Rosco Speckman’s journey to the top of rugby’s abbreviated code started with rejection at the Sharks, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
He had attended Mary Waters High in Grahamstown – an unfashionable rugby school – and played for Eastern Province in the U19 provincial tournament, before the Sharks came circling in Eastern Cape waters.
‘My family was elated when I received the opportunity to go to Durban,’ Speckman tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘As a youngster, all you want to do after school is join one of the big unions, so the Sharks’ interest in me was a huge compliment.’
However, what the wing thought was his big break turned into a period of self-doubt. From 2010 to 2012, Speckman made 13 Vodacom Cup appearances for the Sharks XV, scoring five tries, but there wasn’t the slightest hint that he might be elevated to the Currie Cup team. By the end of 2012, he was told in no uncertain terms that his time at the union had come to an end.
‘I was in my last year there and hoping to stay a little longer, but the coaches told me there would be no contract extension, because I was too small and didn’t fit into their plans,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know what to do next and started questioning whether I was destined to play rugby for a living. It was the most difficult period of my career.’
With his dream on the verge of being over, before it had begun to be realised, Speckman crossed paths with then-Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse. It would change the course of the player’s life.
‘Coach Jimmy offered me a contract at the Pumas and that is where I regained form, rediscovered my confidence and started to believe in my abilities again. I owe him a lot for what I’ve achieved with the Blitzboks. He didn’t box me in or try to change my game; he just made a few adjustments so I could fit into the team set-up. He gave me the freedom to express myself and that directly led to my selection for the Blitzboks.’
Speckman’s form for the Pumas resulted in a call-up to the Springbok Sevens team in 2014. But, during his debut against Kenya on day two at the Las Vegas tournament, he tore ankle ligaments. He returned to Nelspruit and helped the Pumas beat Western Province 24-7 in the 2015 Vodacom Cup final. However, although he was back to full fitness, he had to wait until the start of the 2015-16 World Rugby Sevens Series to be recalled to the Blitzboks squad, as injury cover for Cecil Afrika.
Speckman would go on to play at the Olympics in Rio, and claim a bronze medal.
‘In the back of my mind I knew there was a possibility that I could be an Olympian, but when fifteens players became available to the Blitzboks, I didn’t think I’d make the 12-man squad,’ he says. ‘I’ve had so many setbacks that to avoid disappointment, I always expect the worst. Going to the Olympics was a career highlight for me and although we went to Brazil to win gold, coming back with bronze was still a big achievement.’
Speckman has gone from strength to strength since then, and is now an established and settled member of a dominant Blitzboks team that is set to win the Sevens Series title for only the second time.
This season he has produced dazzling performances in important matches and big plays in big moments. Once such came during the Cape Town Sevens semi-final against New Zealand, when he received possession deep inside his 22, and cut back inside, past two defenders before sprinting away to score a great try.
In March, Speckman was named the Most Valuable Player at the Las Vegas Sevens tournament, which the Blitzboks won by beating Fiji in the Cup final.
He prefers to talk about the team rather than his personal achievements, crediting their success this season to the family environment the coaches have created.
‘Whether you’re a youngster joining the squad for the first time or a senior player like Dippies [Stephan Dippenaar] or Werries [Werner Kok], coach [Neil] Powell treats everyone equally. It’s fun being in a happy change room and that shows on the field. I feel blessed to be a part of this team.’
Irish novelist and poet Samuel Beckett once wrote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ That would resonate with Speckman, who has failed and failed again during his career, but learned from it each time and improved as a player.
The Sharks may not have backed him five years ago, but the Blitzboks certainly do now.
– This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine