Sharks flank Jean-Luc du Preez wants to add to his Test tally this season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It didn’t take long for Jean-Luc du Preez to make a statement of intent in 2017. Just over a minute into the Sharks’ Super Rugby opener against the Reds, and with his first touch of the ball, Du Preez displayed an impressive turn of pace to dart over for a well-worked try.
Notably, it was this sort of athleticism and mobility that made Du Preez such a force to be reckoned with during a breakthrough senior season in 2016, which culminated in a coveted Bok Test cap in the final end-of-year international against Wales. It was an honour that perhaps came sooner than expected for the 21-year-old, but few would dispute that Du Preez was born to be a Bok.
As the son of former Springbok scrumhalf Robert du Preez, rugby was always very much a part of the lives of Jean-Luc, twin brother Dan and eldest brother Robert Jnr.
During their high-school rugby days at Kearsney College, talk of the Du Preez brothers going on to earn higher honours closely followed their consistently standout performances that set them apart from many of their young peers.
And it’s easy to see why, when reflecting on Jean-Luc’s track record which features one achievement after another on the path to following in his father’s Springbok footsteps.
Du Preez’s glittering junior career saw him representing KwaZulu-Natal at the U13 and U18 Craven Weeks (on three occasions), while he gained selection for SA Schools in 2012 and 2013. The talented loose forward went on to feature in the Junior World Championship in 2014 and 2015. Du Preez also played a leading role for the Sharks’ U19 side as they progressed to the semi-finals of the junior provincial competition in 2014, while he featured for the Sharks XV in the 2015 Vodacom Cup.
It was clear from his teenage days that Du Preez was destined for higher honours, and he tells SA Rugby magazine that his exposure at junior level played a key role in his development as a player.
‘All of those levels, Craven Week, SA Schools and then obviously SA U20s, they were all great stepping stones for me to reach my ultimate goal. It was a period where I really learned a lot about my game, and it helped provide the foundation for me to work towards becoming the best I could be.’
Indeed, it appeared to only be a matter of time before Du Preez was drafted into the senior set-up of a Sharks system he had dreamed being a part of. As if to the manner born, Du Preez quickly became a mainstay in the Sharks’ Super Rugby side last year (completing 987 minutes of game time), while making 90 carries, 192 running metres, beating 15 defenders and executing 136 tackles.
However, it was his work rate, mobility and physicality that added to his all-round attributes, while contributing to his call-up to the South Africa A side for matches against the England Saxons last June. It was such exposure that served as another stepping stone on the path to Springbok honours, with Du Preez playing a prominent role in the Currie Cup before receiving a deserved call-up for the Boks’ end-of-year tour to the UK.
At a time when the Boks’ loose-trio stocks were considerably depleted due to injury, Du Preez’s ability to cover all three positions in the back row made him a valuable addition to a squad crying out for an injection of youthful exuberance.
Du Preez was only afforded a couple of minutes of game time in the final Test against Wales, but there is every reason to believe this is just the start of a long and illustrious career for the versatile
In many ways, Du Preez is the archetypal modern-day blindside flank. Particularly in a South African context, this has often been a position filled by a big, bruising smash ’em and bash ’em ball-carrier.
And while he is certainly no lightweight at around 108kg, it’s his unexpected pace, insatiable energy and eagerness to keep the ball alive that makes him a rather rare product on South African rugby’s loose-forward landscape.
‘Offloading is an important aspect of my game. Some of those skills come from waterpolo, which I played for a few years,’ he muses. ‘However, having said that, sometimes my handling in contact can tend to let me down, and that’s something I will continue to work on.
‘I’m looking to ensure that I always get the ball on to the right side of contact, and improve my decision-making when it comes to offloading.’
It’s this desire for constant self-improvement that will continue to drive Du Preez as he looks to take his game to even greater heights after an unforgettable 2016 season.
It provided just a brief taste of Test rugby, which has only heightened his hunger for more.
‘Getting called up to that end-of-year squad was one of the goals I worked towards,’ he reflects. ‘Obviously I would have loved to get some more game time, but just to be involved in the Bok set-up was a special experience. One of my big goals this year is to start the season well, and then to hopefully put myself in a position to feature in a few more Tests. That’s always been the ultimate goal.
DU PREEZ ON …
Joining the Sharks after school
‘Going to the Sharks was the obvious option because we’d been in Durban all our lives, and had grown up supporting them. It was an easy decision to make and they were always the team I wanted to play for.’
His preferred position
‘I started playing flank when I was 12, and although I did play across all the back row positions for a while, it was in Grade 10 that I started specialising at No 7. So, from the age of 16, that’s where I’ve predominantly played.’
The step up to senior level
‘The game was pretty physical and fast at SA U20 level, but obviously it’s a big step up to Super Rugby. I think it’s something you can adjust to if you put your mind to it, and obviously your conditioning has to be really good. Last year I was around 108kg and felt I was in the best shape of my career.’
Playing alongside twin brother Dan
‘We’ve played together our whole lives, and we’ve learned a lot about each other on the field, and it almost feels like we know what the other person is going to do before they do it. We often say that if we play together, then we’re going to have a good game.’
Being coached by his father Robert
‘It’s not the first time he’s coached me; he actually coached me at [Durban club side] Crusaders, and it’s a player-coach relationship that we’ve got used to. Some people have asked me if he’s harder or more lenient on me than other players, but that’s not the case at all. It’s a very professional relationship.’
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine