Gelant: ‘People sometimes limit us as players’

Warrick Gelant is embracing a bold approach in every aspect of life, writes CRAIG LEWIS in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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During the lockdown in South Africa, Gelant made a concerted effort to make productive use of his time. An entertaining and informative force on social media, he released a series of high-quality images and videos that ranged from training techniques to fashion trends and a variety of other interests that painted a picture of a person who is far more than just your rugby ‘Average Joe’.

One of his more compelling projects, ‘Breaking Chains’, involved him chatting to a variety of sports personalities about a range of interesting subjects.

When launching the first episode, Gelant offered this description on social media: ‘In this very difficult time that we are in now, we are bound by this virus that has got us all chained in isolation … From birth we grow into a family and into circumstances. We found ourselves chained in numerous situations. The question is, how are we going to break the chains?’

It was a powerful message, which spoke to the manner in which players have increasingly begun to find their voice during a period of forced inactivity.

Taking it one step further, Gelant provided insight into the concept of this new venture when SA Rugby magazine caught up with the Springbok fullback at the end of June.

‘I had the idea way before lockdown, and to sum up the name in a nutshell, it’s all about the lack of clarity that we experience as youngsters coming into the game, particularly for people from disadvantaged communities or backgrounds.

‘People who, for example, don’t know how to negotiate a contract because our parents may not have an understanding of the game, or maybe didn’t come from a big school, or who have financial struggles.

‘Whatever the case may be, for me it was just important to “break the chains” for those who are coming next, and to share some knowledge about things we didn’t know when we were 16, 17, 18. There are a lot of story-telling opportunities and I just thought this lockdown presented the perfect opportunity to share these stories.’

Gelant says the concept was well received by his sports colleagues, allowing for open conversations to take place ‘among friends’.

‘In one episode we chatted to Rosko Specman, who spoke about making his Super Rugby debut only at the age of 30. And Herschel Jantjies, who went to a big school like Paul Roos and played Craven Week, but then needed to work his way up from playing for UWC in the Varsity Shield. A few years later he played for the Springboks at the World Cup.

‘There are also guys who had potential career-ending injuries, like Cornal Hendricks, who was at the peak of his career, but then had a heart condition. It’s stories like those which could hopefully helps others, who can now see there is a way out.’

As an interviewee himself, Gelant is particularly affable and engaging. He comes across as a deep thinker. Someone with a bold outlook, and determination to forge his own pathway, but also with a clear desire to open up on subjects – often speaking from experience – that will be of benefit to others.

In one example, he cites a couple of injury setbacks that left him rattled at the start of his senior career.

‘The biggest challenge for me was in 2016, after I’d made my Currie Cup debut the previous year and had a great season. I also made my Super Rugby debut in 2016, but I broke my jaw and then just as I got back I tore my ACL, so that double blow took me out for the whole season in my first Super Rugby year.

‘I also missed out on the Olympics after being invited to the sevens squad. I lost out on a lot of opportunities. As a youngster, to suffer that setback is not easy to handle. It’s stuff like that which is important to discuss as players.

‘One of things we spoke about is how you need to have some introspection and that it can be a real eye-opener when you start to think about what you’d do when you can’t play rugby, and what life after rugby might look like. ‘For me, I think those injuries in 2016 really helped me to see things a bit differently.

‘Now that I know this stuff, I hope I can be the eyes for the next player who might have a similar experience. Maybe we can break the chains for them.’

As Gelant continues to promote conversations outside of rugby, he wants to engage with other rugby players about their entrepreneurial ventures. The 25-year-old says entrepreneurship is something that interests him. Fashion is another of his passions: ‘I feel like fashion represents you in the best possible way, and self-confidence starts with the way you dress,’ he says.

Overall, Gelant says, there are some misconceptions he feels should be kicked into touch.

People sometimes limit us as players, they don’t see there is more to us than just being on the field and playing rugby. Some may just see us as dumb rugby players throwing a ball around, but there’s more to each of us.’

Speaking to that point, Gelant is determined to expand his horizons as a player and person after recently making the move from Pretoria to the Cape. It’s a decisive career-change to join the Stormers from the Bulls, and one that he says was the realisation of a long-standing dream.

‘As a young boy I was always a Stormers supporter. The opportunity at senior level first came from the Bulls when I was a youngster, and I took it and I’m really grateful for the sevens years there.

‘I think that time really helped mould me as a player. There was a time in the past when there was a consideration to move to the Stormers, but it didn’t feel right at that time. In 2018 for example, John Mitchell had joined the Bulls as a coach and I looked at it as to where I would grow the most as a player.

‘I felt John would bring something different from overseas, and he had coached someone like former All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina. So I stayed on. But I feel the timing is now right for me to move on. With the coaches and players the Stormers have, it will help me grow as a player and person. It’s time for the next step, and the moment is now.’

Gelant is clear in his vision. He wants to become the ‘complete fullback’.    

‘If I can get some fresh eyes on my game, I think that will be a big help for me to become a complete fullback … I’ve loved my time with the Springboks and to be part of the Word Cup last year was really special,’ he adds. ‘The national goal has always been there for me. But to be honest, I feel like my performances at the Bulls this year were a bit up and down, and I haven’t had the consistency I would like.

‘So maybe the focus on being the Bok fullback needs to come second right now. I need to first be consistent for my local side before I can be consistent for the Springboks. I’m feeling refreshed mentally and physically, and my 100% focus will be on performing for the Stormers and to see what I can bring to the team. Then I can look to the next big thing.’

Gelant knows there is plenty of competition at fullback in South Africa. But this challenge excites him. And while Willie le Roux remains the Springboks’ incumbent No 15, Gelant says he wants to tap into all the experience, knowledge and leadership qualities from his World Cup-winning teammate.

It’s apparent he has used the pandemic-enforced lockdown to undergo intense introspection. In every sense, he looks to be an integral cog in a bold vision of ‘breaking chains’.

‘I think what I’ve learned during this time is the value of minimalism. I feel, sometimes, our minds and focus can be all over the show, with attention on a whole lot of things at one time. I feel lockdown allowed us just to slow down in a lot of ways, and to bring me back to my values, and I feel I’m a lot more priority-based now.

‘I’ve been able to use this downtime to reflect and work on myself. Once I did that I could see that some of my focus was split in certain ways, but now I was able to just focus on what should be most important.’

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Craig Lewis