Home Sport COMMENT: Deon Fourie’s warrior spirit can still boost Springboks

COMMENT: Deon Fourie’s warrior spirit can still boost Springboks

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Fourie was the second-oldest player in last year’s Bok World Cup squad at the age of 37, and some may feel that his race has been run at international level, especially considering the vast array of talented loose forwards available for South Africa.

Rugby Union – Rugby World Cup 2023 – Pool B – South Africa v Romania – Matmut Atlantique, Bordeaux, France – September 17, 2023South Africa’s Deon Fourie celebrates after the match REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Ashfak Mohamed

THERE was an understandable furore when Deon Fourie’s name was not among the 43-strong list of players invited to the first Springbok alignment camp of 2024.

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, apart from the usual suspects, also included several youngsters with an eye on the future.

The likes of hookers Jan-Hendrik Wessels and Marnus van der Merwe, flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse, fullback Quan Horn and flank Ruan Venter may not necessarily be considered for the big Tests against Ireland and the All Blacks this year, but they will gain valuable insight into how the Bok machine operates.

In addition, other newcomers such as Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Henco van Wyk and Mpilo Gumede have shown enough in the United Rugby Championship to possibly earn Test caps this season.

But Fourie was the second-oldest player in last year’s Bok World Cup squad at the age of 37 – Duane Vermeulen was two months older – and some may feel that his race has been run at international level, especially considering the vast array of talented loose forwards available for South Africa.

The Stormers captain, though, is far from finished. In fact, he is one of the key elements of the Boks’ approach for their starting team to ‘empty their tanks’ and for the bench to make a significant impact in the second half.

Fourie’s nous around the breakdown is perhaps unmatched in SA rugby, particularly now that Vermeulen has retired. Where he was a bit over-eager earlier in his career and gave away too many penalties, the openside flank has got his timing just right of when to go for the steal and when to stay out of the ruck.

He knows all the short cuts around the pitch, and he is so much more than just a fetcher on the ground.

Fourie has a massive work-rate on attack and defence. Despite not being one of the more sizeable No.6s, he isn’t shy to either run into the heart of the opposition defence, or even using his surprising pace to open up gaps and then offload to a teammate in broken play.

His leadership skills are also a priceless virtue to have, especially in the second half when a number of starters – often including skipper Siya Kolisi – have been replaced.

Fourie has certainly shown that he still has the appetite to play at the highest level in his performances for the Stormers this season.

He was again outstanding in the blockbuster 26-20 victory against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium in December – the Stormers’ seventh win in a row over their great rivals – with opposition coach Jake White being moved to say about his impact afterwards: “X-factor means he brings something that he is very good at.

“Everyone is under the impression that X-factor players are only (those) who wear No.10 and No.15, who run and side-step.

“X-factor means you are clever enough not to go into a breakdown, clever enough that when you carry, you get the ball back.

“You also have the body language of a winner. Those are X-factors as well. It is not about bringing in another backline player who can side-step.

“Look at a guy like Deon today – he was outstanding. He is not a side-stepper. However, he is very good at what he does, and that is the X-factor that you have.”

Fourie certainly brought that X-factor in the World Cup final against the All Blacks, where he had to come on after just two minutes for the injured Bongi Mbonambi. That meant he had to play 78 minutes off the bench – and at hooker, where he hadn’t played for a number of years after his shift to flank.

Yet Fourie delivered an epic performance, embodying the “warrior” spirit that Erasmus holds dear when selecting the Bok team, and should get the opportunity to add to his 13 Test caps this year.

Erasmus posted a message on X on Friday about the alignment camp: “Hi (SA)!! Hope 2024 is going well! Guys and Ladies just some info! Remember an alignment camp does not mean those are the only players who will play for the Springboks this year! Just like in the past, there is a purpose for every camp! Have a lekka weekend!”

So, the door is definitely not closed on Fourie and others who were unlucky to be left out, like Hacjivah Dayimani and Akker van der Merwe.

And Fourie has shown that his 37-year-old body is still up for the Bok fight.

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