Bok comeback kids

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :In the news, Springboks on 1 Jun 2008 at 17:36

While the first Springbok squad of 2008 may represent new beginnings for four players – not to mention the coach and his two assistants – the true tale of the 30 who made the cut is the six comeback kids.

Kevin McCallum reports for the Sunday Independent

Between them, Gcobani Bobo, Conrad Jantjes, Adrian Jacobs, Joe van Niekerk, Bolla Conradie and Tonderai Chavhanga have played almost 90 Test matches. They also have a list of injuries that is almost as long, with at least three crucial ligament injuries, a hamstring tear here and there, and an achilles tendon that was almost damaged beyond repair.

It’s a minor miracle that two of them are still playing and even more of a relief that they chose to stick it out in South Africa.

Van Niekerk is one of those who was so nearly lost to South Africa after he had signed a three-year contract with Northampton. They cancelled his contract at the last minute, citing concerns over a spinal injury he picked up last year. His agent, mother Cathy, sent over evidence to dispute this, but the Saints chose to cancel the contract via email. Legal proceedings are currently in progress, but Northampton did Van Niekerk a favour, even if they didn’t know it.

He returned to where it had all began, at the Lions, and showed that at 27 he had married the enthusiasm and skill of his youth with maturity. He still has the best offload in South African rugby.

It seems a lifetime ago that Harry Viljoen called up Van Niekerk to his Springbok squad for the 2001 Tri-Nations. Van Niekerk was only the third-choice eighthman at the Lions and had not yet played a Super rugby match, yet he made his debut in the rain at Newlands and was a beacon of hope on that miserable Cape Town day.

He was the Springboks’ best player at the World Cup in 2003, until he destroyed his knee ligaments against Samoa and was sent home. Van Niekerk played 23 Tests under Jake White, but the back injury that so worried Northampton kept him out of the World Cup.

At the Lions this year, Eugene Eloff has used Van Niekerk at flank and eighthman, and if Peter de Villiers is looking to start with an experienced loose trio against Wales this week, he could do worse than to consider Juan Smith, Luke Watson and Van Niekerk.

Jantjes made his debut a week after Van Niekerk in 2001 and was named Man of the Match when the Boks beat the Wallabies at Loftus.

It has been said that Viljoen rushed the prodigiously talented fullback from CBC Boksburg into Test rugby, but that is a nonsense argument given the blatant talent he showed seven years ago. Viljoen kept faith with him in what was a hard time for Springbok rugby, but after the end-of-year tour in 2001 ,Jantjes had to wait four years for White to give him a run against Argentina and Wales.

Injuries plagued Jantjes down the years until a doctor finally diagnosed acute damage around his Achilles tendon. Recovery from that and a move to Cape Town revitalised the player and at the age of 28 he is in his prime. His positional play has never been better and his kicking is as accurate and long as always. He has the obstacle of Percy Montgomery to overcome should he wish to play for the Springboks, though.

Bobo has had the hardest time of all six, struck down by two cruciate ligament injuries at vital stages. After scoring three tries on his Super rugby debut for the Cats against the Bulls, he suffered his first knee injury three matches later. Then, after having been picked for the 2003 World Cup squad, he again tore his knee ligament.

After his last Test against Scotland at the end of 2004, Bobo’s path back to the Springboks has seen him struggle for game time at the Sharks before forming a potent centre pairing with Jean de Villiers, which coach De Villiers might like to keep for the first Test against Wales.

Jacobs was another who caught the eye of Viljoen, having formed a piercing midfield partnership at the Falcons with the late Ettienne Botha. He was an inside centre then, a playmaker and his renaissance has come at the Sharks as an impact substitute. His 10 Test caps have been earned mainly off the bench and that is unlikely to change in the national squad.

Conradie began this season as the most experienced Stormer, but was second fiddle to Ricky Januarie for most of the season. With Ruan Pienaar covering anywhere from nine to 15, he will have to fight for the replacement scrumhalf place.

Chavhanga’s debut saw him score six tries. Admittedly they were against Uruguay, but he is blessed with the sort of pace that kept defenders busy in the Super 14. They could not stop him scoring four tries in the tournament, though.


  • All richly deserved. Except Bolla

  • Comment 1, posted at 01.06.08 22:00:42 by robdylan Reply
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  • Look at the logic though Roberto – its clear that PDV sees Grant as a serious flyhalf option, so to counter his inexperience, he brings in the 2 scrumhalves he has played with – and whom Butch has also played with. Not a Bolla fan meself – annoying lil SOB – but it makes sense.

    I am more concerned about Bobo and Spies starting – Bobo hasn’t looked world-class, and Kanko has been the best SA player all season.

  • Comment 2, posted at 01.06.08 22:11:26 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Not comfortable with Watson @ 6. Don’t like players out of position, but with Schalk out injured PdV could do worse than try 6 Spies – 7 Joe – 8 Kanko. Spies has played there at age level with Lobberts and Keegan making up the rest of the trio.

    Hopefully Frans just ran at centre cause of Adi’s injury.

  • Comment 3, posted at 01.06.08 22:34:22 by Cru-El Reply

  • @Cru-El (Comment 3) :

    Why hopefully Frans only ran at centre? Where would you play Frans? Or are you saying you would prefer Jacobs to start ahead of Steyn? Surely not?

  • Comment 4, posted at 01.06.08 23:05:59 by Villie Reply
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  • Wales have announced their team to play the Boks on Sat. Interesting to see they have gone for Stephen Jones at 10 rather than Hook!

  • Comment 5, posted at 01.06.08 23:09:00 by Villie Reply
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  • Happy for all the comeback kids… especially ADI and BIG JOE!

  • Comment 6, posted at 02.06.08 08:01:06 by blackshark Reply

    blackshark - I'm back!
  • @blackshark (Comment 6) : :mrgreen:

  • Comment 7, posted at 02.06.08 08:58:20 by Charlie Reply

  • @Charlie (Comment 7) : I swear, when they announce the team for real, we’re going to have an official “Adrian Jacobs Day” here on Sharksworld!

  • Comment 8, posted at 02.06.08 09:08:30 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 8) : :mrgreen: You go Roberto… πŸ˜†

  • Comment 9, posted at 02.06.08 09:22:39 by Charlie Reply

  • @Charlie (Comment 9) : thought you might like that

  • Comment 10, posted at 02.06.08 09:28:01 by robdylan Reply
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  • Kudos to Bobo and Joe for having turnaround seasons after injury… but neither should make the test 22…

  • Comment 11, posted at 02.06.08 09:49:03 by bryce_in_oz Reply

  • @Villie (Comment 4) :
    Frans in NOT a 13! I would play him at 7 πŸ˜‰

  • Comment 12, posted at 02.06.08 11:55:53 by Cru-El Reply

  • @Cru-El (Comment 12) :

    I think a 12/13 combo of JDV and Steyn might work quite well. The numbers on their backs don’t have to be set in concrete and they can interchange.

  • Comment 13, posted at 02.06.08 14:22:20 by Villie Reply
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