Selecting a team from four World Cup-winning squads is not easy, especially if they are from such vastly differing eras as South Africa’s victories were.
From Francois Pienaar’s pioneers in 1995 to Siya Kolisi’s epoch-making classes of 2019 and 2023 – with John Smith’s stellar team of 2007 in between.
It is almost unfair to single out individuals from such a classy collection of World Cup winners.
However, it is an engrossing exercise to wrestle with the subject and produce a selection that can be debated and will no doubt cause some diametric views.
There are so many stumpers and the perceptions are as diverse.
* For the record, the idea was first advocated by photographer Johan Orton, but I decided to do my own selection – rather than a collaborative effort.
I attended the 1995 Final as a journalist, reported on the 2007 and 2019 Finals from my office desk, and attended the 2023 Final in Paris.
15 – André Joubert (1995)
Willie le Roux was sensational in 2019, one of the most underrated players in terms of his contribution. Percy Montgomery added his value in a steady and consistent way, with his goal-kicking the key. Damian Willemse became the youngest player to win two World Cup and has a bright future ahead of him. My choice falls on the Rolls Royce of fullbacks, Joubert, because he did back in 1995 what has become an expected standard for modem fullbacks. His left boot also produced some real moments of class.
14 – Cheslin Kolbe (2019 & 2023)James Small was the epitome of what a Springbok should be – never-say-die, even when confronted with seemingly insurmountable odds. His passion for the Springbok was unquestionable. JP Pietersen was another player who wore his heart on his sleeve for the Boks, with his defence his outstanding trait. Kurt-Lee Arendse is one for the future and will set new standards in the years to come. I went with Kolbe, even though he was on the left wing in 2023. His performance in 2019 was something special, a finish that will continue to make highlights reels for decades to come.
13 – Jaque Fourie (2007)
This was a really tough call, especially between Jaque Fourie and Lukhanyo Am – with very little to separate them. Japie Mulder brought his own brand of determination and defensive steel. Jessie Kriel had his best season/year/tournament in 2023 and was also one of the most underrated players. For me it was a choice between Am and Fourie – both masters of defence when on form. Fourie won my vote because Am’s influence started waning as injuries took their toll in 2023.
2 – Francois Steyn (2007 & 2019)
Such a contrasting collection of styles – from the creative skills of flyhalf-cum-centre Hennie Lour, through the ingenuity and booming boot of Steyn, through to the raw power of Damian de Allende in back-to-back World Cup victories. I went for the wider range of skills of Steyn.
11 – Bryan Habana (2007)
Cheslin Kolbe was selected on the right wing, which leave us with three players. Chester Williams was a good finisher and a hard-working win. Makazole Mapimpi scored the first-ever try for South Africa in a World Cup Final and had some fine moments. Habana was special in 2007, when he equaled Jonah Lomu’s try-scoring record. He did an admirable job in a Final where no tries were scored.
10 – Handré Pollard (2019 & 2023)
Joel Stransky slotted that famous 1995 winning drop-goal and Butch James was steady, without being sensational. Pollard was a class above, especially in his performance in the 2023 Final. To think injury almost robbed South Africa of his talent.
9 – Fourie du Preez (2007)
Faf de Klerk was often mocked in 2019, because of team tactics, but in 2023 he not only silenced his critics, he redeemed himself as the country’s premier scrumhalf. Joost van der Westhuizen will always be an emotional selection and is certainly deserved of the accolade of starting in our team, but I went with Du Preez for his playmaking skills and overall game management.
8 – Duane Vermeulen (2019 & 2023)
Mark Andrews was a lock converted to No.8 for the play-offs in 1995 and did an admirable job, as did Danie Rossouw (lock-cum-flank-cum-No.8) in 2007. ThorMeulen will truly go down in the annals as a great and a legend – his brute power, breakdown skills and amazing workrate making the reason why he has two World Cup winner’s medals.
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (2019 & 2023)
Ruben Kruger was nicknamed the silent assassin for his unassuming showing in 1995 and like Juan Smith (2007) he was a workhorse. However, if Du Toit’s performance in 2019 warranted a Player of the Year award (which he received), his performance in the 2023 Final was far beyond. Not only did he make 28 tackles in the Final (10 more than the previous best), but his work with ball in hand and set pieces saw him rightfully named Man of the Match.
6 – Siya Kolisi (2019 &2023 – captain)Francois Pienaar was a true leader and even though there are, still to this day, those who say he was not the best in his position, he was a special player in his time. Schalk Burger is another legend of the game that came back from a life-threatening illness to achieve great heights. Kolisi seldom gets the credit for the work he does – his tackle count often well into double digits (13 in the 2019 Final and 14 in the 2023 Final), he carried with purpose and also came back from a potential season-ending knee surgery.
5 – Victor Matfield (2007)Hannes Strydom was an honest and hard-working lock, but he was up against some special competition. Lood de Jager had his career curtailed by injury, but was a special player in the 2019 Final. Franco Mostert did his best work without the ball and his 16 tackles in the 2023 Final went with an amazing workrate at the breakdown – where he could often be seen clearing out the opposition. Matfield was a once-in-a-lifetime player and his line-out skills and analysis are stuff of legends and lore.
4 – Eben Etzebeth (2019 & 2023)
Kobus Wiese has very old-school – a burly, man-mountain that was brutal with ball in hand. Bakkies Botha was the original enforcer. Etzebeth, perhaps did not have his best day at the office in the 2023 Final (with three missed tackles and three penalties), but in 2019 he made 13 tackles and just one miss, while conceding no penalties.
3 – Balie Swart (1995)
Many will clamour for Frans Malherbe and his two World Cups (which is a valid reason), while CJ van der Linde was certainly good value in 2007. However, Swart did what few props would dare do – mask the pain of a rib injury sustained in the semifinal and see out the game. A true rock.
2 – Malcolm Marx (2019)
1 – Os du Randt (1995 & 2007)
Steven Kitshoff also has two World Cup winner’s medals – coming off the bench in 2019 and starting in 2023. Tendai Mtawarira was also a real Beast in 2019, while Ox Nche is the future. Du Randt is a true legend of the game – coming back from a potential career-ending injury and (like Frans Steyn) his two World Cup wins were 12 years apart.@king365ed