The key ingredient South Africa's URC teams so badly needed
The one consistent among South Africa’s trio of BKT United Rugby Championship coaches in Jake White, John Plumtree and John Dobson, was the size of their smile in welcoming back their World Cup title-winning Springboks.
The Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen did not have such a luxury as there were no World Cup winners from his squad, but for the other South African three, the return to action of these world-class players could not have come sooner.
Jake White raved about veteran Willie le Roux’s authority as a player/coach in the build-up to the Vodacom Bulls win against Connacht. Le Roux, in his BKT URC debut, justified the hype and the pre-match purple prose.
Etzebeth was huge in everything he did.
The Hollywoodbets Sharks had lost their opening five league matches, including a home match to Connacht, but with Etzebeth at the forefront of the World Cup stars, the hosts were unrecognizable from the side that laboured through the opening five matches.
Plumtree, back at the Sharks for a second stint as coach, finally got to flash that big grinning smile after the Hollywoodbets Sharks scored 69 points against the Dragons. This is why he came back to Durban, to lead a squad of gladiators and world class players.
White’s Vodacom Bulls were also such a different prospect with his World Cup players and this week Dobson got the necessary relief from four successive defeats overseas when veteran Deon Fourie led the DHL Stormers World Cup-winning quartet back into training.
Utility back Damian Willemse, who started for the Boks at fullback in the World Cup final but has produced his best rugby for the DHL Stormers at inside centre, spoke refreshingly of his desire to win the BKT URC title for a second time. His teammate and No 10 Manie Libbok was as enthusiastic about dominating in a league that he made his own in the past two seasons.
Fourie, seemingly younger with every passing week, immediately added punch to the preparations and brought calm to the pack.
The leadership, said Dobson, of his World Cup quartet, was something that had been missing for the DHL Stormers this season.
“They’ve won international rugby’s biggest title a month ago and there was always the danger of a World Cup hangover, but from what I have experienced this week and what I have observed in the performances of the Boks World Cup winners for other teams, it has been the opposite.
“These players have come back wanting more success, wanting to inspire success and wanting to showcase the qualities of world champions,” said Dobson.
“We are fortunate to have so many of the winning World Cup squad playing for SA teams in the BKT URC because it tells the next generation of players that if you perform in the BKT URC, you will get noticed internationally.”
Dobson’s DHL Stormers play Zebre Parma in Stellenbosch this Saturday and White’s Vodacom Bulls host Plumtree’s men in what should be a bruising battle at Loftus Versfeld.
Tighthead prop Wilco Louw has been impressive for the Vodacom Bulls since joining from London’s Harlequins and his contest with star scrumming loosehead prop Ox Nche is reason enough to pay to go to Loftus.
Nche has been described as the most destructive scrumming prop in the game, but he is up against a giant-sized boulder in Louw.
Outside of this duo, who will be dabbling in the dark arks of the front row, the World Cup-winning backs on either side make Pretoria’s Loftus the place to be this weekend.