Leading distributor

Rudy Paige tells SIMON BORCHARDT about his breakthrough season with the Bulls, going to the World Cup and the strengths of his game.

You started the 2015 Super Rugby season on the Bulls’ bench behind Piet van Zyl – with Francois Hougaard on the wing – but finished it as their first-choice scrumhalf. To what do you attribute that success?
I knew I’d get an opportunity to play at some stage and that I had to take it with both hands. Playing every weekend helped me to become accustomed to the pace of Super Rugby and my confidence grew.

You were a member of the Springbok squad for the Rugby Championship, but didn’t get a game. Did Heyneke Meyer discuss his plan for you?
Yes, he told me he liked what he had seen from me in Super Rugby and that I had a chance to go to the World Cup. The loss against Argentina in Durban meant I didn’t get to make my debut in Buenos Aires a week later [as Meyer was forced to field his best side]. But he always told me what his plan was for me. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I was selected for the World Cup squad.

You finally made your Test debut against the USA at the World Cup, coming off the bench in the 63rd minute. What do you recall from that day?
I was more excited than nervous before the game. When you sing the national anthem in front of a big crowd like that, all the sacrifices you’ve made to get there feel worth it. Being part of the Springbok family is something I had dreamed about since I was a boy. I remember struggling to get my tracksuit pants off, and I still can’t remember the first five minutes I spent on the field. But I knew what I had to do – provide quick, accurate service – and I was pleased with my performance.

Meyer was heavily criticised for giving you just three minutes of game time against Argentina in the third-place play-off. How disappointed were you at not getting a decent run in a game the Boks had wrapped up early in the second half?
I wouldn’t say disappointed … I still got the chance to earn another Springbok cap. Sometimes as a player you get a raw deal and things don’t go your way, but you need to have faith in the coach. There have been many players throughout Bok history who didn’t get to come off the bench, so what happened to me wasn’t such a big thing.

What did you learn from Fourie du Preez at the World Cup?
Fourie is a legend and a genius at what he does. His decision-making is outstanding – he always picks the right player with his pass and knows when to kick. His ability to identify space and get into that space, and the calm manner in which he operates, also impressed me.

What’s it like having Handré Pollard as your halfback partner and does the fact you play together at the Bulls improve your chances of starting for the Boks this year?
I enjoy playing with Polly, he’s an excellent, knowledgeable rugby player who has the ability to   take a gap. I’m not thinking about the Boks, I just want to make the Bulls’ starting lineup and play well in Super Rugby. The rest will take care of itself.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you start playing rugby?
I began playing Bulletjie [mini] rugby at the age of seven at De Waalville Primary School in Heidelberg in the Western Cape. I played flyhalf at first, because that had been my father’s position, but he told me before the Craven Week trials [for South Western Districts] that I should move to scrumhalf because of my height and weight.

You played for SWD at the U18 Academy Week in 2006 and the Lions at the U18 Craven Week in 2007. How did you end up in Joburg?
The Lions saw me playing for SWD at the Academy Week, which we went on to win, and asked me if I would be interested in joining them. At first I said no, but then when I was in Grade 11 in my first year at Outeniqua, the scrumhalf who was playing for the 2nd XV was selected ahead of me for the SWD Craven Week squad. I then decided to move to Joburg to do my matric year at Bastion.

What did it mean to you to captain SA Schools in 2007 and play for SA U20 in 2009?
Being appointed SA Schools captain was massive for me and my family, especially as I was only the second player of colour to be given the honour. When I was selected for the SA U20 squad I realised I could have a big future in rugby. To play on the world stage, against guys like [England scrumhalf] Ben Youngs, was a great experience.

You played Varsity Cup rugby for UJ in 2011 and 2012. How did that help to develop your game?
While I was with the Lions U21 side I’d had a hamstring operation that ruled me out for a year, so I was grateful to get some exposure in the Varsity Cup. The Bulls were able to get a good look at me.

Why did you leave the Lions for the Bulls?
My contract with the Lions was set to expire at the end of 2012 and the union had a lot of experienced, settled scrumhalves who were ahead of me in the pecking order. I got a call from the Bulls, who had lost two scrumhalves to the Springbok squad and needed another one for the Currie Cup. I decided to go to the Bulls on loan for that Currie Cup season and try get my foot into the door.

You’ve said you are a scrumhalf who focuses on the basics and tries to do them well. What are your big strengths and in which areas do you need to improve?
I enjoy quickening up the game and getting the guys around me to play. I’ve got a very good box kick, but can improve the consistency and accuracy of my kicking. I’d also like to score a few more tries and improve my support play. The Bulls haven’t been the most attacking side in recent years but I firmly believe that is going to change.

– This Q&A first appeared in the March 2016 issue of SA Rugby magazine

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