Springbok legend Fourie du Preez has detailed how Loffie Eloff relieved him of his contractual obligations to the Lions in order to allow him to pursue a career at the Vodacom Bulls .
Du Preez enjoyed had an illustrious and well-documented career at the Bulls, which elevated him to Springbok stardom. By the time he retired in 2016, he was regarded as one of the best scrumhalves the game has ever seen.
But a little known fact is that Du Preez was set to join the Lions post-matric and had already signed a contract with the union before the Bulls came knocking. It also took a selfless act from Eloff to help Du Preez pursue his dream to play for the Bulls and ultimately set him on the path to greatness.
‘During Craven Week [in 2000] there were a few teams talking to me and Loffie Eloff from the Lions had a great track record,’ Du Preez told renowned commentator Hugh Bladen in a previous sit-down interview.
‘He spoke to me and my dad and at that stage Bulls rugby wasn’t great and I just liked the way Loffie spoke to me, so I sort of made the decision to go to the Lions. Then just sort of end of the year, after my matric holiday, Heyneke Meyer got the Bulls job and he had a list of players he wanted to get at the Bulls and he had a long-term vision.
‘He came to speak to me and I bought into his whole philosophy and the way he wanted to go forward. It was a tough decision, but Heyneke opened the door for me to come to the Bulls and to study at Tukkies.
‘So myself and my dad had to go to Loffie. We went to see him at Ellis Park to explain my decision and I’m very glad for what happened afterwards. He said he understood my decision and then he ripped up the contract and as it is I still owe him for that because that was the turning point in my career and my life.’
When asked for his version of events in a recent interview, Eloff commented: ‘No one actually knew about it, but a year ago Fourie did a documentary and that was the first time it came out.
‘The Lions management was pissed off with me, but a player always comes first. Fourie and his dad came to me and they didn’t put me under any pressure about my decision. We had a long chat and I told him how I envisioned his future at the Lions and him growing in stature alongside Andre Pretorius.
‘But I also knew that he came through the Bulls structure, he went to Affies. So I asked him what his heart’s desire is and he told me it’s to go to the Bulls. And I immediately told him I’d release him from our contract and then I tore up the contract.
‘I wasn’t every popular among my colleagues at the Lions after that. But a coach can’t keep a player at a team against his wishes. A coach sometimes has to make the right decisions, one that are in the best interests of the player and not necessarily of himself or his ego.
‘Fourie du Preez is one of the most brilliant scrumhalves in history and a good person off the field.’
Photo: Gallo Images