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"Just suggest a couple of players who spring to mind, Bob — that would be great."
That was the Otago Daily Times’ request of venerable sportswriter Bob Howitt, who was the founding editor of Rugby News magazine and is now the newspaper’s Central Otago rugby correspondent.
A couple of days later, Howitt duly named an entire combined XV based on 100 years of rugby between the All Blacks and Springboks ahead of the 100th test in Townsville tomorrow.
"What a challenge that was," Howitt said.
Howitt called on his own vast experience and knowledge, and also tapped into the world of an old mate of his, who died from Covid-19 last year.
"Paul Dobson, generally regarded as South Africa’s leading rugby historian, wrote a wonderful book called The Chosen: The 50 greatest Springboks of all time, which is a veritable goldmine when you’re trying to sort out a best XV."
Here is the team Howitt reckons any rugby coach would love to assemble on the field.
Christian Cullen (NZ)
Don Clarke, Bob Scott, Fergie McCormick and Mils Muliaina all had their moments for the All Blacks, while Basie Vivier captained the Springboks in 1956 and Percy Montgomery was the star of the modern era.
But Cully was the man with the magic feet, scoring 10 tries in 15 tests against the Boks.
John Kirwan (NZ) and Bryan Williams (NZ)
Kirwan scored a try in his first test against the Springboks, the 1992 clash that ended isolation, and another in his second two years later.
Williams, sadly reduced to "honorary white" status on his first tour of South Africa, was a sensation on the 1970 tour, and returned in 1976.
The other major All Black contenders here are Ron Jarden, who scored a cracking intercept try in the 1956 series, and Joe Rokocoko, who scored nine tries in 15 tests against the Springboks.
Gert Muller showed his lightning pace for the Boks in 1970, Chester Williams was a popular figure in the 1990s, and Breyton Paulse and Bryan Habana were wonderful to watch in the professional era.
Danie Gerber (SA) and Mark Nicholls (NZ)
Gerber played all three tests on the 1981 tour and was still running around for the post-isolation test in 1992.
Howitt acknowledges his "bolter" is Nicholls, selected ahead of classy All Blacks operators like Bill Gray, Ian MacRae, Walter Little and Ma’a Nonu.
"Second five is such a challenging position and very few individuals have made it their own through the years."
Dan Carter (NZ)
An easy decision. Carter scored a record 255 points in 19 tests against the Springboks.
Danie Craven (SA)
Justin Marshall (22 tests), Aaron Smith (15), Chris Laidlaw and Dave Loveridge (three each) played well for the All Blacks in this fixture.
But Howitt rates Craven, the great dive-passer who captained the Boks in 1937 and later had a successful spell as coach and headed both the South African union and the International Rugby Board.
Brian Lochore (NZ)
The captain of this fantasy XV. Lochore was in peak form during the victorious 1965 series, and captain in 1970. Murray Mexted (1981), Zinzan Brooke (1992-97) and Kieran Read (2009-19) are other strong All Black contenders in this position, while Doug Hopwood, Bobby Skinstad and Duane Vermeulen stand out for the Springboks.
Richie McCaw (NZ) and Hennie Muller (SA)
Kel Tremain scored tries in three of the four 1965 tests, Ian Kirkpatrick played the Boks eight times, and Michael Jones and Jerome Kaino relished the physical confrontation, but McCaw was always going to fill one of these spots. Piet Greyling, Francois Pienaar and Schalk Burger would have been worthy picks from the African side, but Howitt sides with the late Dobson, who wrote this: "Muller was the gaunt and speeding cat that startled the back divisions of seven different countries, particularly the New Zealanders who were whitewashed in the four-test series in 1949. There were calls for the lawmakers to make Hennie Muller illegal. He retired at the end of 1953 with 12 victories from his 13 tests, nine of them as Springbok captain, leaving in his wake awe struck opponents and some raging critics."
Frik du Preez (SA) and Colin Meads (NZ)
Enough said. There have been some dynamic locks in the modern era — think Ian Jones, Victor Matfield and Sam Whitelock — but the two old stagers were a class above.
Kevin Skinner (NZ), Sean Fitzpatrick (NZ) and Chris Koch (SA)
The knees go a little weak just reading the names of this fearsome trio. Skinner was the boxing champion called in to sort out the Boks in 1956; Fitzpatrick never took a backwards step; and Koch, wrote Dobson, had speed and a "physique that was often described as perfect, culled, or so it seemed, from the Charles Atlas body building advertisements of the time."