Lions loose forward Warwick Tecklenburg has come a long way since leaving the Bulls, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Warwick Tecklenburg began the 2015 season under the radar. Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley were expected to form the Lions’ first-choice loose trio, having starred during the union’s run to the 2014 Currie Cup final. But, with Willie Britz departing for Bloemfontein and Kwagga Smith touring the globe with the Blitzboks, Tecklenburg has been handed an increasingly important role at the Johannesburg-based franchise.
Barring the opening-round defeat to the Hurricanes, Tecklenburg had started every match for the Lions after 13 rounds, with his defensive work rate typifying the efforts of Johan Ackermann’s side. It’s all a far cry from the environment Tecklenburg arrived in at the end of 2012, when he became one of the first players to join the Lions’ ranks after their relegation from Super Rugby.
‘That year was tough,’ admits Tecklenburg. ‘We’d play a few games, then have a couple of weeks of pre-season training. Our focus was on the promotion-relegation matches with the Kings. But I knew that if I could go to the Lions, and we could get back into Super Rugby, eventually I could achieve my goal of playing at a higher level. I saw it as an opportunity, more than anything else.’
Tecklenburg started his rugby career at Uplands College, an English-speaking school in White River. While he played representative cricket in his younger years, it was on the rugby field where he found his niche, giving up cricket in Grade 10 to focus on the 15-man game. Tecklenburg has played loose forward for as long as he can remember and represented the Mpumalanga Country Districts at the Academy Week in 2006.
After he matriculated, he joined the Tuks Rugby Academy, where he played for the Valke U19 side and the Tuks 1st XV before the founding of the Varsity Cup. However, he tore his knee ligaments in an inter-varsity match against Maties and missed the rest of the season.
For the next three years Tecklenburg would spend more time on the treatment table than on the playing field, as an ankle injury kept him out for the best part of two years, before he did more damage to his cruciate knee ligament in 2010. It was at that point he toyed with the idea of giving up the game.
Heyneke Meyer’s involvement with Tuks in 2011 persuaded Tecklenburg to give it one last shot, and it would prove just the shot his flagging rugby career needed. With his injury woes behind him, he featured in Tuks’ run to the final that year and despite going down to the boot of Demetri Catrakilis in the final against Ikeys, he did enough to win a contract with the Bulls.
It didn’t work out for Tecklenburg in Pretoria, where he struggled for game time amid a plethora of young loose-forward talent. So when the Lions came calling at the end of 2012, it was an easy decision to move south down the N1.
‘You can train as much as you want, do as much fitness as you want and practise as much as you want, but nothing compares to the pressure of a match situation. It’s simple – the more you play, the better you get. I needed to play, and the Lions gave me that opportunity.’
Tecklenburg’s rise has mirrored that of the Lions’, who were written off at the start of the 2014 Super Rugby season. Many of their players were experiencing their first campaign at such a high level, and yet they achieved the franchise’s best finish to a Super Rugby season.
‘I wasn’t exposed to the high level of Super Rugby at a young age, which may have hindered my development to an extent,’ says Tecklenburg. ‘Last year was a big learning curve for me and a lot of players here. This year we knew what to expect and that has helped us.’
After 13 rounds the Lions were on course to surpass the achievements of last season and in with a shot of making the play-offs. Tecklenburg believes they are building a new generation at Ellis Park, where Ackermann has woven a tight-knit group of players.
‘It’s quite simple really. We play for each other. There are no superstars here; we’re a bunch of players who weren’t given a fair chance at other unions and have a point to prove. Our goal is to win Super Rugby. It feels like we’re building something special here, and I’m glad to be part of it.’
TECKLENBURG ON …
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE BULLS AND LIONS
‘The big difference here [at the Lions] is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, everyone gets on well and we’ve formed a very strong bond. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at the Bulls, but I feel at home with the Lions.’
WHERE HE MUST IMPROVE
‘I’m looking to improve my decision-making on attack – when to offload and when to hold on to the ball. It helps playing in a side that likes to keep the ball in hand and plays a more attacking game.’
HIS BEST POSITION
‘If you’d asked me at the beginning of last year, I would’ve said I see myself as an openside. But I’ve played more of my Super Rugby at blindside and I’ve enjoyed it. At openside you play more to the ball, getting involved in first phase and at the breakdowns. At blindside you rely more on your team to come into the game. If the team is on the front foot, you receive the ball in the second and third phase.’
HIS DEFENSIVE STATISTICS
‘A lot of credit must go to coach JP Ferreira. The defensive system he’s put in place has helped us a lot. Each player knows what his job is and what he has to do. I know some of our tackle stats might be high, but that’s just the way our system works – it makes us look good.’
– This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of SA Rugby magazine