JC Pretorius discusses his strengths and weaknesses, his role within the Blitzboks set-up, Neil Powell’s pulling power and how the team is shaping up ahead of the Olympics.
The 22-year-old made his senior debut just over a year ago at the 2019 Sydney Sevens and has since been on an upward trajectory. His personal growth and development over that period has been evident and it has translated into top on-field performances, making him one of the Blitzboks’ standout players so far this season.
But Pretorius is quick to deflect attention and praise from himself because he believes he is not making enough of a contribution to the Blitzboks’ cause and hopes to improve over the next few months in the lead-up to the Olympics.
‘I love contesting at rucks; I have a decent technique to do it. I’d rate that as my best on-field quality. In the past I struggled on attack, but now I back myself and the pace I have, so that’s another positive aspect of my game,’ Pretorius says.
‘But one of the cornerstone’s of the Blitzboks’ success is defence and I feel that is where I need to improve,’ he admits. ‘I have been battling a bit to fit into team’s defence structure, which is kind of like hunting in a pack. A lot of times I find myself isolated when we are defending, but I’m working hard on getting it right in order to make a greater contribution to the team. I feel there’s room for improvement.’
Pretorius says for now his primary role is to disrupt opposition ball at the breakdown and to help with the team’s quick transition from defence to attack whenever there’s an opportunity to do so, but he does harbour hopes of becoming a member of the senior leadership group in future.
Coach Neil Powell’s unique relationship with his players has been well documented and Pretorius is quick to heap praise of his work ethic and excellent man-management skills.
‘Obviously at the academy there’s Marius Schoeman and Paul Delport. But then you stress when you have to train with the seniors, because coach Neil is there. But when I started training with them, he was the nicest. He helps all over, he is willing to work extra hours if a player asks him for a one-on-one session.
‘We have individual reviews after every second tournament and Coach would ask us to list the areas we felt we excelled in and the ones we I’d like to work on. He’d then reveal his notes and we’d take it from there. But more importantly, he is available 24/7 even if it is personal issues that we need help with,’ he says.
The Blitzboks are currently second on the World Sevens Series table, nine points behind leaders New Zealand and 11 clear of third-ranked France after tour tournaments. The winner of the series will undoubtedly head to the 2020 Olympics as favourites, and while Pretorius is cautious to touch on the matter, he admits to there being extra motivation to do well in the regular season because of the looming showpiece in Tokyo.
‘We always focus our processes and structures for the next event. We don’t like to look and plan too far ahead. But it’s the Olympics and we want to do well and win the series to take that momentum with us to Tokyo. We want to win gold at the Olympics, that’s the goal for this year.’
*Pretorius will be featured in the March issue of SA Rugby magazine, on sale next week. Read all about his journey to the top, his family life and how a life-and-death situation inspires him to give his best whenever he runs on to a field.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images