With the dust far from having settled after the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in Japan, as Bloemfontein and the Free State one cannot help but feel immensely proud of the achievement by players from the region, or players who made their mark in the province during 1995, 2007 and in 2019.
The three-time champions are without a doubt the pride of a nation and while unfortunately no Free State or Toyota Cheetahs players were involved in the campaign in the Land of the Rising Sun this year, numerous players plied their trade in the Free State or hail from the province.
The coach, Rassie Erasmus, who was also named as the 2019 World Rugby Coach of the Year, enjoyed legendary status in Bloemfontein, even though he hails from Despatch in the Eastern Cape. Erasmus left his mark as coach and player in Bloemfontein and by his own admission, calls the city home. His defence coach, Jacques Nienaber, is a Grey College old boy who also left his mark.
Former Cheetahs who lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy on Sunday are Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Duane Vermeulen, Lood de Jager and Trevor Nyakane, while Frans Steyn and Cobus Reinach played junior rugby for the Free State. Former Cheetahs who represented other countries are Lappies Labuschagne (Japan), WP Nel (Scotland) and Torsten van Jaarsveld. Current Cheetahs players Aranos Coetzee and Ruben de Haas represented Namibia and the USA respectively.
The current Springbok physiotherapist, Vivian Verwant, also has deep roots in Bloemfontein and is studied at the University of the Free State. The hooker, Bongi Mbonambi, was born and bred in Bethlehem, while the lock, Franco Mostert, was born in Welkom.
From the class of ’95, Naka Drotské and World Rugby Hall of inductee, Os du Randt, played for and coached the Cheetahs, while Ruben Kruger, Brendan Venter, André Joubert played for the Free State. The lock, Hannes Strydom, was born in Welkom. The manager, Morné du Plessis (attended Grey), and assistant coach, Gysie Pienaar (played for and coached the Free State), have deep roots in the province.
From the class of ’07, we have BJ Botha (attended Grey for a short while), Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Gurthrö Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde, Albert van der Berg (played for the Cats), Juan Smith, Ruan Pienaar, André Pretorius (played for the Cats), Wayne Julies, Wynand Olivier (born in Welkom), Francois Steyn and Ashwin Willemse (played for the Cats). Dr Derick Coetzee was the team conditioning coach.
Gysie and Ruan Pienaar are the only father-son combination to have won a World Cup. Os du Randt and Frans Steyn are the only two South Africans to have won the World Cup twice. Steyn also has the distinction of being the only player in the world to have beaten a father-son combination in finals, Andy Farrell (2007), and his son and English captain, Owen Farrell (2019). – MORGAN PIEK