By WYNNE GRAY
Loosehead prop Christo Bezuidenhout is as much a mystery man to the All Blacks as he is to his own team.
Ask the South African journalists for some background about this man-mountain and you receive widespread shrugs.
Since the 33-year-old made his test debut against the All Blacks this year in Durban, the South African media have had repeated requests to interview the huge prop turned down.
It was the same this week in Melbourne when the only Springbok players available for a chat were Joost van der Westhuizen, Richard Bands, Victor Matfield and Thinus Delport.
There was a polite negative about the chances of talking to Bezuidenhout before tomorrow's quarter-final against the All Blacks in Melbourne. No reason, just he wasn't appearing.
Much like his fellow front-rower Bands, Bezuidenhout made his first-class rugby debut in 1994 as a loose forward before disappearing to work on the farm. While Bands was involved on his cattle farm, Bezuidenhout's long absence and lack of info about that period made you wonder if farmwork was some sort of euphemism.
He reappeared as a prop for the Mpumalanga Pumas in 2000, an enormous 1.87m, 116kg slab of a man in the best traditions of Springbok tight forwards.
A stint this year with the improved Bulls in the Super 12 showcased his scrummaging and mobility and when Robbie Kempson was suspended from test rugby, Bezuidenhout was picked as his replacement.
He was born in the Canary Islands near Spain as his engineer father worked on laying a telecommunications system across the Atlantic. But most of his life has apparently been spent in South Africa.
"Ja, he is good, he is a good player," Bands said of his team-mate. "I have played against him once or twice and it is a 50-50 call on who does best. I played against him in Super 12 and it did not surprise me he was called up for the Springboks. He is a big boy, he is always fit."
Asked if he knew about Bezuidenhout's life in the '90s, Bands had no clues, no information.
Best ask the coach, Rudolf Straeuli, a man in very good humour this week.
"He is from out in the sticks, he wrestles wildebeest and stuff like that," Straeuli began with that booming laugh of his.
"I saw him there in his region as a No 8 a few years ago. They are all out there, it just takes a bit more time to find them and work on their natural ability. He made the change from loose forward to prop for the Pumas and Bulls."
His play and that of the Bulls front row had not been as well scrutinised because of the form of senior forwards like Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
"Every test he has played for us he has performed well," Straeuli said.
"The way I saw it, the World Cup was the chance to rotate our front-rowers and have them fresh for the later stages of the tournament."
All Black tighthead Greg Somerville propped against Bezuidenhout when they were both replacements in the Tri-Nations test at Carisbrook.
"He is a very bulky man and with Botha behind him they are able to exert an enormous amount of power down that side of the scrum," he said. "We have to be even more accurate with our technique for these sorts of confrontations."
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By WYNNE GRAY