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URC’s grisled veterans put young bucks in their place

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While the spring chickens usually get the glory in rugby, it is often the gnarled veterans who do the hard yards. The better-performing teams in the United Rugby Championship have a backbone of experience.

Brok Harris of the Stormers during the 2024 United Rugby Championship 2023/24 game between the Sharks and Stormers at Kings Park Stadium on 17 February 2023. Picture: Gerhard Duraan, BackpagePix

WHILE the spring chickens usually get the glory in rugby, it is often the gnarled veterans who do the hard yards. The better-performing teams in the United Rugby Championship have a backbone of experience. Mike Greenaway looks at five players over 35 who continued to excel in the URC.

Willem Alberts

The Bone Collector travelled with braai tongs in his kitbag on overseas tours but at the age of 40 he has retired the kitbag and taken up a permanent place next to his braai.

Boy does he deserve it after a season in which he played some of his best rugby and was an inspiration to his Lions teammates. Alberts has fittingly ended his career where it started way back in 2005. In-between he had lengthy tenures at the Sharks and Stade Francais. His 43 Tests for the Springboks included seven tries.

Brok Harris

He has been hailed as one of the greatest Stormers of all time after recently earning his 150th cap for the Cape team.

He was already a stalwart at the Stormers when he left to play for seven seasons at the Dragons in Wales. Two years ago he returned to the Cape to wind down his career but became one of John Dobson’s most valuable players when the team had a prop injury crisis.

The 39-year-old’s real first name, by the way, is Juan.

Deon Fourie

It is testimony to how good the 37-year-old has been for the Stormers that many are saying that his season-ending injury in April played a significant role in the Stormers’ URC season falling short of their high standards.

Fourie hurt his knee playing in the Champions Cup loss to La Rochelle in April. He is another to have had a happy homecoming in the Cape.

He had played 175 games collectively for Western Province and the Stormers before playing seven seasons in France (for Lyon and Grenoble). He returned to the Stormers in 2021 and was so good for them that he made his Springbok debut at the age of 36.

Cian Healy

The 36-year-old has been propping up the Leinster scrum since he was 19 and he will earn his 280th cap for the Irish province in Saturday’s URC semi-final against the Bulls.

He also has 129 caps for Ireland and is likely to be returning to Loftus Versfeld in a few weeks for the first Test against the Springboks.

When recently asked what keeps him going he answered: “It’s more a case of what’s stopping me? The environment at Leinster is so positive and enjoyable that who would want to stop?”

Stephen Archer

A big reason why Munster are champions of the URC and will take some stopping in defending their title is that they are not shy to back experienced players.

A host of their players are well into their 30s and they keep the famous Munster culture in good health (Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has said he was inspired by the team culture when he coached there). Think Peter O’Mahoney, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Tadhg Beirne.

Prop Archer is one of their most respected veterans. The 36-year-old has played only for Munster and has been their tighthead prop in 287 games, since 2009.

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