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South Africa is already in the Six Nations

By Daniel Gallan
Paris , France - 15 October 2023; Reda Wardi of France after his side's defeat in the 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-final match between France and South Africa at the Stade de France in Paris, France. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

There is so much South African meat knocking about Scottish rugby at the minute that black puddings are being made with kudu blood around the Highlands. WP Nel, Pierre Schoeman, Kyle Steyn and Duhan van der Merwe are now patriot Scots and have tartan stitched on their hearts, but their origins provide an interesting narrative thread for rugby fans on both sides of the equator. Or at least for those fans capable of having lighthearted conversations about a man’s national identity without veering into nasty jingoism.

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So, in the spirit of frivolity and not taking rugby as seriously as it should be at times, here forth is the one variable that links the half-dozen Six Nations sides. No, it’s not title aspirations, the heartache of a botched 2023 World Cup or disdain for the English. It is of course their ties to South Africa.

Scotland
Where else to start? The four aforementioned Saffas-turned-Scots have added heft up front and razzle-dazzle out wide. When van der Merwe cut England to shreds in what was later recognised as the try of 2023, commentator Mark Robson wondered how a man who is built like a tyrannosaurus-rex could move like a ballet dancer. Clearly he’s never had to navigate Clifton’s second beach in December.

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France v Ireland – Boks Office Six Nations Preview | RPTV

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France v Ireland – Boks Office Six Nations Preview | RPTV

Join Boks Office hosts Hanyani Shimange and Jean de Villiers as they sit down with RWC winner Schalk Brits and England and British and Irish Lion Brad Barritt to preview the Six Nations and in particular the opening day.

Watch now

Duhan van der Merwe
The prolific Duhan van der Merwe has scored 20 tries for Scotland since the 2019 Rugby World Cup (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/ Getty Images)

This bond runs deeper than just this current side. It wasn’t long ago that Ollie Kebble and Allan Dell were propping up Scotland’s scrum with the immaculately bearded pair of Josh Strauss and Cornell du Preez causing chaos on the flank. Further back, in the early days of professionalism, John Allan – uncle of Italy’s Tommasso Allan – played for both countries either side of the 1995 World Cup.

There are seven players currently on the books at Glasgow and Edinburgh that could still represent their native South Africa while Franco Smith’s work with the Warriors has earned him love up and down the River Clyde.

Which means if the Scots are to achieve the previously unachievable, and lift a title they so desperately crave, they’ll owe a debt of gratitude to the protein supplied by Free State cows.

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England
It would be remiss – especially for any patriot Saffa – not to kick this one off with Mike Catt. After all, the sight of him getting steamrolled by Jonah Lomu while playing for the former colonial power never gets old. Of course, the man with the letters OBE next to his name contributed more to English rugby than merely melting in the tackle. A World Cup winner’s medal and a British & Irish Lions triumph on South African soil means his legend is secure.

Andy Farrell and Mike Catt
Dublin , Ireland – 23 January 2024; Head coach Andy Farrell and assistant coach Mike Catt speak to Sam Prendergast during Ireland Rugby squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Since WB Thomson donned the Red Rose in 1892, 28 South African-born players have represented England. Two, including Catt and Harold Geoffrey ‘Tuppy’ Owen Smith skippered the side.

Two clubs in recent years have had so many South Africans that the word ‘Saffa’ morphed into a prefix. And though the Saffa-Sharks in Sale have yet to win a trophy, Saracens, or, if you like, the Saffacens, moulded by Brendan Venter, would lift five Premiership titles and three European Championships across a dynastic decade in the 2010s. Today, all ten Premiership sides are represented by at least one of the 29 South Africans in England’s top flight.

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Wales
With no direct links to South Africa in this year’s squad, Warren Gatland can at least take heart that his forwards have been cutting their teeth against South African packs in the URC. Love or loathe the competition, there is no doubt that the constant rumbling against southern hemisphere heavies has added grunt to European outfits.

Bradley Roberts, who has not made the 34-man group, was the last connection to South Africa from within the camp. The Dragons hooker was born in Durban and attended the prestigious Michaelhouse school, alma mater of Saracen’s Michael Rhodes, the Ulster and Ireland back-rower Robbie Diack, and Patrick Howard who won 35 caps for the Dragons.

South African rugby players regularly cite the Welsh as one of the toughest opponents around. Though the cultural connections are tenuous, the shared values are firmly entrenched.

