Du Preez twin power
- 10 Oct 2017
- More by craig
Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez appear destined for lengthy careers in the green and gold, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has always maintained that his sons Jean-Luc and Dan seem to perform best when playing together. He’s well qualified to make such an observation, considering he first watched them play a lot of backyard rugby as kids alongside older brother Robert.
In their teenage years, the twins went on to make their presence felt as a dynamic loose-forward duo at Kearsney College, during which time they represented KwaZulu-Natal at three U18 Craven Weeks. The two forwards also featured for the Junior Boks at the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championship, and they are now established first-choice players at the Sharks, where their dad serves as head coach.
Aged just 22, the latest addition to the glittering rugby CVs of the Du Preez twins is their inclusion in the Springboks’ Rugby Championship squad.
All things considered, it’s been a remarkable start to the fledgling careers of the back-row bruisers. While Jean-Luc has been the first to get a taste of international action – having made his Bok debut off the bench at the end of last year – Dan has followed him closely on the pathway to the national scene.
When SA Rugby magazine catches up with the siblings at the start of the Rugby Championship, Jean-Luc says it was a special moment welcoming Dan into the set-up.
‘Having my brother here is a dream come true and something that’s helped me feel even more at ease. My dad always says we play our best when we play together, which I think is true. We’ve played together our whole lives. Dan was the first to get a Super Rugby cap in 2015, while I made my debut last year. I’m really happy for him to have got a call-up to the Boks now, and I can’t wait for us to feature together.’
By early September, that opportunity had yet to arrive, but there is every reason to believe the Du Preezs could follow in the footsteps of Bok siblings Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, who share the record (50) for the most Springbok Tests as brothers. While high expectations have understandably closely accompanied the rapid progression of the talented Du Preezs, rugby has always been a way of life for the brothers, with their father having started in seven Tests for the Boks. Robert Jnr is also a former Junior Bok and has established himself as one of the top flyhalves at the Stormers.
‘It’s been a childhood dream [to make it to the Boks] and I always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps,’ says Dan. ‘So it’s a massive honour to be part of the Bok set-up and every day has been a real learning curve, but it has definitely helped to come into an environment that my brother already knows quite well.’
Although Dan played in the second row during his school days, he settled at No 8 in his U19 year and has quickly made that position his own. And while Jean-Luc has proved his ability to cover every position in the back row, his strengths clearly lie at blindside flank. Indeed, with Dan as eighthman and Jean-Luc at No 7, the Sharks’ loose trio boasted a fearsome physicality for much of this Super Rugby season. Both brothers weigh in at around 112kg, but have the skills and athleticism of archetypal modern-day back rowers, who offer more than brute force.
And as if that’s not enough, it’s when deployed in tandem that the twins often appear to be most comfortable and confident.
‘I think we’ve actually grown closer after school, in terms of our on-field combination,’ Jean-Luc muses. ‘We encourage each other a lot and we’re there for each other. Dan knows I can be quite hard on myself at times, so if I make a mistake, he often tells me to just forget about it and to rather think about the next job.’
Dan suggests that understanding and connection is not only an innate brotherly bond, but also one that comes from many hours of playing alongside each other at various levels.
‘It’s not just that we know each other as people, but we’ve played together for so long. We’re comfortable when playing together and I feel like I can anticipate what he’s going to do, and he does the same for me.
‘Jean-Luc has been a huge inspiration to me; he’s worked really hard to get where he is today and I’m super proud of him. We both try to push each other to be the best we can be and we’ll always be challenging each other in that regard. I’d love to play for the Boks with him. It would be so special to share that memory after everything we’ve experienced.’
Although South African rugby has always been renowned for its seemingly endless conveyer belt of loose-forward talent, the significance of the Du Preezs’ emergence at senior level should not be underestimated. After all, it’s come at a time when the international careers of seasoned loose forwards like Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts have all but come to an end.
In addition, when Warren Whiteley suffered an injury before this season’s Rugby Championship, the relatively limited eighthman stocks in South African rugby came sharply into focus when Dan was named as the only specialist No 8 in the squad. Since the 2015 World Cup, the Boks have also battled to find someone to nail down that No 7 jersey.
Jean-Luc has all the attributes to do just that. At the moment, though, the talented flanker says he is simply grateful to be gaining experience in a happy Bok camp.
‘The team environment, for me, is much better than last year. I’m feeling more at ease and it’s easier for me to fit in, having been part of the set-up for a little while now. There isn’t a hierarchy system; everyone is just accepted and it’s great to be a part of it. Everyone has put aside their differences. It’s a new squad with new players and we are excited by the opportunity to embrace a new way of doing things.’
And while the All Blacks may boast the brilliant Barrett brothers, the Springboks could well have their own answer in the form of the Du Preezs.
‘It would be amazing to play alongside him at the Boks, it’s something we dreamed about as kids,’ Jean-Luc says. ‘Whenever it may happen, it would be very special, and it would also be the cherry on top if Rob could join us here too.’
– This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine
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