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The streets won't forget Jaque Fourie

By Daniel Gallan
South Africa's Springbok center Jaque Fourie (#13) celebrates a try during the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool D match Namibia vs South Africa at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland on September 22, 2011. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

“The streets won’t forget.” This phrase, which is rounded off with a player’s name, has become ubiquitous in sport. And though it’s meant as a compliment of the highest order, recognising the brilliance of the individual in question, there is also a whiff of damnation with faint praise.

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Because the streets are a shorthand for those in the know. Those with their ears to the ground and their eyes open are able to hear and see things that other more ignorant folk often miss. Those on the street who recognise talent aren’t swayed by the obvious in the mainstream and are wise to what’s really shaping the discourse. The streets don’t forget because the streets understand how the game really works.

Which is why I had to double-take at a tweet last month that started with the line, “The streets won’t forget Jaque Fourie”.

Posted by Andrew Forde – a knowledgeable rugby voice who does a brilliant job compiling highlights reels of famous matches and standout moments, as well as compilation videos such as “Scrum-halves being sh*thouses for 8 minutes!” – the proposal caught me off guard.

Not because I doubted Forde’s assertion that, “The Springbok outside centre was elite on his day”, but that a player I regard as a genuine all-time great, one who has a serious claim to being the best 13 of all time, would need the streets to remember him as he slowly slipped from the collective consciousness of everyone else.

Would Forde have posted a video suggesting the streets wouldn’t forget about Brian O’Driscoll? Probably not. Same as the streets wouldn’t need to persevere the legacy of Dan Carter, Alun Wyn Jones or Sarah Hunter.

This is of course no slight on Forde, who’s insight on the game can stand up to any pundit or punter. Instead this is a comment on the disparate worlds in our rugby universe and why the United Rugby Championship will help bridge that gap.

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Fourie made his Super Rugby debut in 2003 for the Golden Cats, now the Lions in Johannesburg, and stayed loyal to them until the end of the 2009 campaign. In seven seasons the union finished stone last on three occasions and never climbed higher than 11th in the Super 12 and 12th in the Super 14.

And yet by the time he left for greener pastures in Cape Town to join Western Province, Fourie had already stacked up 54 Springboks appearances, won two Tri-Nations titles, lifted a World Cup and bagged a British & Irish Lions winner’s medal thanks to his 74th try in the second Test in Pretoria in which he shrugged off three tacklers to score in the corner in 2009.

In other words, in a team of misfits and bumblers, Fourie was imperious, dotting down 26 tries from 81 games in what was the toughest club competition of its time.

Where Fourie dazzled opponents and fans has a lot to do with his reputation in Europe. There is no doubt that Super Rugby has lost its sheen. The decline was already underway even before the South Africans headed north but back then, when Fourie was at his height, it surpassed the Heineken Cup and any other league on the continent.

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Fourie played 72 Tests in total. A mere 22 per cent of those were against the Home Nations to go along with 126 minutes against the Lions. That is a fraction of a career that included six seasons in the Japanese Top League.

Perception is a fickle thing. Much depends on one’s vantage point and if a world-class talent performs Herculean feats in relative anonymity, do they really count?

This is why the URC should be celebrated. It has helped blow away the fog of war that shrouded superstar talents over the horizon in mists that would only clear on rare occasions. Social media has helped, but there is no substitute for sustained exposure to players that would otherwise be mere names on a team sheet or brief mentions on a YouTube clip.

Now fans in Swansea know all about Hacjivah Dayimani just as the faithful in Durban are well acquainted with Stafford McDowall. Not merely because a journalist has produced a deep dive investigative feature on them but through their own observations.

The tournament has shattered ingrained understandings of what constitutes a physical boundary in our sport and realigned the game’s centre. France, England and Japan continue to go it alone, and the Australasians and Argentina remain on the dark side of the moon, but thanks to this illuminating and multinational event, half of the tier one nations share their domestic product in a more homogeneous ecosystem.

Under Forde’s tweet, which asked if anyone would place Fourie in the discussion around the best 13 in history, the replies were a mixed bag. One fan said that he wasn’t “even close to top 15”, which was impressive in itself as I’m not sure I could name 15 world class outside centres without thorough research.

Others below the line praised Fourie’s specific qualities such as his strength or pace. But this would be akin to complimenting O’Driscoll for his passing accuracy or Conrad Smith’s ability to run a cutting line. Sure, these players possessed these individual traits, but they double-ticked every other box as well.

When I ran the idea for this column past my editor he shared an anecdote about a knowledgeable New Zealand journalist who hadn’t heard of Sergio Parisse. You know, the fourth-most capped Test player of all time and a two-time winner of the Top 14. My editor also said that some in New Zealand never really gave O’Driscoll his dues because he never beat the All Blacks. Indeed, former All Blacks second row Ian Jones, when asked if the Irish outside centre was one of the greats, replied “Not in my house” as he’d “never done it [won] against the All Blacks.”

As I said, perception is fickle.

Thank goodness we have the streets to remember and rate these legends of the game who toiled in obscurity in a pre-URC age.

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1 Comment
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bob 400 days ago

Jacques Fourie certainly one of the best.

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