Ruan Nortje, the newly crowned Ironman of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, knows better than anybody that Friday night’s semi-final showdown with Leinster will require an iron will of both himself and his Vodacom Bulls team.
The lock, who has used this inaugural season of the competition to play his way into the Springbok conversation and was given the Ironman award for playing the most minutes in the 18-round league phase, will once again have the words of his father in his mind as he seeks to test himself against a team laden with Irish internationals.
“My father is the hardest-working man I know who never gives up, and that’s the way I grew up. You just put your head down and keep working forward. Every single week my dad will tell me that whenever I get up off the ground, that next first 10 metres is the most important. I always have to get up and sprint to get back into place. That’s stuck in my head all these years and it makes a massive difference in the back of my mind. It’s always in my subconscious,” Nortje said.
Nortje admitted that at the start of the URC season there was some uncertainty in his own mind as to how he would measure up against the international opposition. But several months later and he’s emerged as one of the young stars of the competition.
“When the season started it was a massive challenge. I didn’t know where I stood and what to expect from the overseas clubs, and whether you’re on a par with them. It was a massive challenge for me, and I was ready to take it on and take every opportunity I was given. I just wanted to give everything for this badge on my chest.
“There were a few games where I was in a dark tunnel, but it’s about how you work through that towards the light at the end of it. It was a tough season, but I am thankful for pushing through and the opportunities I’ve been given.”
And now he’s relishing the opportunity to take on a Leinster team that will certainly test him and his teammates.
“Leinster is one of the best teams in the world. We have to embrace that challenge and enjoy it, but also give it our best shot. I always want to challenge myself to become better and not become stagnant. I want to improve. It’s important for me in every game, no matter the opposition, to improve. This semi-final is an awesome opportunity for me to test myself against some great Test players. Any player wants to test himself against the best, and what better than Leinster. It’s a massive opportunity to play against such a quality side. I’m looking forward to it.”
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 8, 2022
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images