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A foot in both camps – South African stars in the Guinness PRO14

Daniel Barnes

7 Aug 2017

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With the arrival of the Kings and the Cheetahs, South Africa has a real place in the new-look Guinness PRO14.

Of course, there has always been a Springbok influence, from recent stars like Marcell Coetzee and Ruan Pienaar, back through to Jean de Villiers and Ollie Le Roux.

Some of the best of the best from the Republic have plied their trade in Pro rugby over the years.

And this year more than ever, that South African influence will be crucially important as the rest of the league prepares to head to Bloemfontein and to Port Elizabeth in the regular season.

The big names, like Coetzee at Ulster and Jaco Taute at Munster – not to mention Zane Kirchner now at the Dragons – will certainly be imparting their wisdom to their teammates.

Here, we have opted to focus on the players across the 12 other clubs in the league that have previous experience at either the Cheetahs or the Kings.

An Italian job

The best place to begin is undoubtedly in Italy and Zebre’s Dries van Schalkwyk, who has an intimate knowledge of both sides.

The back-row forward made his Italy debut last season after a string of impressive showings in his adopted country but he cut his teeth back in South Africa.

Dries van Schalkwyk ©INPHO/Giuseppe Fama

The 32-year-old was a Cheetahs youth product and represented them in the 2006 Currie Cup.

On top of that, he also ran out of the newly-formed Kings in their first-ever game against The British & Irish Lions in 2009.

Kings connection

Sticking with the Kings, there are a number of players scattered across the British & Irish isles with intimate knowledge of the Port Elizabeth-based side.

Take defending champions the Scarlets, for example.

David Bulbring (second from right) celebrates winning the championship with Scarlets ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Lock David Bulbring, who appeared 14 times, including in both the semi-final and final of the Welsh outfit’s historic title march, was born in Port Elizabeth.

The 27-year-old second row actually played in the Kings’ first ever Super Rugby match and is also a former Baby Bok.

Also involved in 2013 – the Kings’ inaugural season in Super Rugby – was flanker and No 8 Cornell Du Preez.

The Edinburgh forward made his Scotland debut earlier this year after some superb recent showings for his club and will be sure to report back to them about the joys of South Africa, as well as the threats that the Kings bring.

But more up-to-date however, are three players from the Kings’ impressive Super Rugby season this year that have now moved up north.

Munster moved quickly to snap up openside Chris Cloete.

The 26-year-old was one of their standouts this year, scoring six tries, and he represented South Africa A this June as they downed the French Barbarians in June.

Staying in the pack, Zebre have snaffled impressive young lock Irne Herbst – a Bulls youth product, who came of age for the Kings in Super Rugby this year.

Meanwhile, prop Schalk van der Merwe has moved to Ulster and will be a key part of their front-row strength when he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Cheetahs connection

It is not just the Kings who have some famous alumni in the league – the Cheetahs have also produced some stars.

Leinster and Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss goes all the way back to 2006 with his boyhood club from Bloemfontein.

Richardt Strauss ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

He won the Currie Cup that year – a title the Cheetahs are also the current holders of – and spent 2007-2009 playing Super Rugby there before moving to Ireland, where he has now established himself as an international hooker with 17 Ireland caps.

He would have been there at the same time as current Dragons scrum-half Sarel Pretorius, who played in Super Rugby for them from 2009-2011.

His debut game came in 2009 against the Western Force and he was an ever-present in 2010 and 2011, scoring nine tries in the latter campaign to equal Bjorn Basson’s club record for a season.

Since then, he has been to the Waratahs and now Dragons – the 33-year-old has been the heartbeat of the Dragons since rocking up in Newport, with 11 tries in 53 games.

He is joined at Rodney Parade by lock Rynard Landman, who played for the Cheetahs in 2013 and 2014 and was a key part of their only trip to the Super Rugby play-offs.

Scotland and Edinburgh prop WP Nel, who signed a new three-year deal earlier this year, played for the Cheetahs from 2009 to 2012, including taking on the British & Irish Lions in 2009.

And lock George Earle, formerly of Scarlets now of Cardiff Blues, appeared 12 times in the 2012 Super Rugby season in Bloemfontein.