‘Experience will be the difference’

Junior Boks captain Salmaan Moerat tells MARIETTE ADAMS that he is confident of success at the World Rugby U20 Championship in France.

The Junior Boks struggled in 2017. What should be done differently to ensure a better performance in 2018?
We did everything we could before and during the tournament last year. It boiled down to poor decision-making and execution at crucial times. I think we were overambitious on attack. The players have to take responsibility on the field. I’d also be the first to say I have to improve my core on-field tasks, especially at the lineouts.

A few of you will be playing at the World Rugby U20 Championship for the second time. Will that improve the team’s chances?
It’s always good to have continuity, but the difference will be in the experience the returning players have gained over the past 12 months. Manie Rass played for the Lions in the Currie Cup and Damian Willemse has become the Stormers’ first-choice flyhalf. Muller du Plessis [a Junior Boks newcomer] has played regularly for the Blitzboks. Being exposed to that level of competition will give us the edge over our opponents in France this year.

What are the Junior Boks’ goals for the tournament?
South Africa haven’t reached the final since 2014, so the objective is to do that. Anything can happen then, but if we make it that far, it will signal improvement on our part.

Who encouraged you to pursue a career in sport?
My father taught me the basics of the game and has always believed I would play professionally, but most fathers want that for their boys. The turning point came at the U13 Craven Week when I was scouted by Paarl Boys’. They gave me a scholarship and under coach Sean Erasmus my rugby flourished. He believed in me from the start.

Talk us through your swift progression from schoolboy prodigy to being a Stormers player.
I was fortunate to have good coaches at school who put a lot of time and effort into my development. The transition from school to Super Rugby takes a lot of hard work and I know things won’t go smoothly overnight, but a combination of hard work, determination and self-belief led to this opportunity.

You’ve captained Paarl Boys’, SA Schools and Western Province at Craven Week and U19 levels with distinction. What is the secret to good captaincy?
Being observant. I’m a quiet guy and don’t usually say much, but that doesn’t mean I shy away from my responsibilities as a leader. I don’t give long motivational speeches; I prefer to lead by example, on and off the field. You have to be observant and when a teammate has to be addressed about something, I’d rather have a quiet word in private. This approach has always helped me. 

What challenges do youngsters face when they are thrust into a professional set-up after finishing school?
From personal experience, finding the balance between working hard and enjoying yourself is difficult. At school, we were encouraged to have fun, but when you get into a senior team as a youngster, you’re so afraid to make mistakes that you forget to enjoy yourself. Suddenly you’re playing as a professional and earning a salary. That’s a lot to take in.

Junior Boks fixtures:

30 May vs Georgia
3 June vs Ireland
7 vs June France

Junior Boks at U20 Championship:

2008: 3rd
2009: 3rd
2010: 3rd
2011: 5th
2012: 1st
2013: 3rd
2014: 2nd
2015: 3rd
2016: 4th
2017: 3rd

– This Q&A first appeared in the June 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine


Post by

Simon Borchardt