Former Sharks centre Paul Jordaan has turned attention away from rugby and to his family farm, writes DYLAN JACK in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
After a nightmare run of injuries and difference of opinion with the La Rochelle coach, Jordaan has turned away from rugby and returned to his family’s farm.
Considering that Jordaan turned 28 at the beginning of this year, when most players would be heading into their rugby prime, the news that he has decided to hang up his boots to help the family business would come as a surprise to many.
He has been out of rugby since negotiating a release from his contract with the French Top 14 side midway through 2019, but his talents would certainly not be out of place at any one of the South African franchises.
However, Jordaan confirms to SA Rugby magazine that he felt that the time was right for him to take his place on the farm in the Eastern Cape – which has been in his family for six generations.
‘I am done with rugby,’ Jordaan said. ‘I have decided it is time to hang up my boots and start my life after rugby. It has been a tough time for our business, because we have been going through a five-year drought. Conditions have not been good so I wanted to come back and help. I have moved on to the farm, but my parents have moved off; they live just outside of town and my dad runs a pecan nut orchard. I am taking over the farm.’
Jordaan is privileged to have a ready-made solution to life after rugby, but it’s also a somewhat disappointing end to what was once a very promising career. Having attended Grey College in Bloemfontein, Jordaan was part of a powerhouse 1st XV that included Johan Goosen, William Small-Smith and Neethling Fouche. All four went on to play for an unbeaten Free State U18 and represent SA Schools in 2010.
Jordaan’s burgeoning talent was also nationally recognised when he was offered a contract at Craven Week by then Blitzboks coach Paul Treu to join the SA Sevens system. In his first sevens tournament, in Las Vegas in 2011, Jordan helped the Blitzboks lift their first title since the 2009 Adelaide Sevens.
After school, the youngster had his pick of contracts, but was swayed to join the Sharks: ‘I visited a couple of the unions but just got a good feeling from the Sharks. I felt there was space for me there and that I could move through the ranks quite quickly. They offered me one of the smaller contracts but I knew that I could make it through the ranks and play Super Rugby. I loved the culture and what the Sharks stood for.’
His rapid rise continued as he helped the Junior Springboks claim the U20 Championship for the first time on home soil and then he played a prominent role in the Sharks’ stunning run to the Super Rugby final – which included two away playoff wins – and the Currie Cup final.
‘I didn’t join the Sharks immediately. I was picked up by Paul Treu to join the sevens in my matric year. So I went to Stellenbosch and played sevens for a couple of tournaments and only then went back to Durban to play for the U21s,’ Jordaan explains.
‘I was meant to go back to Stellenbosch at the end of 2011, but [former Sharks coach] John Plumtree told me that I am not going back and that I was going to be in the Super Rugby squad. It was awesome.
‘That was a good year. It was my first year in senior rugby and it was such a fun season. I was a young guy and playing with these guys who were my heroes growing up. It was like living a dream.’
Unfortunately, everything would not be as rosy as that first year in Durban. Jordaan started to struggle with hamstring strains in his second year, limiting his time on the field.
‘I was definitely injury-prone because of the way that I was built,’ Jordaan says. ‘Because I have got fast, twitchy muscle fibres, I tear hamstrings quite easily. My dad says I am a bit like a racehorse. That was obviously frustrating. If you get an injury once in a while, it is fine. But if you get an injury on an injury on an injury, it gets mentally draining. The coach starts giving you that look every time you get injured.’
Possibly the worst of his injuries came during the 2014 Currie Cup season. In a derby against the Lions, Jordaan was tackled from behind and his knee got driven into the ground, putting too much pressure on his hip, resulting in a dislocation and fracture. The injury is said to be more common in car accidents than in rugby.
After having just recovered from a knee injury, it was a massive setback for him as he spent another six months out, missing almost the entire 2015 season.
After making a successful comeback in the 2016 Super Rugby season, Jordaan decided a fresh start was needed with a move to France with La Rochelle.
‘I felt like I needed a change. I had been in Durban for five Super Rugby seasons and was in the Bok group once or twice but I felt my style of play at the time didn’t suit the side. We weren’t playing too much attacking rugby at the Sharks. We played a defensive game and there was also a lot of politics and stuff like that. I felt like I needed something different and a change of scenery.’
Jordaan says adjusting to life in France was a challenge and that he was pleasantly surprised by La Rochelle’s run to the semi-finals in his first season with the club.
‘It was a bit of a culture shock when I got there. Everything is a lot different to back home. The training is different, the people are different and the language is different. Rugby was so different – almost semi-pro.
‘The facilities were great, but the coaching and medical staff were definitely not up to the standard that I was used to in South Africa. I remember telling my wife after a few training sessions that I felt we might come last, just because of how training was going. But then we ended up going to the semi-finals. It was just different, and I was not used to it.’
Jordaan continued to impress in France and earned himself a three-year contract extension in 2018. However, the following season, he strangely made fewer and fewer appearances.
In 2019 the news broke that he had reached an agreement with the club to terminate his contract so that he could return to South Africa.
‘There were a couple of things that played a role there,’ he explains. ‘It wasn’t just the injuries. It was the rugby. I wouldn’t say I fell out with the coach, I just gave him my opinion and in France they don’t like that. He saw it as a fallout and we didn’t click.
‘I also had my little baby girl and I want to raise all my kids on our farm and give them a life out there. The family business was also under stress and my dad was having health issues. It was a lot of things that played into my decision to come back.’
Now back on the farm, Jordaan has made peace with the fact that his rugby career is over.
‘It certainly has been a change. I wouldn’t say that it has been tough because I knew exactly what I was going to do after rugby and that was to move back here because I grew up here and it is in my blood.
‘I left rugby on my terms and was not forced out. I am doing what I love, so it hasn’t been that hard. In rugby you live in this bubble and a lot of guys don’t know when to get out of that bubble. Sometimes, when you do get out, it is too late. I feel like it is a good time to leave the scene and start life after rugby.
‘I have built myself a proper gym here. As a family we like to train together quite a bit. I will get up at 5am and gym. When my daughter Ivy wakes up at 5.30, my wife Natasha will drop her off at the gym and she will gym with me. There will be music playing and we will dance a bit in the gym. Natasha will join with a bit of cardio and some exercises. We love to do that together.
‘Everything has started to change on the farm because we have had unbelievably good rain in January. Now the coronavirus has popped up and we are not sure what we are going to do. But I believe that I am in this position for a reason.’
*This feature appeared in the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, now on sale.
2009 & 2010: Represented Free State U18 at Craven Week
2010-2011: Blitzboks (7 matches, 5 tries, 1 tournament win at Las Vegas)
2011-2012: Junior Springboks (8 appearances,1 try, 1 tournament win at 2012 U20 Championship)
2012-2015: Sharks Currie Cup (28 appearances, 10 tries, 50 points)
2012-2016: Sharks Super Rugby (43 appearances, 9 tries, 45 points)
2016-2019: La Rochelle Top 14 (35 appearances, 7 tries, 35 points)
2016-2019: La Rochelle European Champions/Challenge Cup (11 appearances, 3 tries, 15 points)