Surprise Springbok front-row call-up Deon Carstens is an excellent reason why there may be some merit in South African rugby’s ban on overseas-based players representing the national team.
After making his Bok debut in 2002, and being plagued by bad luck which prevented him from ever making the impact at international level that he needed to in order to become a regular, Carstens had started to shift into the background as one of those players who never quite made it at the highest level.
But this week, the week of his 30th birthday, he got a surprise call to join the 28-man squad in what many consider to be the biggest series outside of a World Cup.
“It was only the hope of still being able to play for the Boks that kept me here, so I was extremely chuffed when I heard that I had been included,” said Carstens.
When we started the year I never really thought it possible. But then I started reading stuff written by you guys (journalists), and I heard my name in speculation, so I figured it must come from somewhere. When the Bok management listed me as one of the injured players when the training squad was named two weeks ago, then I started getting hopeful.”
Carstens’ last appearance for the Boks was in the 2007 Test against Samoa, the one that will be forever remembered for the controversial debut of Luke Watson, but the fact he has not figured since then should not be taken as an indication he was a bolt-from-the-blue selection.
Props do tend to mature later than other players, and Carstens’ selection is a victory for the type of player he represents, and which South Africa lacks at the moment – experienced front-rowers who have been on the circuit long enough to rub what they have learned off on younger players.
“I know it is spoken about a lot of props, so I suppose it is becoming almost a bit of a cliche, but it is true that front-row forwards learn the business by being dumped a few times. It is the school of hard knocks, you learn by making mistakes,” he said.
“At the moment there are not that many experienced guys playing front-row… the minute you start to show any signs of having what it takes, you get grabbed by a French or British club. It has left a big void in terms of the older guys teaching the younger guys the ropes.”
Carstens knows all about being dumped. He made his debut in the disastrous outing against Scotland in Edinburgh in 2002. Carstens, along with the rest of the pack, was pushed backwards, and the Scots scored a rare win on a cold and blustery day at Murrayfield.
That was during the Rudolf Straeuli era, and the Bok first choice team had been destroyed by France in Marseille the previous week, so Straeuli made his selection for Edinburgh while still possibly being affected by the red mist of anger.
“Of course I am a much more mature and advanced player than I was then. It is a blot on my rugby memory, an occasion I want to forget. A couple of years ago I was picking up good momentum and looked to be heading back into Springbok contention when Jake White was coaching.
“I was selected in 2006, but withdrew through injury. After that I never came back into favour.”
Os du Randt was the man who would have kept him out of favour, for though he made his debut as a tighthead, it was as a loosehead that he had established himself by the middle part of this decade.
“It will be a challenge to move back to tighthead, but people mustn’t forget I made my debut at tighthead and have played more in the No 3 jersey than the No 1. I haven’t played tighthead this season, but I did play as a replacement in my last Test.”
Carstens is widely recognised in the front-row club as possibly the strongest local loosehead.
Sharks coach John Plumtree must think so too, for he has been happy to play Carstens ahead of Bok first choice Beast Mtawarira – so don’t bet against Carstens wearing the No 1 jersey and playing alongside Smit if there are injuries in the forthcoming series.
“I will be ready to play either position. I am happy to play a back-up role, but will take my chance if I am given one. I have waited a long time for this.”
This article was originally published on page 27 of Saturday Argus on June 06, 2009Tweet