Marco van Staden took an unconventional route to the top, writes BRENDEN NEL.
Possibly the most overused inspirational quote when it comes to sporting stories is Nelson Mandela’s ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. Yet it is the first thing that comes to mind with Springbok flank Marco van Staden.
A no-nonsense, solid fetcher, considered too small by many and rejected by others, now stands firmly in his place as a Springbok after making his debut against Argentina in August. A journey that started with a will to succeed and a desire not to give up, has been rewarded with the green and gold jersey he coveted since he was a child.
Van Staden’s story is the stuff of legend.
In a professional environment where schoolboy stars follow a prescribed path from top school to SA U20s to Super Rugby to stardom, Van Staden never fitted the bill.
Hailing from the small Magaliesburg school of Bekker, he was rejected by Pukke and had to ‘buy’ himself a place at the Tuks Academy. He has fought his way through every trial and tribulation placed before him.
Van Staden is the 2018 rugby season’s rags-to-riches story. A story of inspiration and grit. A story that is too often overlooked in favour of the glamour plays we so often see.
As his Bulls and Bok teammate RG Snyman states quite simply: ‘Marco is the old standard legend – that’s the best way to sum him up. He is not a guy of a lot of words, but he brings it.’
While others were chasing rugby glory, Van Staden followed his mantra of ‘head down, forward only’ as he carved out a place in Pretoria, impressing his junior coach, Pote Human, to such an extent that a Tuks performance became a Provincial Rugby Challenge performance, onwards to Currie Cup and Super Rugby.
Van Staden, the flank who came to the Bulls without a contract, who played his way into the hearts of their supporters, is the same flank who now stares at what was once an impossible dream: of Test rugby and a World Cup.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus smiles when you ask him about Van Staden and it is easy to see why.
‘What you get from him off the field is totally different to what you see on the field,’ Erasmus says. ‘Off the field, he is polite and humble – he is a “yes sir, no sir” kind of guy – but on it he is an absolute monster. He is very coachable. He absorbs the stuff you tell him and I am very impressed with his professionalism. He is heavy for a guy his size and I think he can definitely become a Francois Louw-like player. He has also just received his degree and has his own business, so he has got brains.’
Erasmus has been particularly impressed by Van Staden’s tenacity.
‘He won’t give up. And that is what you get with his character … when a guy comes through Varsity Cup without a contract, plays for the Bulls and then injures his knee before his first Test, then returns from the injury and finds form almost immediately, he is a fighter. He is prepared to take the long road if needed to get to the top.’
Van Staden always knew that hard work was part of the package to achieve the greater things so many people thought he wasn’t destined for.
‘Everything started for me in the Currie Cup when coach Mitch [John Mitchell] gave me a chance,’ he says. ‘I listened to him and improved myself to make the standards he wanted. I knew it was going to take hard work.
‘It has always been my dream to play for the Springboks. I didn’t play at any representative level at school, so I knew I had to work very hard to get to the top. I think it is good because it taught me to work hard from the beginning.’
But possibly the biggest disappointment came in the Super Rugby match against the Brumbies this year when, minutes away from being announced in the Bok squad, he injured his knee and missed out on the England Test series.
‘For sure, I was disappointed,’ he says. ‘It happened in the 82nd minute of the game. But everything happens for a reason and theLord has a plan and we have to go with it.’
Hard work came to Van Staden’s rescue and he returned earlier than expected and with greater impact. But just like his cum-laude graduation from a bachelors degree in sports management shows, Van Staden knows when it is time to buckle down. He is the man for the job and when the going gets tough, he is the first to smile.
‘Ja, I like physicality and contact. That is one of my favourite parts of the game. The tackles, the fun stuff …’
And now that he is part of the Bok squad, his plan is to stay. But sometime in the near future, he will find time to reflect on the dream he has achieved after a rollercoaster year that saw him start as a Varsity Cup hopeful and end as a Bok.
‘There were tough times with injuries and not getting chosen for teams, but I just had to keep on believing and working hard. Don’t let anyone tell you that something is not possible.
‘It’s been a dream year. I started in the Varsity Cup and I never thought I would even be close to this green and gold jersey. It still feels like a dream and reality will kick in later.’
Inspiration sometimes comes in small packages, as does dynamite. Marco van Staden is proof that both can still exist in modern rugby.
– This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine.