The fighting spirit and drive to never give up inherent in all South Africans is something Warrick Gelant says became even clearer to him during his time in France, and especially how it shines through in the country’s rugby and his DHL Stormers team.
As he settles into life back in Cape Town after a season with French club Racing 92, Gelant said it was an eye-opener to play rugby in a first-world country and that it’s given him a new perspective as he’s returned to South Africa.
“My time away was definitely eye-opening. I’ve experienced a different culture and also a first-world country, and a financially strong club that has everything going for it,” he said.
But having watched from afar as the Stormers reached a second successive Vodacom URC finals against incredible odds, Gelant said he felt it summed up the South African spirit in so many ways.
“It made me realise that while we may sometimes have limited resources here in South Africa, we still have that fighting spirit on the field and the players’ refusal to be defeated. There is a fighting spirit in South Africans in general, and when you look at all of us coming from different backgrounds and what motivates us, that comes to fruition when we come together in South Africa.”
It echoes the Stormers’ ethos that this team is playing for a greater purpose than trophies, and that its performances on the field on a weekend can have a significant impact in the lives of ordinary South Africans facing far greater challenges on a daily basis.
Stormers coach John Dobson articulated this best when he said last season: “We know what rugby in the Western Cape looks like and what it means to the people. That match ticket is a lot of money for some of our fans. We talk about that in our team talk before the games. They’re our people. They’re making a sacrifice.”
A desire to play for something bigger and the highly competitive environment within the Stormers certainly resonates with Gelant as he continues the next phase of his own career.
“For me it’s about coming back and being a player who is fighting to get a jersey in the team again and to have that hunger,” he said.
“It’s not about me looking to make an impact individually. The Stormers made the United Rugby Championship final without me being here. This is a big team, and part of my process and growth is the competitiveness of being in this team. That’s what makes it so special.”
Gelant is also driven by a belief not only in the potential of this Stormers team in this season’s URC as well as the Investec Champions Cup, but also his own future potential.
“It’s amazing to be back. It’s like coming back home. I’m very happy for how the Stormers have grown and it’s nice to be back and working with the team again. I was also here when it didn’t go well and for the tough times. It’s nice to come back and remember where we’ve come from and to now be so proud of what they guys have achieved.
“At the same time, I also believe I still have a lot of competitive years in me and that’s why I chose to come back to the Stormers and fight with this team that I played with and with the players I know. The environment and culture here is so special. We have a squad that can go very far in all competitions.”