Right player at wrong time

14 August 2011 - 05:31 By CRAIG RAY
Muller, in a 2003 World Cup warm-up match, suffered during Rudolf Straeuli's paranoid reign as Bok coach Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Muller, in a 2003 World Cup warm-up match, suffered during Rudolf Straeuli's paranoid reign as Bok coach Picture: GALLO IMAGES

It's usually an honour to have an award named after you, but not in the case of the "Jorrie Muller award", the gong handed out by several rugby websites rewarding calamity and mediocrity.

Which is hardly fair on the former Springbok centre. By his own admission, Muller didn't have a stellar Springbok career - six caps in all - but he is a victim and a painful symbol of a turbulent time in Bok history.

Muller was thrust into the Springbok team as a callow 22-year-old in 2003 at the very moment the Springboks entered their worst period in the professional era.

His brief Test career coincided with the race row involving Quinton Davids and Geo Cronje, Kamp Staaldraad and the Boks' worst World Cup campaign.

Few reputations were enhanced in the era and, in Muller's case, he was the most obvious victim of collateral damage as a result of Rudolf Straeuli's paranoid reign.

It's easy to forget that Muller was a key member of the 2002 SA under-21 team that won the inaugural world championship on home soil.

He played at fullback in all six matches and was recognised as one of the brightest talents in a team of future stars.

Contemporaries of his then included Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, all searching for their second World Cup title next month.

In his Tests, Muller tasted victory twice - against Georgia and Samoa.

He never looked comfortable and made some howlers that have, unfairly, ensured his name is forever linked to underperformance.

"Playing Test rugby did come too early for me, although when I was picked I'd been playing well for the Lions," he says.

"What do you do? It's your dream to be a Springbok and I was never going to say no."

The Boks stumbled through the rest of the year. By the start of 2004 Muller, and many others, was jettisoned.

He played on through three more injury-prone seasons with the Lions before an eight-month sojourn with French club Lyon.

By then, the Springboks had moved on and Jorrie Muller became a name linked to cruel jibes in cyberspace.

So it's a surprise to hear he's never formally retired and at the age of 30, still hankers for the chance to prove to himself and supporters that he is a better player than his brief career indicates.

"Sometimes when I sit down on a Saturday and watch guys like Stefan Terblanche playing such good rugby at the age of 34, and I itch to be out there again," Muller says.

"But then I return to my businesses and tell myself to let it go. It's a tough one because I probably didn't fulfil my potential.

"I concentrated on a mining construction and trucking business I'd started with my father in 2000. I took a break from rugby to get the businesses going and they did so well I never made it back."

Success, it seems, has come not on the rugby field, but from the earth - where his name is synonymous with quality.