Never has the form of a South African rugby player based overseas been more crucial to the prospects of the world champion Springboks.
The Boks, Rugby Championship title holders and winners of the coveted World Cup in Japan in 2019, are expected to play their first Tests of the year in a revamped Rugby Championship in November.
South African Rugby’s domestic competition is only likely to start in the second week of September and the fear locally is that the Springboks will be underdone for the challenge of a Rugby Championship.
Cue the Saffas abroad and one family in particular: The Du Preez brothers.
Springboks World Cup-winning scrumhalf Faf de Klerk is the most talked about South African in the Premiership but the Du Preez brothers Dan, Jean-Luc and Robert will be the most watched among the South African Rugby coaching duo of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.
All three brothers played for Erasmus in the early part of his tenure as Springboks coach, but none of the three made it to the World Cup.
All three, in the early part of 2020, were outstanding for Sale Sharks in securing a top two league table standing pre the Covid 19 break. Sale, second on the log, played seventh-placed Harlequins in the season restart and lost 16-10. Robert du Preez kicked a conversion for the Sharks.
Exeter, with 45 points, are the top team in England, but Sale, with 40 points, look certain to make the play-offs.
Sale’s starting line-up featured seven South African-born and raised players. All seven made their professional debuts in South Africa.
Springbok lock Lood de Jager and former Bulls and Stade Francais flank Jono Ross will ask questions of the Springbok selectors. De Jager, if fit, is a certainty for any Springbok squad selection, but Ross is a player not to be discounted.
Ross is the captain of the Sharks and his form, pre Covid lockdown, has been inspirational. Ross started all 13 matches and, according to statistics released by SA Rugby Magazine, he leads the Premiership’s defensive category with 201 completed tackles and a success rate of 95 percent. This is consistent with his defensive heroics of last season, where he made 331 tackles.
(Jean-Luc) Du Preez, who played exclusively at blindside flank for the (KZN) Sharks in South Africa, has found a home at No 5 lock for the Sale Sharks. This versatility and familiarity in playing lock and flank gives him a greater chance of a Springboks recall.
(Dan) du Preez at No 8 and (Robert) du Preez at flyhalf are also players that would add value to any national squad.
Du Preez, at flyhalf, combined with scrumhalf De Klerk and game time together at club level, could influence Du Preez’s possible inclusion in the Rugby Championship.
(Robert) du Preez, in Sale’s first 13 league matches, has scored 116 points and been credited with eight try-scoring assists.
Younger brother Jean-Luc has also been a defensive stand out with 110 tackles, but it is Dan du Preez who has been the most prominent of the brothers.
Dan’s return from 12 matches, pre Friday’s encounter with Harlequins, was a 96 percent tackle count, nine linebreaks, 18 offloads and 46 defenders beaten. He has also scored three tries.
Former Lions centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg completes the Sale Saffas, and he has also been in tremendous form. Janse van Rensburg was averaging 4.31 metres per carry with his 362 metres from 84 carries and beaten 47 defenders, to place in the top five among the league’s top attacking players.