In light of the news that Sharks flanker Dylan Richardson has been called into the Scottish international squad, Mark and Oliver Keohane decided to select five of South Africa’s greatest rugby exports over the years.
Richardson joins fellow South Africans Oli Kebble, Piere Schoeman and Kyle Wilson in the Scottish squad, while South African star Duhan Van Der Merwe would be there too were it not for the first Test falling outside of the international window, ruling him ineligible for selection.
While South Africa has been a bit of a goldmine for Scotland over the last few years, SA was in fact well represented across countries at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. 14 South Africans were spread across eight different countries during the tournament.
We decided to take a look at five of the most impactful international players born and schooled in rugby in South Africa but representing other nations. We’ve also included some notable mentions to others.
Born in PE and schooled at Grey High, Mike Catt would go on to represent Eastern Province before moving to the UK after school. Catt’s career in English rugby began at Bath in 1992 and ended at London Irish in 2010. Over his 18 years of professional rugby Catt earned 76 Test caps for England, playing at flyhalf, centre, fullback and wing and toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1997. Catt competed in 19 Rugby World Cup matches between his first (1995) and last (2007), winning 14 of them. Catt won the World Cup with England in 2003 and also became the oldest player in a World Cup final when he faced South Africa in 2007.
Special mention – Brad Barritt:
Durban-born Barritt moved from the Sharks to the Saracens in 2008, where he would play out his career until 2020 to become a bit of a club legend. Barritt played at centre for the English national side and won 23 Test caps while also representing them at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Born in Cape Town, the late Dan Vickerman represented South Africa at u21 level before moving to Australia in 2001. A year later, Vickerman debuted at lock against France and would go on to represent Australia 63 times and at three World Cups. During an illustrious rugby career, Vickerman also managed to leave Australia for two years between 2008 and 2009 to study at Cambridge University, where he combined his studies with rugby and captained Cambridge to a 31-27 win over Oxford while also playing a handful of Premiership games for Northampton Saints. He returned to Australia in 2011, where he would play his last Test later that year in the Wallabies World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand.
Special mention – Clyde Rathbone:
Another Durban-born talent, centre Clyde Rathbone captained South Africa to victory at the u21 World Cup in 2002, but then moved to Australia in 2003 where he qualified through his grandmother for the national side. Copping huge criticism from South African media, Rathbone opted to represent the Wallabies instead of the Springboks and debuted in 2004, winning 26 caps before injury ended his career.
Pieter De Villiers
Besides becoming a 160-cap club legend for Stade Francais, Malmesbury’s Pieter De Villiers was a pillar to the French Test team’s scrum for many years. De Villiers played prop for France between 1999 and 2007 and earned 69 caps, eight of which came over from the two World Cups he featured in. De Villiers was renowned for his incredible scrumming ability, and though his love for the French culture was clear through his long career there and learning of the language, he returned to South Africa to head up the Springbok scrum under Heyneke Meyer. While a neck injury in 2007 perhaps brought his career to a premature end, De Villiers will always remain a legend of French rugby as a whole, but most particularly of the dark arts of the scrum.
Special mention – Bernard Le Roux:
Blindside flanker Bernard Le Roux was born in Moorreesburg but would self-admittedly “fall in love with the country, the culture and the rugby environment” of France. Le Roux nearly signed for the Lions to play Super Rugby in 2010, but ended up opting for short-term contract with Racing 92. Le Roux would extend his stay in France, earning an international call up in 2013 after qualifying, and has now played 47 Tests. Le Roux is yet to retire, and at 32 still represents Racing.
Stander was a star for the Bulls between 2010-2012, first in the Currie Cup and then Super Rugby. Playing across the back row, there was a sentiment in South Africa that he was too small to fit the mould of a Springbok loose-forward. Stander moved to Irish club Munster in 2012 where he would again shine domestically. After qualifying via residency in 2015 to represent Ireland, Stander was selected to debut against Wales in 2016. The flanker wasted no time in amassing 52 Test caps in just over five years, but in early 2021 announced a surprising retirement from all rugby to return to South Africa. During his career Stander captained Ireland on occasion, competed at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and toured New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions in 2017.
Special mention: Dion O’Cuinnegain
Dion O’Cuinnegain, born in Cape Town to an Irish father, excelled in rugby, cricket and athletics at school. He captained SA Schools rugby in 1990, after having played for them in 1989 too, attended Stellenbosch University, playing for Maties and represented Western Province. O’Cuinnegain, remarkably, has captained both Ireland in rugby union and South Africa, at the 1995 Hong Kong sevens. Packing down at flank and eighthman, O’Cuinnegain unfortunately played in the Skinstad and Krige era, and in 1998 moved to Ireland. He would go on to captain the Irish national team and play 19 caps, competing in one World Cup, before retiring from rugby in 2000.
Duhan Van Der Merwe
As mentioned earlier, Scotland in recent years has become a bit of a South African stomping ground, most especially for Duhan Van Der Merwe of Hoërskool Outeniqua. Van Der Merwe bounced between South West District Eagles at youth level to the Blue Bulls and then Montpellier as a senior before bringing what seemed to be becoming a journeyman career to a swift end at Edinburgh. Van Der Merwe starred on the wing for Edinburgh between 2017 to 2021, scoring 32 tries in 67 appearances. In 2020 he debuted for Scotland with a try against Georgia and has already scored eight tries in ten Tests for Scotland. Van Der Merwe was backed heavily by Warren Gatland in the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and started all three Tests. While Van Der Merwe’s Scottish career is still in its infancy, his impact has been enormous.