What a fantastic year it has been for SA rugby.
The Bulls won the Super 14.
The World Champion Springboks beat the British and Irish Lions, picked up the Nelson Mandela plate, the Freedom cup on the way to decisively winning the Tri-Nations and gaining the No. 1 World Ranking.
It's been a great team effort this year, but in looking at individuals, who has earnt the right to be called South African rugby player of the year when the awards are unveiled in November?
There have been 27 past winners over the 40 year history of the award with such notable names as Naas Botha (four), Gerald Bosch (two), Uli Schmidt (two) Bryan Habana (two), and last year's winner Jean de Villiers. Who will join these Springbok legends?
The individuals that stood out for me this year:
Fourie du Preez
There is certainly no better halfback in World Rugby, du Preez has been without peer for several years now. His all round game is brilliant. He has no weaknesses. His pin point kicking, ability to spot a gap and take opportunities has been magnificent, fearless under the highball, and a solid defender too.
Has been at the core of the Springboks and Bulls' success. If there was ever a weakness, it could be that he was quiet in one or two games, notably the British and Irish Lions series and the Tri-Nations encounter against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
Possibly the World's smartest player. The brains behind the Bulls and Springboks dominance in the packs. Reads the game brilliantly, and directs play according to his terms.
At lineout time he is the master. He unlocked the best the Northern and Southern Hemisphere had to throw at him this season, testament to his high work ethic.
The try he scored at Newlands after John Smit grubbered through was one of the tries of the year. Extremely agile for a big man, and not afraid of shirking the hard stuff, he made plenty of tackles this year too.
The "enforcer" of the Bulls and Springbok packs. Brings the hard edge to the forward battle, and his presence is most noted when he is not there.
The most consistent season I've seen from the big man. His work rate has been tremendous. Always willing to clean out rucks and get involved in the dirty work, but it was the covering tackles he made that showed me the effort he puts in. It'd have been easy not to go the extra yard, but he was always working hard and playing to the best of his ability.
Captain Courageous. Had to deal with a new position this year starting off against the British and Irish Lions. Never complains, always happy to be the go to man to carry the ball up. His pace may be down slightly, but he leads the Boks from the front and brings great composure and experience to the Springboks.
His humility and behaviour as one of South Africa's great role models is a pleasure to watch. He has become the most capped captain in the history of World Rugby which is no mean feat, especially for a country so complex as South Africa.
Bismarck du Plessis
His game has matured immensely. Does the basics of scrumming and lineout throwing exceptionally well. However it is his brute strength at the breakdowns, his ability to act as an extra loose-forward and make steals and this season, remain calm that has seen him produce consistent performances week in and week out.
In the past discipline has been a problem, but my view is that playing with John Smit has helped him massively.
There were other great performers, Heinrich Brussow, Jaque Fourie, Francois Steyn, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, The Beast Mtawarira. Almost the whole side in fact.
My South African rugby player of the year is:
What a fantastic season for the Bulls and Springbok flyhalf!
His all round performances have improved markedly, and bear testament to his strong work ethic and extreme humility.
He kicked beautifully for the Bulls, often getting them in the game at crucial stages such as the drop goals against the Crusaders in the semi-final at Loftus. His tactical kicking played a huge role in the Bulls being able to execute their game plan confidently every week.
Whilst he didn't start against the British and Irish Lions, he produced two match winning performances. In the first test he made a tackle on Lions winger Ugo Monye that kept the Boks in front.
In the second test at Loftus verfeld, in front of his home crowd, he didn't miss a kick, nailing a conversion from the sideline, and then writing himself into folklore, kicking a fantastic penalty from inside his own half.
He broke multiple records including kicking eight penalties and scoring all the points in the 31-19 victory over the All Blacks in Durban. Steyn also earned the distinction of becoming the fastest Springbok player to score 100 test points, remarkably against the British and Irish Lions, All Blacks and Wallabies, including coming off the bench to do so!
It's been a fairytale season for the Bulls and Springbok flyhalf and he deserves to be recognised for a fantastic year.
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