• Velleman: Why I was willing to play for free

    Former Kings flank CJ Velleman has opened up about joining Griquas on a short-term contract for the upcoming domestic season. DYLAN JACK reports.

    Velleman was among the 58 people – staff and players – who were left without a job when the shareholders of the Southern Kings – the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) and SA Rugby –  placed the insolvent company in voluntary liquidation.

    The decision was taken in the face of an accumulated deficit of R55 million, and with zero income in prospect for the remainder of 2020 after the Kings withdrew from the upcoming domestic competitions in October.

    This ultimately left many of the Kings players unemployed and looking for opportunities elsewhere. Velleman – who had spent his entire career in the Eastern Cape – was one such player.

    The 25-year-old thankfully managed to find a new home – at least in the short term – in the Northern Cape with Griquas, but made headlines when former Kings director of rugby Robbie Kempson revealed that he was prepared to play for the team for free.

    Speaking to SARugbymag.co.za, Velleman explained that while he has managed to get a paying contract, he has still had to take a substantial pay cut to join Griquas for the Currie Cup.

    ‘The thing is that I was going to play for free anywhere, for any big union that took me on board,’ Velleman said. ‘I was pretty much happy to do that. But Griquas did give me a contract. Honestly, it is very, very minimal. It is less than my first contract that I signed straight out of school. It is just pretty much enough to keep me alive this side.

    ”But it is just a short-term thing, only until January. And there is a clause that I can move if I get an opportunity overseas. That is the plan. I need to put in back-to-back performances, though, before anybody is going to have the trust to provide me with a decent contract again.

    ‘The big thing is that all the contracting has been done. That was the biggest problem. All the big unions have spent their budgets and medical jokers in France have only opened up now. I know that a few other places have gone back into lockdown. So it has been a struggle.

    ‘Saying that, I am really happy and grateful for the opportunity.’

    Despite representing Eastern Province at every level from U13 to U20, Velleman has struggled to build on his potential as his senior career has been marred by successive injuries.

    Having recovered from his latest setback, he is determined to prove that he is no injury risk and can be of value to any franchise or club that wants to invest in him.

    ‘I am super excited, you have no idea. We are playing the Cheetahs this weekend in a warm-up game. I will only get a few minutes. Then we will see what will happen against the Bulls. Hopefully I will be on the bench just to get another 30 or 40 minutes. After that I can hopefully get a good run of games in.

    ‘I am all good in terms of injuries. I was doing rehab at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport and that was awesome. I don’t think I have been that fit in a long time. Then obviously I came back to the Kings and we got the news that we were out of the Currie Cup and then the news that we were liquidated. So my fitness at the moment isn’t where it should be, but I will get there quickly.

    ‘I was just looking around. Because I have been injured so much, there was obviously a lot of doubt around my injury record. So all the bigger sides were understandably hesitant to take me on. I kind of just scraped around for any opportunities for some game time so I can prove that I am all good and ready to go.

    ‘That is the main reason why I am here. To show that I can stay on the field for 80 minutes and make a difference, prove myself again. It has been a while since I have put together back to back performances. Hopefully, it works out.

    ‘I am all settled in. I have got my dog with me at least and my girlfriend is coming up on Thursday. I am just missing the waves, that’s all. I love to surf.  I am here for four months, so I want to focus on my rugby. I am hoping to make a success of it because I haven’t played proper rugby in about four years.  The guys here are a brilliant bunch of gents so it is so far, so good.’

    ALSO READ: Kings demise ‘absolutely heartbreaking’

    Photo: Gallo Images

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    Dylan Jack