New Vodacom Bulls recruit Gio Aplon is pleased that perceptions regarding size and ability are changing in South African rugby circles.
In the latest SA Rugby magazine, Aplon spoke to JON CARDINELLI about his unexpected move to the Bulls, while also touching on changes that he has seen in the game.
Aplon, who will be 38 this October, said he was thrilled to see smaller players like Cheslin Kolbe receiving an extensive opportunity to set international rugby alight.
What might Aplon have achieved if he’d enjoyed similar backing at a crucial stage of his career? As it happened, Aplon was told that he was too small for Test rugby. He played the last of his 17 games for the Boks in 2012. Two years later, he moved from the Stormers to Grenoble in France.
‘I grew up admiring Breyton Paulse and Brent Russell,’ Aplon tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘They inspired me to believe a career in rugby was possible. Throughout my school career, and even in the period that followed, I fought the perception that smaller players couldn’t cut it.
‘By the time I reached the highest level, I felt that I had proved myself and deserved to be judged on my ability alone. I was so sick of people making a big deal about my size.
‘I got over it, though. I wasn’t going to let it stop me from living my dream. I walked a different path and I can honestly say that I’m happy with how things turned out for me. With regard to the size issue, it’s great to see a guy like Cheslin shining for the Boks at big tournaments like the World Cup in Japan. That certainly shows that size isn’t everything.’
Some may continue to doubt Aplon and other players who don’t measure up to traditional expectations. Many, however, will continue to be inspired by what the likes of Aplon and Kolbe produce on the field.
‘A fan came up to me to say that his son, who is small for his age, is determined to play rugby because of me and my success,’ says Aplon.
‘That was so great to hear. Long may that continue. Kids will look at what Cheslin has achieved and they will adopt the same attitude and believe they can do the same. There is a place for everyone in the game and ultimately you should be judged on your performance.’
*The full feature with Aplon can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images