Former Springbok Joe van Niekerk says he looks back on his career with no regrets regardless of any perception that he never fulfilled his potential.
In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, Van Niekerk opens up on his extraordinary journey from rugby player to community leader of a healing sanctuary in Costa Rica.
The talented loose-forward dynamo featured in 52 Tests between 2001 and 2010, while he also played for the Lions and Stormers.
The 39-year-old has now found ‘happiness and peace’ after opting to follow a completely different vocation, but in an interview with Ryan Vrede, he did look back on the ups and downs of his past career.
‘There are some things that didn’t go in the flow I hoped they would. I wanted to be part of the 2007 World Cup team but I got injured and missed out on the chance of being a world champion. At the time I didn’t realise how badly that would affect me when I retired.
‘But I’ve learned to accept there was a predetermined destiny for my life and that winning a World Cup wasn’t part of the script. So when the Boks won the World Cup in Japan, I felt nothing but joy for them and the country because my perspective had shifted. I didn’t want to waste energy on lamenting what happened to me. I wanted to celebrate the guys that got to experience that success.’
When asked how he would assess his career, Van Niekerk responded with insightful honesty: ‘From an early age people were telling me how great a player I was going to be. That conditions you to think in a certain way and set your standards accordingly. So, my expectations of myself were heightened and that created a lot of unnecessary pressure.
‘If I had to do it all over again, I’d be more careful about allowing others to control the narrative around me and my career. I was locked in a strange energy for years. I needed to let it go and when I did, I played some of the best rugby of my career. I’ve had to look at my life and heal any resentment I’ve been holding on to from my career.’
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In one Instagram post from early March, Van Niekerk also touched on ‘gossip’ that caused him a lot of stress while playing for Western Province, and he didn’t shy away from addressing the subject.
‘Yeah, there was so many rumours and stories flying around for the whole time I was there. It drained the life out of me. I didn’t do myself any favours and I’m not saying I was a saint; far from it. But I felt like people didn’t care what was happening in my life at the time and how that affected me. All they cared about was trying to tarnish my name …
‘The way I dealt with gossip back then was to say, “Who are you to tell me how to live?” That was a childish reaction because deep down I knew I wasn’t living right. I wish I’d had the intellectual capacity I do have now, back then. But I didn’t, so it’s a period of my life I just have to reflect on as a lesson.’
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One of my old school buddies sent me this picture! So many Life lessons learnt it was a grand honour and privilege playing for the blue and white hoops! Even though my time at province was not full of success in terms of trophies I learnt alot about myself I arrived at province with a torn Acl after the 2003 rugby world Cup. Therefore I could not start my contract on the pitch with the boys when I arrived! I was only 23 years old baby faced and still a youngster ! I thoughroughly enjoyed playing at Western province and when I was on the pitch I gave my all for the Jersey and my brothers! Bob Skinstad was my childhood hero growing up his finesse, skills and Charisma stood out for me! The ultimate loosie! Cape Town is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world ♥️ So grateful for all the amazing teammates, master mentors legend @roblouw6 and incredible coaches! One of the biggest lessons for my time in the Cape was to be aware of not speaking about others in a negative way gossip is harmful in so many ways. When we speak about others in a negative way we create a downward spiral energetically . How will we be able to look someone in the eyes the next time we see them if we have spoken badly about them behind their backs ?! Let us be conscious of talking about others in a degrading way unless we can keep the chat positive creating uplifting vibes! The other side of the coin of course is when people say how great we are, in both cases we should remain equanimous. To high praise and to degrading and negative chat! We are already enough and I think for me this is where the real work on ourselves truly begins realising who you truly are makes all the difference! Selflove is crucial if we can love ourselves for who we are the outerworld becomes a reflection of that LOVE! So much appreciation for all the deep teachings and for my time in the majestic Cape ! #grateful #pathoftheheart #learning #equanimity #selflove #blueandwhitehoops #truth #jahbless #keepmoving #lookwithin
*The full interview with Van Niekerk is available in our April of SA Rugby magazine, which is now on sale. During this period of lockdown, we hope you are able to get your hands on the latest copy, but we will continue to bring you the best possible content. You can also subscribe here