Space invader

Junior Boks fullback Warrick Gelant has made the most of his opportunity to start for the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

Two moments stand out from Warrick Gelant’s Man of the Match performance for the Blue Bulls against Western Province at Loftus in August. In the 61st minute, the 20-year-old fullback received possession just inside his half, burst through a gap in the Province defence, drew opposite number Cheslin Kolbe on the 22m line and sent wing Jamba Ulengo away for his second try. Four minutes later, Ulengo returned the favour, with Gelant doing well to avoid the touchline before dotting down in the same corner.

The Junior Bok would finish the match, won 47-29 by the Bulls, with 108 running metres from 11 carries, two clean breaks, and three kicks from hand.

It wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan performance either, as Gelant’s statistics from his Currie Cup debut against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein three weeks earlier were even more impressive. He scored a try, made 209 running metres from nine carries, two clean breaks, and kicked three times from hand as the Bulls won 57-19.

‘I regard myself as an attacking fullback,’ Gelant tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘My biggest strength is my ability to identify space and exploit it, but if the situation requires me to kick, I will. I’ve been working hard on my kicking game.

‘[Bulls attack coach] David Manuel encourages us to play the situation within the team’s structures. We have that freedom to make our own decisions, but with that comes responsibility.’ 

Gelant has settled at fullback at senior level after playing inside centre at Hoërskool Outeniqua. That allowed him to be closer to the action, which helped him read defensive systems and improve his decision-making.

Gelant represented SA Schools in 2012 and 2013, starting three matches at outside centre, one at inside centre and one at fullback. He then played for the Junior Boks at the 2013 and 2014 U20 World Championships, wearing the No 15 jersey on nine occasions. He was also at fullback for the Blue Bulls U19 side that reached the final of last year’s  domestic competition, and played there for Tuks in the Varsity Cup.

Gelant was then called up to the Springbok Sevens side, competing in four World Series tournaments during the 2014-15 season.

‘Sevens helped to improve my skills and decision-making,’ he says. ‘Everything in sevens is a one-on-one battle, whether on attack or defence, and there’s a lot more space on the field, so you have to make decisions quicker. When I came back to 15s it felt like you had a couple more seconds on the ball, and you never feel like you’re in trouble on defence.

‘I would grab the opportunity to play for the Blitzboks at next year’s Olympics,’ he adds. ‘There’s nothing more special than representing your country and it would be great to be part of history, with sevens at the Olympics for the first time.’

Gelant returned to the Bulls after his sevens stint, starting four Vodacom Cup matches at inside centre, before being named at fullback for their first Currie Cup game in Bloemfontein.

‘I felt nervous excitement before making my debut,’ he says. ‘But I believed in myself, my teammates and our game plan, which allowed me to just go out there and enjoy it, and I was pleased with my performance.

‘It’s a big step up from the Varsity Cup and Vodacom Cup to the Currie Cup, which is South Africa’s top domestic tournament,’ he adds. ‘The north-south derby at Loftus [between the Bulls and Western Province] was very physical, and travelling to places like Bloemfontein and Kimberley is never easy.’

Gelant says he is fortunate to be part of a back three that scored four of the Bulls’ five tries in their big win against Province at Loftus.

‘Jamba and Travis [Ismaiel] are special players. I’ve known Jamba for a while as we played sevens together, and got to know Travis at the Bulls.

‘The thing that stands out for me is that they have made me, as a youngster, feel special and supported me. We trust each other on the field, link well together and are willing to learn from each other.’

While Jesse Kriel played fullback for the Bulls in Super Rugby this year, he could shift to outside centre for next year’s tournament, having done well there for the Boks. That, of course, would allow Gelant to wear the No 15 jersey.

‘Jesse is a special player and a Springbok,’ he says. ‘He can play fullback and outside centre equally well. We’ve played well together for the Junior Boks, with myself at 15 and him at 13, and I’m sure we would do the same for the Bulls.

‘If Jesse does stay at fullback, then I would look to learn from him and hopefully become a better player. But I’m not thinking about Super Rugby now, I just want to do well in the Currie Cup.’

Gelant’s nickname is ‘Boogey’, which was given to him by a matric pupil on his first day in Grade 8 at Hoërskool Outeniqua, because of his electric footwork

– This article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of SA Rugby magazine

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