An influx of Springboks returning to South Africa from overseas clubs in the last year has both bolstered local franchises and provided necessary experience to the next generation of players. No fewer than 15 Springboks – with a combined total of 522 Test caps worth of experience between them – have opted to return to South Africa in the last year.
First to have their passports stamped by local customs were JP Pietersen and Ruan Pienaar, who returned to South Africa last year during the Currie Cup after nine years with Ulster in Ireland and Montpellier in France. Pietersen, with 70 Test caps to his name, linked up with his former Cell C Sharks team-mates in Durban from French club Toulon, while Pienaar (88 caps) played a pivotal part as the Toyota Free State Cheetahs ended up winning the Currie Cup.
Double RWC-winner Frans Steyn (67 caps) “followed” Pienaar to Bloemfontein recently as he signed with the Cheetahs after a number of years of playing club rugby in France (Racing Metro and Montpellier) and Japan (Toshiba Brave Lupus).
Jannie du Plessis – a team-mate of Pietersen, Pienaar and Steyn in the Springbok squad that won the Rugby World Cup in France in 2007 – has also found his way back home and joined the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg earlier this year from Montpellier in France.
The experienced Du Plessis (70 caps) was joined in Johannesburg by three more Bok forwards in Willem Alberts (43 caps from Stade Francais in France), as well as Jaco Kriel (11 caps) and Ruan Dreyer (four caps), both of whom played for Gloucester in England.
But it was north of the Jukskei River in Pretoria where the Vodacom Bulls have been very busy bolstering their playing stocks with experienced Springboks.
Morne Steyn (66 caps), who made more than 100 appearances for Stade Francais, and Juandre Kruger (17 caps), who was with Racing Metro and Toulon in France, and Scarlets in Wales, returned to Loftus Versfeld before the start of the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season, and they have since been joined by a further six Springboks.
Joining Vermeulen, Steyn and Kruger at Loftus Versfeld will be Gio Aplon (17 caps), Marcel van der Merwe (seven caps), Nizaam Carr (five caps), Arno Botha (two caps) and Travis Ismaiel (one cap).
Duane Vermeulen (54 caps), an RWC winner with the Boks last year and a former Toulon star, will again don the famous light blue jersey after opting to return to South Africa from Japan, where he was playing club rugby for Kubota Spears until the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world.
The experienced Aplon, a former Blitzbok and DHL Western Province star, spent the last six years abroad, playing for Grenoble in France and Toyota Verblitz in Japan.
Carr, like Aplon a favourite in Cape Town earlier in his career, was with Wasps in England from 2017, while Van der Merwe (Toulon in France), Botha (London Irish in England and Munster in Ireland) and Ismaiel (Harlequins in England) are all back in Pretoria, where they played before packing their bags to experience life in Europe.