Italy 
It would be disingenuous to claim the Zimbabwean-born Sebastian Negri, though there’s no denying the impact Hilton College and Western Province had on his development. Still, in Braam Steyn and Johan Meyer, Italy have recently fielded back-rowers from Africa’s most southern edge. Keeping that tradition alive is the Johannesburg-born No. 8 Ross Vintcent who is yet another exciting prospect from Italy’s lucrative youth programme.

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Two South Africans have served as head coach of the Azzurri, though the less said about their records the better. Franco Smith lost all 13 matches in charge during a short interim stay. Nick Mallett claimed some big scalps during his four-year tenure, including a 22-21 win over France in Rome, but couldn’t once lift the side off the bottom of the table.

France
After playing a leading role in knocking France out of their own World Cup last year, South Africa’s Jesse Kriel wore a sheepish grin as he conveyed an admiration for French rugby and hoped local supporters would get behind the Boks.

It didn’t quite work that way. There was no love lost for Siya Kolisi’s team who were booed for most of their stay in Paris. If bridges are to be built, perhaps the broad shoulders of the hulking 128kg lock Paul Willemse can help with their construction.

Like England, France is a welcoming home for South Africans looking to test their mettle in a competitive – and well-paying – European league. Besides Kolisi at Racing 92, 22 South Africans ply their trade in France. None presently wear the colours of Toulon, though they’ve had their fill in the past with the likes of Bryan Habana, Juan Smith, Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw offering ballast to the all-conquering Galacticos that won a hat-trick of Champions Cups from 2013.

Ireland
Born on the dusty streets of Vereeniging, raised on nothing but raw meat and zebra milk until he was nine, Josh van der Flier is as South African as the stalagmites in the Sterkfontein Caves.

None of that is true. World Rugby’s player of the year for 2022 was actually born in Wicklow, but the relationship between Ireland and South Africa is strong enough that every so often a gullible supporter takes the bait on social media.

Ireland <a href=
All Blacks” width=”1021″ height=”545″ /> Ireland players, from left, Jonathan Sexton, Josh van der Flier, Peter OMahony and Tadhg Beirne face the ‘haka’ before the Steinlager Series match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The most recent – and factually accurate – link comes in the shape of South Africa’s World Cup winning coach, Jaques Nienaber, who is now marshalling the defence of the juggernauts at Leinster. Having spent two years with Rassie Erasmus at Munster – whose fans so generously bequeathed The Cranberries song Zombie to Springboks supporters during the World Cup – Nienaber shouldn’t get too home sick on the Emerald Isle. At least he’ll have lock Jason Jenkins for company round the braai.

Staying on the pitch, Jean Kleyn’s journey from Springboks hopeful to Ireland starter to a World Cup winner with South Africa is remarkable. Unlike CJ Stander, Rob Herring and Quin Roux – who all represented Ireland with distinction – Kleyn, like the winger Jack Gage almost 100 years ago, has experience wearing both shades of green.

So, no matter who wins the Six Nations, a South African will celebrate. They might be orchestrating Italy’s defence, Ireland’s attack, Scotland’s scrum or France’s kicking game. They might be watching on as punters in a new land or recalling their own glory days on famous grounds. They might have even had a hand in the result.

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Comments

22 Comments
B
Bob Marler 127 days ago

To be fair, New Zealand and the pacific islands at large got into the 6N much sooner than SA.

I can’t be be bothered to be sure, but I counted 6 or 7 Irishmen that played on Friday? After 8 beers though.

So we could comfortably call it the “Anything between 9 and 11 (on the day) Nations”.

Or Super Rugby.

Or the World Cup (without the minnows).

W
WOD 129 days ago

Ok so half the teams in the Six Nations: Ireland, England & Wales don’t currently have any players from South Africa.

Italy have Ross Vintcent who didn’t play and France have Willemse who got sent off.

So it is only Scotland who are relying on South African talent.

F
Fred 130 days ago

Tomato Allen is the son of Will Allen John Allen’s brother.

D
Dan 131 days ago

Tenuous grasp and link at best. If the Boks actually were in the 6N, they'd finish third in the table most years - and be happy for the cash that being in a superior rugby tournament brings to their destitute third world nation.

Wayne Barnes is also retired. So the best Boks of their lifetime is now gone too

f
finn 132 days ago

South Africa actually isn’t in the six nations. South Africa play in the Rugby Championship. The teams that are in the 6 nations are England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, & Italy.

B
Bob Marler 133 days ago

Yes. SA is good at rugby.

SA and the PIs. Rugby player making machines.

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