Monty set to make history

South African fullback Percy Montgomery will become the ninth player in history to reach the magical 100-Test mark when he runs out to face New Zealand at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.

The 34-year-old will join an elite group of players who have managed the feat in the Tri-Nations match at his former home ground.

Leading the way is now-retired Australia captain George Gregan with 139 Tests. The second South African behind Montgomery is Joost van der Westhuizen, with 89.

Montgomery is also South Africa’s leading Test points scorer with 887 points from his 99 Tests, most of which he has played at fullback.

While now viewed across South Africa as a living legend, this was not always the case, especially in the years preceding his departure to Wales to play for Newport Gwent Dragons in 2002.

Before then, Montgomery was not the fan favourite he is today — not in the north of the country, anyway.

Having grown up in Cape Town and started his career there, Montgomery was always held dear in that part of the country, but north of the Western Cape he was not at all loved.

In fact, Montgomery was regularly booed at Loftus Versfeld and Ellis Park, whether in the colours of Western Province or the Springboks.

His surfer-boy image, which comprised streaked blonde hair and his preference for wearing silver boots on the field, did nothing to enhance his professional image.

But he carried on regardless of the criticism and negative outside influences.

After debuting at centre in 1997 against the British Lions, he eventually found his best position at fullback under the guidance of Nick Mallett in 1998.

Six years later, under the coaching of Jake White, who persuaded him to return to South Africa from Wales, he became one of the mainstays in the Bok team and one of the heroes of the World Cup triumph in 2007.

A more mature player, with a very accurate boot following his stint with Newport, the fans finally accepted the once-flashy youngster.

New coach Peter de Villiers, who took over the coaching job at the beginning of 2008, also saw value in Montgomery and lured him back to the country after he’d signed a short-term deal with Perpignan in France after the World Cup.

While he has played mainly a back-up role to Conrad Jantjes at fullback this season, De Villiers values his veteran’s input as much as he does his captain’s, veteran John Smit.

”He knows the job is more important than the milestone [of 100 caps]. I have been coaching him since 1997 and the player he is plus the experience he brings to the side are what make him so extraordinary,” said De Villiers this week.

”He is prepared to share all his knowledge to everyone in the side and even if he is not playing, he is the same person, the same character.”

Montgomery has remained tight-lipped about the approaching milestone, saying this week: ”I don’t want to talk too much about it. Our focus must be on a big three weeks ahead of us.”

It will be a joyous occasion at Newlands on Saturday when he earns his 100th cap at the ground where it all started for him back in 1997, but a victory over New Zealand at the same time will make it all the more memorable. — Sapa-AFP

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