In a snippet from the latest edition of SA Rugby magazine, Stedman Gans opens up about his permanent move away from the Blitzboks, life as a Stormers fan before becoming a Vodacom Bulls player and how rugby still stigmatises mental health.
At 23, Gans is an established player in both forms of the game. He is currently the first-choice outside centre at the Bulls and previously served as a regular in the Blitzboks set-up between 2017 and 2020.
But the dreadlocked ace had to take the road less travelled to get to this point in his career, and he believes it was for the best. Having attended Waterkloof Hoërskool in Pretoria and playing age-grade rugby for the Bulls, Gans moved straight into the Bulls’ senior professional set-up after school.
However, he didn’t get the desired amount of game time and when a chance encounter resulted in him landing a gig at the Blitzboks academy, it was the start of a flourishing career. Gans’ time in sevens has done wonders for his development, so much so that he believes he is now ready to secure a permanent spot in the Bulls starting lineup for the foreseeable future and even challenge for a place in the Springbok squad.
‘To play for Neil Powell’s Blitzboks, your on-field performances have to match your contributions to the team environment and culture. In terms of playing, he was the first coach to give me an opportunity at professional level and that was huge for me, especially at such a young age. And there were times when I messed up horribly, but he’d reprimand, forgive and continue to back me. I owe him,’ Gans told SA Rugby magazine.
‘Returning to the Bulls this year wasn’t at all difficult for me. I returned here every year to play Currie Cup and I played outside centre every time. So it felt the same to me this year, with the difference being that normally I’d come back at the end of a World Sevens series campaign, but due to Covid-19 my fitness levels weren’t as great as they could’ve been. But, other than that, it was a smooth transition.
‘It’s great to finally be regarded as the No 1 candidate in your preferred position. Every year I returned, I couldn’t secure a starting role because I either came back too late or I’d have to leave again soon. I was always that player who sat on the bench or didn’t make the team and it was frustrating. To hold down a starting spot in a team coached by Jake White and filled with quality players is pleasing. It’s the extended opportunity I’ve longed and worked for these past couple of years. I enjoy working with Jake so much, people say he’s difficult, but I haven’t had one bad experience with him. He’s an unbelievable coach.
‘I’ve decided to commit to fifteens full time because I hope to become a Springbok.’
He also speaks candidly about mental health and how it is still perceived as a weakness among rugby players, his switched allegiances from the Stormers to the Bulls and explains exactly how misleading social media can be.
*This full version of this feature first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images