The indomitable 20-stone Ox pulling South Africa's pack on a revenge mission

Os du Randt has beaten serious injury to be at his third World Cup and tells Chris Hewett in Paris he will make England pay
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It would be stretching a point to suggest it has been better second time around, because the best part of the first time around was a laying of Springbok hands on the World Cup. Os du Randt was still a few months short of his 23rd birthday when South Africa beat New Zealand in the 1995 final in Johannesburg, yet he had already established himself as one of the great forwards of the modern era. Tomorrow, when he smashes into the England scrummagers in front of 80,000-plus spectators in St Denis, he will do so in the belief that one truly convincing performance will give him a chance of tasting the nectar again.

"We see this as the game – the game – that can put us on the right track in this tournament," said The Ox, pooh-poohing the suggestion that the reigning champions are not up to much. "People talk about the two matches we played at home in the summer, but that wasn't the England team we defeated. It was someone else. They left so many players behind, and there was nothing in it for the players they brought. There is certainly something in it for those they have picked for this game, which is why we expect it to be 100 per cent harder. They are still the holders and they have something to prove. When I look for a comparison, I think back to the 2004 game at Twickenham, when they were very physical. More physical than us, I think."

This must have taken some doing on the English part, for Du Randt is a veritable Table Mountain of a sportsman. When a television interviewer asked the 20st loose-head prop what he had eaten for breakfast, the audience crowded round to hear the answer. A horse, perhaps? A cow pie, à la Desperate Dan? In the event, the reality was a profound disappointment. "A bowl of porridge," he replied. "Not too much."

Would the celebrated Springboks props of yesteryear have been seen dead eating a small bowl of porridge, at any time of day or night? Probably not. There again, Du Randt is not cut from quite the same cloth as a Boy Louw or a Jaap Bekker, those thoroughgoing blood-and-the-soil ruffians of the 1930s and 1950s. He is highly unlikely to smithereen an opponent with a bunch of fives, still less bury his boot in a rival on the floor, and the fact that he is revered as a symbol of machismo-soaked Afrikaner rugby despite a reputation for playing it straight says much for his qualities: iron strength, cultured footballing skills and a positional sense that allows him to play a full part in attacking movements without breaking into so much as a jog.

He first made a name for himself playing for Free State in the domestic Currie Cup competition, and it was the good folk of Bloemfontein who gave him an unexpected opportunity to resuscitate a career he believed had expired after the 1999 World Cup, when a chronic knee condition forced him into retirement. He had spent three years out of the sport when he received a phone call from the former Springbok flanker Rassie Erasmus, who was coaching the provincial team. A few sweet nothings whispered in the most cauliflowerish of ears did the trick. Du Randt agreed to give it another shot.

"When I returned to rugby in 2003, it was to play for Free State and Free State alone," he recalled. "I didn't think I would wear the Springbok shirt again, ever in my life. When Jake White [the national coach] gave me the opportunity to play for my country once more, it felt like the first time all over again. I took some criticism in the media. There was a lot of stuff going around, most of it about me being too old. I used it to motivate myself. But I was nervous, just as I was nervous before my first international in 1994. There were the same fears, the same doubts, the same thoughts about the whole world being against me. I had to fight hard in '94 to come through that, and I had to fight hard again."

Tomorrow, he will have the pleasure – or otherwise – of scrummaging against a fellow countryman. Matt Stevens, promoted from the bench as a result of Phil Vickery's two-match suspension for making the clumsiest football tackle ever seen on a rugby field, may be a very substantial individual in terms of pounds and ounces, but he is not of Afrikaans stock. Rather, he was born in Durban and is every inch the western liberal gentleman. He is positively reverential in his respect for Du Randt, however. South African youngsters are starry-eyed about prop forwards, just as New Zealand kids idolise open-side flankers.

"I'm not sure Matt will be a fan of mine this weekend," Du Randt said. "But it will be an emotional experience for him. If I were to put myself in his position, I'm sure I would consider it a huge privilege to play against the country of my birth."

Will he make it his business to put the young pup in his place? "I don't really see it in that light," he replied. "I've been in enough scrums to know that you're never on top for the whole time, and Matt is a good player. I think they'll miss Vickery, though. He's the captain, the man who brings the team together and gets people going."

This is Du Randt's last hurrah. There will be no third time. Last month, when the Springboks played Namibia in a warm-up match and lost count of the points they scored, he took the field in the company of the long-serving full-back Percy Montgomery, whose international career is also moving towards its conclusion. They carried their sons on to the pitch and received a standing ovation. Even Springbok types go misty-eyed on occasion, it seems.

As an overpowering whiff of sulphur pervades the Parisian air ahead of the big game, it is more likely to be a case of the red mist tomorrow. England have lorded it over the Boks in major Test matches for seven years now, and the South Africans still smart at the memories of the 50-point humiliation at Twickenham in 2002 and the painful World Cup defeat in Perth 11 months later. Fun and games at the first scrum, then?

"Yes, fun and games," Du Randt agreed. "But we cannot go wild. There are television cameras, there are citing officers. We must play with control."

The Ox is good at that. Rarely, if ever, has he been seen to lose his rag. Yet there will be no shortage of ferocity about him, and when huge physicality comes with a physique to match, the consequences for opponents can be dire indeed. Du Randt may be on his last legs, but as last legs go, they are mightily impressive.

Beast of Bloemfontein: Du Randt's epic – and bloody – career

Full name: Jacobus Petrus du Randt.

Born: Eastern Cape, South Africa, 8 September 1972.

Height: 1.90m.

Weight: 125kg.

Position: Prop.

Clubs: Free State Cheetahs, Cats, Blue Bulls.

International career: 73 caps for South Africa;

5 tries (25 points).

1994: Springboks debut in

42-22 victory over Argentina.

1999: Reaches semi-final of World Cup with South Africa; voted second-best loose-head prop of all time by Rugby World magazine.

2000: Suffers a serious knee injury which keeps him out of the game for two years.

2004: Receives his 50th cap as the Springboks lose 32-16 to England at Twickenham.