South Africa Premiership XV: the forwards

In the fourth of our series looking at the best overseas players to have appeared in England, James Barker compiles the South Africa Premiership Rugby XV. This team, starting with the forward pack, features the Springboks who’ve made the biggest impact in England.

Last Word on Rugby readers and supporters were given their say on who should make this team; did your favourite make it?

South Africa Premiership XV: the forwards

8. Ernst Joubert – Saracens

The first of a number of Saracens in the forward pack, Ernst Joubert joined the Brendan Venter influenced side in 2009. Despite not being a Springbok international, Joubert became a key player for Saracens and captained the side by the end of his first season. He scored two tries in the 2009/10 final and was named in the Guinness Premiership Dream Team that season.

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Over the next four seasons, Joubert stayed a regular in the team, despite the signing of Billy Vunipola in 2013. All in all, Joubert made over 100 appearances for Saracens before retiring in 2015.

7. Francois Louw – Bath

Francois Louw joined Bath from the Stormers in 2011 and is one of the club’s longest-serving players. He is known as a breakdown specialist and has been a key asset for both club and country. Unlike others in this team, Louw benefited from the Springboks allowing overseas-based players to still play internationally; in total he earned 76 Test caps.

The 34-year-old World Cup winner announced he would retire earlier this year, so sadly may have played his last game if the season cannot be completed.  Fortunately, appearing in and winning the 2019 World Cup will still be fresh in the memory.

6. Francois Pienaar – Saracens

The first of the pack to have played in England, Francois Pienaar is one of the iconic figures of the world game. He joined Saracens in 1997 and was part of a star-studded team alongside Michael Lynagh and Phillipe Sella amongst others.

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His time in England was not just a retirement farewell. He became captain in 1999 and then coach in 2000. Remarkably, Pienaar also took on the role of Chief Executive until he left the club in 2002, following a 10th placed finish.

5. Franco Mostert – Gloucester

Franco Mostert is only in his second season at Gloucester but his presence in the South Africa Premiership XV is deserved. The 29-year-old is the most high-profile South African to have followed Johan Ackermann to Kingsholm, having been part of the Lions team that reached two Super Rugby finals.

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Mostert has settled quickly in England, with his all-action game and commitment popular with the Gloucester faithful. He quickly nailed down the number five shirt as his own, consistently making double-figure tackle counts every match and still completing the full 80.

A World Cup winner and able to play internationally whilst in England, expect to see Mostert in Cherry and White for a few more years to come.

4. Alistair Hargreaves – Saracens

A third Saracens captain makes this XV in the shape of Alistair Hargreaves. After earning four Springbok caps, Hargreaves came to England in 2012. He helped Saracens top the Premiership for the first time in his first two seasons, although no trophies resulted.

Hargreaves was then named captain in 2014 and the club went on to win their second Premiership title, as well as the LV Cup. Sadly Hargreaves had to retire due to concussion in 2016, but this typified his physical, give-everything approach to the game.

3. Vincent Koch – Saracens

The man who has won it all. Part of the scrum that dominated England in Yokohama, Vincent Koch make his Springbok debut a year before joining Saracens. His World Cup winners medal has added to multiple, albeit tainted, Premiership titles and two Champions Cups.

At 30 years old, Koch has a few years left in him yet. At first expected to leave Saracens after their relegation to the Championship, it is now thought he will remain with them despite interest from the likes of Sale Sharks.

2. Schalk Brits – Saracens

Despite World Cup-winning captain John Smit spending two years at Saracens, there was only one possible name taking the Hooker position. Schalk Brits arrived in England in 2009 and revolutionized Hooker play. Known for dynamic play across the field, he was a regular try scorer but also a dependable lineout thrower.

He was nominated for Premiership Player of the Year in his first season and earned a Winner’s medal in his second.  South African selection policy at the time, plus the presence of Smit and Bismarck du Plessis limited his international caps.

Famously he retired in 2018 but was tempted back to earn a place in the 2019 World Cup squad. So of course, he ended his career, for the second time, as a World Cup champion.

Brits was the clear winner of our readers poll, highlighting again his popularity on and off the pitch.

1. Faan Rautenbach – London Irish

Breaking up a potential all- Saracens front row is Faan Rautenbach. He made 100 Premiership appearances for London Irish in a seven year spell in England.  Rautenbach joined Irish in 2005, after making four appearances at the 2003 World Cup.

A powerful scrummager, Rautenbach was part of the most successful London Irish side this century; he played in the 2008 Heineken Cup semi-final where the Exiles were edged out by Toulouse.


  • John Smit – Saracens
  • Brian Mujati – Northampton Saints
  • Petrus du Plessis – Saracens, London Irish
  • Marco Wentzel – Leicester Tigers, Leeds Carnegie
  • Victor Matfield – Northampton Saints
  • Schalk Burger – Saracens
  • Andre Vos – Harlequins
  • Luke Watson – Bath

South Africa Premiership XV: the backs

The second half of this team will be published soon; keep up-to-date with Last Word on Rugby. 

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