After an unforgettable 2016 season, Rohan Janse van Rensburg is more determined than ever to take his game to new heights. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg will not be found wanting for motivation in 2017. Last year, the well-built centre enjoyed a dream season, which saw him produce a sequence of eye-catching performances for the Lions, before he finally received a call-up to the Springbok squad for their November tour to the UK. In the end, Janse van Rensburg completed an unforgettable year with the Bok No 12 jersey on his back as he made his long-awaited Test debut against Wales.
However, away from rugby, and unbeknown to many outsiders, Janse van Rensburg and his family were dealing with some devastating news when it was discovered his mother’s previously diagnosed cancer had spread to her lungs and liver.
In an instant, his priorities were realigned.
‘When I heard the news and that the doctors said she may only have a few months to live, I was broken,’ Janse van Rensburg tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘However, she immediately told me she didn’t want her situation to negatively affect my career. All she wants is for me to live out my dreams, so I just want to go out every Saturday to make her proud.
‘There is always the chance that my next match could be the last she sees, so my main motivation is to play each game for her. She has been so influential in my life and I love her to bits.’
Driven by this renewed perspective, Janse van Rensburg is set to tackle the 2017 season with a profound determination to make the most of every opportunity that comes his way.
‘This year I know I have to improve even more,’ he says. ‘Having had a taste of Test rugby, it’s clear there is always someone who is just as motivated as you and capable of stepping into your place, so there’s a need to keep adding elements to my game to become a better all-round player. I’ll do whatever it takes.’
Last season, Janse van Rensburg caught the attention of the rugby fraternity with his powerful ball-carrying ability, which saw him make 19 clean breaks, complete 654 running metres, beat 39 defenders and score 10 tries (according to the Vodacom Rugby stats app).
However, it was also the less quantitative factors, such as his physicality in contact, high work rate and strong running lines that added to his impact.
‘I love to carry the ball – I see it as a strength of mine – but I also enjoy distributing. It’s a part of my game I want to keep evolving, particularly when it comes to passing under pressure,’ he says. ‘Defensively, I’ve also been working closely with [Lions assistant coach] JP Ferreira and I want to post some good stats in that department this year.’
When one considers the struggles the Boks endured in 2016 (losing eight games out of 12), there is no doubt a host of positions are up for grabs in 2017. At the end of 2016, Bok coach Allister Coetzee admitted one of his regrets was that he did not select a more youthful group of in-form Super Rugby players at the start of the international season, including a number of Lions players.
Janse van Rensburg would surely be regarded as one of those players, with the public and numerous pundits having called for his inclusion in the Bok squad after his blockbusting performances in Super Rugby. The talented 22-year-old admits he was not oblivious to such sentiments, but despite being overlooked during the Rugby Championship, he insists he retained the belief that his opportunity would come if he continued to perform consistently for the Lions.
‘I knew it was a process and that I would need to be ready if the call-up came. I may have felt a bit of frustration at times, but I think that’s normal. I just tried to stay patient and kept enjoying my time with the Lions.
‘I was aware there was quite a lot of talk in the media and public about me getting a call-up to the Boks, but I knew it was about not trying to force it. Having said that, every game I played I wanted to do whatever I could to show coach Allister I was hungry to be there.’
That hunger drove Janse van Rensburg towards constant self-improvement, with the Currie Cup offering another platform for him to continue knocking on the Springbok door. Finally, that door opened when the Lions star was included in the Springbok squad to face the Barbarians in the opening game of their 2016 end-of-year tour, where he made a massive impact as he regularly breached the gainline, while scoring a late try to salvage a draw for the Boks.
‘I must admit, Janse van Rensburg was outstanding,’ former Bok coach Nick Mallett raved after the encounter. ‘He’s been the form player of the Super Rugby campaign and he really showed again how effective he can be against very good players.
‘He got go-forward each time he got the ball. Two or three players are required to tackle him. He’s a strong player; he was the good-news story out of this performance.’
It was also a performance that saw him emerge as the obvious replacement for Jesse Kriel, who picked up a leg injury against the Barbarians, with Janse van Rensburg remaining in the Bok camp for the remainder of a tour that culminated in his long-awaited debut. He says it was also a case of positive reinforcement coming to fruition.
‘Becoming a Springbok was actually quite a spiritual experience for me. I always believed I could become one and from the beginning of last year, I kept on speaking about it. I’ve learned that the power of the tongue and having that inner belief have a great impact, so I kept saying, “I’m going to become a Springbok, I’m going to become a Springbok.”
‘Admittedly, there were a few times last year where I wondered if it was going to happen, but fortunately it did, and I was so humbled by the experience of being with the Boks.’
And with plenty to play for this year – including immense personal and professional motivation – there is every reason to believe Janse van Rensburg will have another influential role to play for the Lions and the Boks.
JANSE VAN RENSBURG ON …
His move to the Lions after spending his junior career at the Bulls
‘I made the move to the Bulls after school, but I had a few strange injuries. I had an abscess on my toe, and then a spider bite on my leg. So I had quite a few setbacks at the Bulls and things just didn’t quite work out. Fortunately, an opportunity to join the Lions then arose, and I sat down with coach Ackies [Lions coach Johan Ackermann], who had a plan for me, which I really liked. There were also a number of other factors that made me feel it was the right move for me, so I agreed to move to the Lions, and it has worked out well.’
The Lions’ progression from Super Rugby relegation in 2013 to runners-up in 2016
‘It’s been special to be part of this Lions journey over the past few years. It’s not a job; we have such great camaraderie in the team and it’s been so enjoyable. We’ve had one major goal that we’ve all worked towards and everything we do is with that in mind. The team environment is something special; there are no egos in the squad and everyone is viewed as an equal. We care for each other and there is a real brotherhood between us.’
The challenge for the Lions to back up their 2016 success
‘There is no doubt opposing teams are going to look even more closely at our style of play and try to find whatever weaknesses they can. So, we have to bring something new to our game and work even harder than last year because I’m sure it’s going to be even more challenging. Our pre-season work has been intense, and we’ve spent a lot of time on our fitness and conditioning.’
His combination with flyhalf Elton Jantjies and outside centre Lionel Mapoe
‘Playing with Elton and Lionel has been such a pleasure; they take so much pressure off me. We all back each other. As a young player in my first Super Rugby season [in 2016] it was a learning curve, but they made it easier for me to play my type of game.’
Working with Bok coach Allister Coetzee
‘I’ve really enjoyed it; he’s very easy to work with. Like any coach, he let me know what his expectations were and it was good to have that feedback. But in the Bok camp, it was just great to be there alongside guys like Bryan Habana, who I grew up watching and admiring. There was still a good energy in the camp despite all the losses and although it wasn’t easy, I think we grew from the experience. There will be a lot more hunger and energy after last year.’
Facing renewed competition in 2017
‘I realise I need to go back to zero and start again. At the Lions, we have set some goals for this new season, so for me it’s not about thinking of myself, but rather about the team and what we want to achieve. My motivation last year was not only about playing for the Boks, but trying to contribute to the Lions family, and that’s what I want to focus on again. The rest will take care of itself.’
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine
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