Rob du Preez produced two commanding performances against the team he will play for next season, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Where is Rob du Preez?’ asked a national newspaper after the Springbok squad for the four-Test tour of Europe was announced. Bok coach Allister Coetzee confirmed he would be taking three flyhalves in Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard and Curwin Bosch to the northern hemisphere. Du Preez, who produced an influential performance at the gainline and with the boot to steer Western Province to a somewhat surprising victory over the Sharks in the Currie Cup final, looked set to watch the games against Ireland, France, Italy and Wales on TV.
Du Preez is not in Cape Town, though, when SA Rugby magazine calls a couple of days after the Currie Cup final. He’s been drafted into the Barbarians squad before the big clash against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
‘I’m sitting in a hotel room in London,’ he begins. ‘I’m still on a high from that final. I have to be careful about what I say, though, because [Sharks hooker] Akker van der Merwe is my roommate and he’s staring at me right now.’
Province went into that clash at Kings Park as underdogs. They trailed 21-10 after 32 minutes. A powerful scrummaging performance and some excellent option-taking by Du Preez enabled them to hit back and claim a 33-21 victory.
The result allowed Du Preez to end his tenure with WP on the best possible note.
The flyhalf will return to the Sharks for the 2018 Super Rugby season. WP coach John Dobson and Sharks mentor Rob du Preez Snr feel he will bring something new to the Durban-based side.
‘Rob is going to be special in Durban,’ Dobson said. ‘He is leaving Western Province, but he put absolutely everything into the recent campaign. His leadership was key to our success.’
Du Preez Snr is expecting big things from the powerfully built No 10.
‘We are very pleased he is coming to Durban. We’ve got some exciting flyhalves here, but he will be a big asset for us. He played really well in the final, especially in the second half. He controlled the game like a general. All in all, Western Province’s game management was a lot better than ours. There is no doubt about it.’
Du Preez is the first to admit that his performance in the 2017 final was far from perfect. At the same time, he felt the collective played the big moments of that decider better than the Sharks.
‘Missed goal kicks are a part of rugby,’ he says of his five-from-eight performance in that clash. ‘You can always go back and say the game may have been different if Curwin Bosch had converted all his opportunities for the Sharks. On the other hand, you can also say we would have won by more if I had converted all my chances on goal.
‘We focused on playing the situation and managed to stay in control in the second half. There wasn’t a minute in that final when we thought we would lose it. Western Province peaked at the right time in this competition. We also gained a lot of confidence by beating the Sharks in Durban two weeks before the final. We had to dig deep to win that game.
‘I’m not kidding myself. It wasn’t the perfect performance and I know there are a few things I need to work on,’ he continues. ‘At the same time, I feel there has been a notable improvement in some areas of my game. My kicking from hand has come a long way over the past few seasons. I’ve also matured as a player. I think back to that 2015 final against the Lions at Ellis Park. I didn’t make good decisions. I made a lot of mistakes. I was 22 and perhaps not in the right mental space.’
Much was made in the buildup about Du Preez going up against a Sharks team coached by his father and featuring his brothers, Jean-Luc and Dan. In a crucial 2014 Varsity Cup league encounter, Du Preez started for Maties against Pukke, who were then coached by his father. The flyhalf steered Maties to a 33-21 victory on that occasion. Three years later, history repeated itself in a sense with Du Preez guiding WP to a 33-21 win over a Sharks side coached by his dad.
Du Preez sought out the twins and his father in the aftermath. Jean-Luc sustained a serious ankle injury in the first half. Dan felt he had let the Sharks down after receiving a yellow card for cynical play in the 69th minute. The brothers have always competed against one another, but in the minutes that followed the final whistle, Du Preez looked to console his younger siblings.
‘I would never ever rub it in,’ he says. ‘Jean-Luc is a massive player for the Sharks, and perhaps it was a good thing for Western Province when he was forced to leave the field early in the game. I felt bad when I saw him going off. That’s my brother. I don’t like to see him getting hurt.
‘Dan was very disappointed after the final. He takes a lot upon himself, and felt responsible after conceding that yellow card late in the game. Everybody may see them as big, strong boys. I could see they were hurting after the game, though, and I had to give them a hug.
‘My dad was in a bad way, too. Obviously he was happy for me and the achievement of winning a Currie Cup. But when I spoke to him afterwards I could see he was as distraught as my brothers. They put a lot into that campaign.’
Jean-Luc made his Test debut in late-2016. Many thought the twins would have the opportunity to play in the same back row – as they had for the Sharks and the SA U20 team in previous years – when Dan was called into the Bok squad during the latter stages of the Rugby Championship.
Coetzee opted against playing the rookie against Australia and New Zealand, though. Subsequently, Jean-Luc’s season-ending injury in the Currie Cup final meant that only one of the twins would travel to Europe with the national team.
‘It’s funny how things work out,’ says Du Preez. ‘In a sense, Jean-Luc’s injury may have helped Dan’s chances of selection [in the match-day squad]. Dan really deserves his chance at the Boks. I would say that, though … I’m his brother. Maybe you shouldn’t ask me that question!
‘In all seriousness, Jean-Luc and Dan are very different players, but when they play together they bring out the best in one another. It’s been like that since our school days at Kearsney. That’s the last time all three of us were in the same side. Back then, I felt they brought out the best in me, too.’
Next year, all three brothers will turn out for the Sharks in the Super Rugby competition. Du Preez says he can’t wait for that opportunity. He also hasn’t given up on the dream of playing alongside his brothers in the green and gold.
‘I was disappointed not to make the Bok squad for the tour to Europe. That said, I didn’t go to the Barbarians thinking I had a point to prove to the Bok coach. I didn’t put any extra pressure on myself to perform.
‘I have a couple of exciting years ahead of me,’ he says. ‘I have the opportunity to go back to my family in Durban and play with my brothers at the Sharks. That’s been the dream from day one, to play together for the Sharks and possibly for the Boks.
‘It’s a rare opportunity,’ he adds. ‘The last time three brothers represented the Boks was when Willie, Carel and Michael du Plessis were playing in the 1980s. It’s something the three of us talk about, and is one of my biggest dreams.’
DU PREEZ ON …
REPRESENTING THE BARBARIANS
‘Not many people get the chance to tour with the Barbarians twice. I’m very grateful that at the age of 24 I have been handed those opportunities. I really enjoyed the 2016 tour and the chance to play against the Springboks at Wembley. We may even have won the game if we were more clinical [it ended in a 31-31 draw]. The Baa-Baas jersey brings out the best in you. The club obviously want results, but they also encourage you to express yourself. That’s what rugby is about.’
RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH TEST STARS
‘I had the opportunity to play with [former All Blacks scrumhalf] Andy Ellis last year, and he was my halfback partner again this year. There are a lot of big names in the backline. This year, we had Julian Savea in tow. It’s great to have the opportunity to learn from these players. Playing against the All Blacks and the likes of Beauden Barrett at Twickenham is always going to be a great opportunity.’
HIS BEST POSITION
‘I played a few games at fullback for the Stormers, and to be honest, I don’t feel it’s my position. These days, all 10s need to be able to play 12. You have to understand what your 12 needs. I’m open to spending some time at inside centre. Dan Carter began his career there, and we’ve seen Owen Farrell alternating between 10 and 12 for England and the British & Irish Lions. Ultimately, I feel I am best at 10.’
– This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine