Player 32 a Bok mystery
Player 32 a Bok mysterySHARE
South Africa will arrive in Dublin on Sunday amidst a deepening mystery surrounding the 32nd squad member for their year-end tour.
Ongoing media speculation is linking Northampton Saints' Springbok prop Brian Mujati to the vacant spot in the touring party.
However, the 28-year-old Zimbabwean-born player is currently ineligible to play for the Boks, as he does not hold a South African passport or citizenship.
It leaves him in a similar position to what fellow Zimbabwean Tendai Mtawarira – who attended the same Peterhouse boarding school in Marondera, Zimbabwe, as Mujati – faced a few years ago.
Although Mtawarira was fully eligible to play for South Africa under IRB rules, his Zimbabwean nationality was a sticking point in 2009 and 2010. The South African government blocked the burly prop's selection until 25 June 2010, when Mtawarira was granted South African citizenship.
Mujati, who featured in 12 Tests for the Boks in 2008, in 2009 decided he needed a fresh challenge and signed a contract to play for the Saints.
He has repeatedly been linked to possible Bok selections. However, his eligibility remains a sticking point and questions surrounding the issue went unanswered this past week.
Bok captain Jean de Villiers' pre-tour media briefing only contributed to the mystery.
A question on the subject was straight-batted by the Boks' media manager: 'It will be announced as soon as it has been cleared up.'
The South African Rugby Union also remained tightlipped over the issue and there has been no confirmation of reports that the Bok team management had asked SARU to reopen negotiations with the government over Mujati's eligibility.
Since his move from Cape Town to Northampton Mujati has become one of the most impressive tighthead props in Europe.
The No.3 jersey is one spot in the Bok squad where experience and depth could be problematic on the year-end tour and Mujati no doubt would plug that gap … if he does become eligible.
Of the props in the current squad Jannie du Plessis and Pat Cilliers are the specialist tightheads. Mtawarira, CJ van der Linde and Gurthro Steenkamp are looseheads, but Van der Linde can scrum on both sides.
The new IRB regulations relating to the replacement bench on year-end tour means that every team must field an entire front row among the replacements – extending the bench to 23 players.
Other eligible Bok props currently plying their trade abroad include BJ Botha (Munster in Ireland, tighthead), Wian du Preez (Munster, loosehead) and Heinke van der Merwe (Leinster in Ireland, loosehead).
By Jan de Koning