At his best, Os du Randt was the premier loosehead prop in the world and one of the greatest of the modern era.
In the Rugby World Cup sense, he is the only South African to win the Webb Ellis Cup twice as a player, and indeed is one of only a handful worldwide, the others being several Wallabies from the 1991 and ’99 events.
Du Randt had an extraordinary international career that kicked off not long before the 1995 RWC in his homeland and ended on the highest note possible, with the Boks clinching the prized piece of silverware in 2007 at Stade de France.
His scrummaging was always one of his many strong points, but du Randt could also be a damaging ball runner and had some fine ball skills for a player of around 120kg. This writer has a strange but vivid memory of him blasting through the Highlanders in Invercargill some 14 years ago on the way to the Cheetahs’ finest and most dominant overseas Super Rugby win.
When the 1995 RWC rolled around, du Randt had just five test caps to his name. He was 22 and largely unheralded on the international stage. But he appeared in four of the Boks’ six games, starting the RWC opener in Cape Town when the Boks upset the defending champion Australians. With hooker James Dalton suspended after fighting in the Canada game, the Boks front row of du Randt, Chris Rossouw and Balie Swart stayed unchanged through the playoffs.
In the World Cup final itself, du Randt marked the far more experienced All Black, Olo Brown. He was not bested by the technically formidable Brown throughout the 100-minute extra-time arm wrestle.
The records show du Randt was a regular in the Springbok No 1 jersey through 1996 and ’97 and was awarded the 1997 South African Player of the Year gong for his work through 13 tests, including the incoming Lions tour.
By 1999 he was back in World Cup mode, the cornerstone of the Boks’ defence of the trophy. At 27, he was wiser and wilier, coming into the age when props are close to their peak physically and technically.
In the third-fourth playoff, du Randt again tasted success against the All Blacks, South Africa edging the crestfallen New Zealanders 22-18 in Cardiff. Though the Boks had been knocked out by the Wallabies in an extra-time semifinal thriller, the Free State bookend could at least say he had a 2-0 RWC record against the much-vaunted Kiwis. Even more satisfying for du Randt was that the man beside him in the No 2 jersey was none other than Naka Drotske, another man of the Cheetahs and Free State.
But it looked like his serious rugby days were over by 2000. A succession of injuries forced him out of the game and onto his farm. There would be no third World Cup in 2003 under the coaching of Rudolf Straeuli. But he had answered the call from then coach Rassie Erasmus to bolster the Free State Currie Cup front row stocks. Still, that was to be his lot, until new Springboks coach Jake White made a fateful call in 2004 to persuade the ‘Ox’ back into the international fray.
Even at 31, and despite showing most of his old qualities, du Randt could not have dreamed of lasting until the Rugby World Cup, not with an exacting Super Rugby and Currie Cup programme to get through.
But he did it, appearing in all bar one of the Boks’ seven matches in France 2007. He took the man of the match in the semifinal against the scrum-loving Pumas and then lasted the full 80 minutes in the dour, gritty final against England, as the Boks took the Cup 15-6. Adding to the pleasure was packing down alongside hooker and captain John Smit, a man who needed no convincing of his rugby excellence, and another Free Stater in CJ van der Linde.
Jacobus Petrus du Randt could hang up his boots utterly content with his lot. Eighty tests and two RWC winner’s medals. He may have hoped for a third this year in New Zealand, but he was dumped from his role as Springboks scrum coach at the end of 2010 in circumstances that are still murky.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.