re not exactly short of a decent tight head. Even so, Mujati ought to go to the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Stade Toulouse had South African loose head prop Daan Human as a second half substitute in Dublin while Leinster saw another outstanding performance from hooker Richardt Strauss, the Pretoria born player who won 54 caps for the Cheetahs between 2006 and 2009 before switching to the Irish province.

Shrugging off the nightmare start of seeing his first two line-out throws disappear into the hands of Stade Toulouse forwards, Strauss gave an all-action display, full of raw courage and utter commitment that somehow epitomised Leinster’s performance. The Irish team reached the final at the expense of the French defending champions who have already signed Springbok prop Gurthro Steenkamp for next season.

But it was yet another South African, one much less known, who caught the eye when he came on as a second half substitute for Leinster. Johannesburg-born prop Heinke Van der Merwe, who was 26 this week is with Leinster on a 2 year contract, having replaced yet another South African prop, CJ van der Linde in Dublin.

Van der Merwe is already a full Springbok international, having made his Test debut at the age of 22 against Wales in Cardiff in 2007. He toured with the Springboks to the northern hemisphere in 2009 yet is only second choice loose head at Leinster behind Ireland international Cian Healy.

Yet the impact made by the South African when he replaced Healy, who had a blood injury, in the 52 nd minute of last Saturday’s semi-final was simply stunning. At his first scrum, fed by Toulouse, his drive into Toulouse tight head Census Johnston was so powerful that the whole French scrum swung around alarmingly. As it disintegrated, players detached and Toulouse were penalised. From the penalty, Leinster fly half Jonathan Sexton kicked a vital penalty.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt had fully intended to send Healy back on once his injury had been cleaned up. But the Irish international never re-appeared, testimony to Van der Merwe’s superb work.

Schmidt said “When Heinke came on it was a moment of intense action. And he played so well we decided to leave him out there.”

Van der Merwe put a possible Springbok career on hold to go to the northern hemisphere. Some might have thought that gamble had failed when he failed to get past Healy for a regular starting place. But he reminded a great many people of his considerable qualities at the weekend.

And South African players in a multitude of positions at clubs and provinces right across Europe, Britain and Ireland are reminding us every day of just what fine rugby men they are.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine