It took a simple gesture after a game in France to turn Springbok Uzair Cassiem from just another PRO14 import player into a fan favourite at the Scarlets.
And now, in his second year with the Welsh club Scarlets, Cassiem is approaching cult player status at the club, something unheard of for a South African player in Wales.
It is easy to see why. While his game has excelled, his moments off the field have endeared him to the Scarlets fans, and they have embraced him in a situation which has only been positive for both club and player.
It is a far cry from what Cassiem expected when, like so many other South African players, he left his home for European rugby and the chance to experience something different from the game.
The moment came while the team were in France, and after playing Toulon, Cassiem did something almost unthinkable in professional rugby. He joined the fans in their post-match deliberations of the game.
‘The hotel is literally next to the stadium. So when we walked from the hotel to the stadium we came outside to find a tunnel of travelling supporters – over 200 of them – had waited for us to wish us luck for the game. It was something amazing for me, it was really special.
‘It is not normal for someone from South Africa to see this sort of thing. There were so many of them. We lost the game in the last minute. While we were gutted to lose, you could only hear those fans chanting and singing in the stadium. It was amazing in such a big stadium that they made so much noise. People won’t understand what a difference it made to us and what energy it brought us on the night.
‘Afterwards, I went over to them just to say thank you. I thought it was the least I could do.’
The fans welcomed Cassiem into their group and he spent a few hours chatting and talking to the fans.
And so the story started spreading. And, sure enough, when Scarlets returned home, Cassiem was back in the crowd and thanking the fans again. It is a moment that has carried on throughout the season, win or lose, and the South African loose forward has become a popular figure with the faithful.
‘Every game it happens. I realised they really enjoyed it and the feedback was amazing. They told me they weren’t used to a player getting so close to them and talking to them. They were genuinely surprised,’ he laughs.
‘I told them that is how it works with us South Africans, we are sociable people. We love laughing and we love meeting people. Every weekend I head after the game to the fans, and I love it. Their passion is infectious. I’ve heard stories that made me laugh, they are wonderful people, and I’m richer for the experience. They get a bit more from me, and I love giving a bit back to them.’
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