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Tyrone Green's crossroad: Springboks v England

Tyrone Green’s dancing feet aren’t yet at a crossroads, but they’re getting there fast.


Next year, the 26-year-old Harlequins ace – who can cover just about every position in the backline – qualifies to play for England after five years in the country.

There’s just one catch.

He doesn’t want to play for Steve Borthwick’s team. Not while there’s still a chance he could live out his childhood dream.

“I’ve always been honest about my desire to play for the Springboks,” the South African says after a Quins training session in west London.

“Ever since I first picked up a rugby ball, I had that desire. If it can happen it would mean the world to me.

“But I also recognise that this is my job. I play rugby to support my family, and to put food on the table for my son.


“If my work takes me down a different path, I’m OK with that. I won’t let my emotions get in the way of making the right decision.”

All of this is hypothetical. He’s yet to receive any official word from either the England or South African national sides though he is surely on their respective radars. According to his club teammate Danny Care, Green has been Harlequins’ “best player this season” and ticks a range of boxes necessary for the highest level of the game.

“There’s no question he could play Test rugby,” Care reflects.

“And if he keeps getting ignored by the Springboks, there’s a way he could somehow play for England. I know he’s a proud South African and would give anything to represent them. But you never know. His kid was born here. He’s got a strong affiliation with England now.


“As a player, he’s incredible. Some of the stuff he does, you just never know what he’s going to do. Which is amazing. I don’t even think Tyrone knows what he’s going to do. His feet and legs move in the most amazing ways. He gets us into places and he creates stuff out of nothing. And he’s brave. I’d say that’s the standout attribute he has. He gets in the air, he takes balls, he sets our attack alight so, yeah, I’m a big fan.”

Care’s gushing praise was delivered after we spoke with Green, but there’s little doubt the man himself would have down-played his clubmate’s words if he’d heard them.

Green is softly spoken. You have to lean forward to pick up his short sentences that are thin on personal details. He describes himself as a private man and his Quins coach, Danny Wilson, says that he “goes about his business in a very quiet way”. But, Wilson adds, “once he crosses that white line, he switches on and becomes something else.”

“We were poor. My father worked in casinos and my mom’s a nurse. They separated when I was very young and I lived with my mom. It wasn’t always easy. Rugby was my life.”

On the field, Green is a ruthless competitor. He’d have to be to battle back from the horrific ankle injury he sustained in late 2022, the sort of injury that turns the stomachs of onlookers as a once straight limb bends at a sickening angle.

“That was tough,” he says, looking back.

“There were some bumps on the road during my recovery. But I kept reminding myself why I play rugby. What my purpose is. I do this for my family. For my wife and son. It’s a job. I’m a provider.”

Tyrone Green Harlequins b Newcastle Premiership 2023

Green grew up in Klerksdorp, a small mining town about two hours drive south-west of Johannesburg.

“Nothing much happens there,” he says.

“I’m not even sure people in Jo’burg or Cape Town know where it is, never mind the guys here. I try to convey to the boys here what life was like in Klerksdorp, but it’s hard.

“I never went to bed hungry,” he continues, consciously differentiating his story from those of Siya Kolisi or Makazole Mapimpi, who overcame extreme poverty en route to a Springboks jersey.

“But we were poor. My father worked in casinos and my mom’s a nurse. They separated when I was very young and I lived with my mom. It wasn’t always easy. Rugby was my life.”

His explosive athletic gifts saw him selected for the prestigious inter-provincial Under-13 Craven Week where he represented the North West Leopards at scrumhalf.

“I was actually a centre and a flyhalf, but a few coaches thought I was too small, so I played nine,” the now 5ft 10in (1.78m), 196lb (89kg) Green recalls.

“But apart from that, my size has never been an issue. I’ve always figured that I can’t control how tall I am, so I won’t worry about it. I’ve always made up for it with my aggression.”

His performances at Craven Week earned him a full scholarship at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg. Though not regarded as one of the country’s premier talent factories, its alumni include four Springboks, including two World Cup winners in James Dalton and Sbu Nkosi, as well as the 2007 World Cup-winning coach Jake White.

Situated in a largely working-class area of South Africa’s gritty economic capital, Green learned that street smarts would more than makeup for an apparent lack of heft.

“It’s my running that I’m most proud of. I’ve scored some great tries for Quins. I love the responsibility of breaking games open. I want my team-mates to look at me and expect me to do something special.”

He cites Brent Russell as his hero growing up and ranks the former Springboks hot-stepper alongside Dan Carter and Shane Williams. Russell played in an era when South African coaches placed a premium on size. Had he been born a little later, he might have added to his 23 Test caps.

“I take inspiration from the guys who want to change games with ball in hand,” Green says.

“Guys like Cheslin [Kolbe] and Kurt-Lee [Arendse] have changed the mindset in South Africa. The game is so much faster and more technical than it’s ever been. I believe I’m good enough to take a step up. My kicking has improved since coming here [in 2020 from the Lions of Johannesburg] and my accuracy under the high ball is now very good.

“I’m now looking to take my game on. I look at guys like Willie [le Roux] and Beauden Barrett and the way they join the line and how their link-up play gets their teams moving. That’s something I’m keen to replicate.

“But it’s my running that I’m most proud of. I’ve scored some great tries for Quins. I love the responsibility of breaking games open. I want my teammates to look at me and expect me to do something special.”

Tyrone Green Harlequins 2021

He’s been doing special things for some time now. In one of the most sparkling attacking sides in Europe, Green has stood out. He was the player of the match in two of Harlequins’ most famous victories – the 43-36 comeback win over Bristol Bears in the 2021 Premiership semifinal, as well as the 42-41 triumph in Bordeaux last month.

Back in January he all but secured this season’s try of the year gong when he dived at full stretch to somehow dot down a Marcus Smith cross-kick.

“I think that’s the best one I’ve ever scored,” he says with a smile. “I’ve scored a few good ones over the years.”

Our conversation turns again to the Springboks.

At the end of this season Harlequins’ defence guru, Jerry Flannery, will link up with the Boks. Green believes this can only help his cause.

“It can’t hurt,” he offers.

“I know that the coaches will pick the best players but having Jerry there might help my name get mentioned a bit more. All I can do is keep producing. I know I’ll get noticed if I keep doing my job.”

But who will notice him first – Rassie Erasmus or Steve Borthwick?

Green is clear on who he’d prefer but would be more than happy with either.

After all, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

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