For the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, they are the terrific 12. For the opposition, they’d be the terrifying 12. Whatever the description, those 12 Springboks who will play the All Blacks in Saturday’s World Cup final in Paris are 12 of the most awesome ambassadors of the Vodacom URC.
These 12 emphasise the quality of player in the Vodacom URC and, except for Willie le Roux, who will make his Vodacom URC debut this season for the Vodacom Bulls, the rest have all prospered in the first two seasons of the Vodacom URC.
There are more Vodacom URC survivors in the Springboks World Cup squad, but the likes of Manie Libbok, Grant Williams, Jaden Hendrikse, Canan Moodie and Lukanyo Am will watch from the non-playing seats as the Boks look to defend the title they won in Japan four years ago.
Veteran No 8 Duane Vermeulen stars for the Springboks after two rejuvenated seasons at Ulster, a side that will welcome the former DHL Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff for the new season.
The Irish interest remains in Saturday’s final because of the Irish connection, with Munster’s monster lock pairing of Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman bound to influence proceedings in the last quarter.
Kleyn and Snyman, monumental in Munster’s title-winning final against the inaugural Vodacom URC winners, the DHL Stormers, last season, are part of the famed and feared Bok Bomb Squad, which will feature seven forwards and Le Roux as the solitary backline substitute.
The loaded forwards substitutes’ bench means there is room for both Kleyn and Snyman, and Kleyn’s journey from South Africa to Ireland and into a World Cup final reads more like fantasy, but is all fact.
Ditto, the Springboks coaching headline duo of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, who spent 18 months in charge of Munster and who lured Kleyn from the Stormers to Munster.
Erasmus and Nienaber had coached Kleyn when in charge of the DHL Stormers and they always believed in his qualities as a player. The then Ireland coach Joe Schmidt also saw the value of Kleyn and picked him for Ireland’s 2019 World Cup squad once the player had served his residency in Ireland.
Kleyn played five times for Ireland under Schmidt, but in four years never got picked for Andy Farrell’s Ireland. It opened the door for Erasmus and Nienaber to pick him for the Springboks and the player, who averaged 70-plus minutes a game for Munster last season, has added solidity and strength to the Bok lock stocks.
Schmidt and Kleyn’s mission in 2019 would have been to win the World Cup with Ireland. In a twist, both are in Paris for the final, and both are with the teams of their birth and upbringing. Schmidt, a Kiwi, has assisted the All Blacks for the past year and Kleyn, still resident in Munster, will form part of the Boks match-day challenge for a fourth Springboks World Cup title.
Snyman’s game time in the Vodacom URC was limited because of injury and unavailability, but he produced the clutch plays when it mattered most in last season’s URC grand final in Cape Town.
Winger Kurt Lee Arendse, for the Vodacom Bulls, and utility back Damian Willemse, for the DHL Stormers, found form in the Vodacom URC and transferred that form to the Springboks. Neither was the starting wing and fullback two seasons ago, but both have been first choice starters at this World Cup.
Ox Nche’s growth as a player has been the result of an apprenticeship fine-tuned at the Hollywoodbets Sharks in the Vodacom URC.
Veterans Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi will all play in the Vodacom URC this season for Ulster, the DHL Stormers and Hollywoodbets Sharks respectively.
It is remarkable that a league, still in its infancy, has produced so many quality players on the global stage and Saturday’s World Cup final could easily be a final between the Vodacom URC and Super Rugby Pacific.
Internationally, it is an all-southern hemisphere final, but the make-up of the Bok squad has given the northern hemisphere an invite to rugby’s biggest dance of the year.