New Sharks recruit Werner Kok believes it is the right time in his career to make a change and tackle the new challenge of fifteens rugby.
In the latest SA Rugby magazine, Kok spoke to MIKE GREENAWAY about his move from Cape Town and the sevens system to commit to a fifteens career with the Sharks.
Kok, at 27, feels his career has reached a natural watershed after achieving just about everything on offer and now he is hungry to reinvent himself as a centre at the Sharks and, he hopes, the Springboks.
Kok has been a poster boy for the Sevens circuit with his trademark, tousled blonde locks, his never-say-die attitude and his uncompromising physicality. He was the 2015 World Sevens Player of the Year, he won a bronze medal a year later at the Rio Olympics and his eight-pack physique has made him the face of nutrition giants Future Life. But after 184 appearances for his beloved Blitzboks it is understandable that he has fresh ambitions.
He first sat down with the Sharks CEO at the time, Gary Teichmann, in 2018 to discuss a possible career change, but it was only late last year that he put pen to paper when the Sharks had moved into a bright new era under the dynamic partnership of CEO Eduard Coetzee and coach Sean Everitt.
‘I was with the sevens for a long time and I feel I had done what could be done and left a solid platform on which new guys can build,’ the affable Kok says. ‘And I am at the right point in my life to take on a new challenge. It is a case of, what is next for me? It is time for change.’
Kok believes the necessary foundation has been laid to make the adjustment to the significant physical differences in fifteens.
‘Rugby is rugby but only to an extent – they are different games,’ he says. ‘In sevens you are constantly running at 80% of your max for 14 minutes and then switching off for two hours, and then doing it again – three times a day.
‘Mentally, sevens is very tough because on that wide open pitch there is no place to hide and you have all that space to cover. If you make a tackle, within half a second you have to be up and in line again because your job is never done until that final whistle blows.’
Kok says the flip side is that fifteens asks more of you in the physical exchanges.
‘If you are a backline player and you run into a lock or prop you are going to feel it more than anything you experience in sevens,’ he says. ‘Fifteens is going to be a challenge for me, but I really want to have a crack at it.’
Kok says his decision to go to the Sharks was based on the type of game they play under Everitt.
‘I enjoyed the way they played last year in the Currie Cup and I also listened to other guys about the culture that is being built at Kings Park. ‘It is similar to the sevens, very family orientated, and I saw that when the CEO [Coetzee] came to fetch me from the airport. It is something I want to be part of.’
Earlier this year, the Sharks set Super Rugby alight with their imaginative play, confirming for Kok that he has chosen the right team.
‘They played some phenomenal rugby. I liked how they enjoy keeping the ball alive and are not just set-piece orientated. They play with ambition and are not afraid to run from their tryline. The spark and flair with which they play, from prop to fullback, suits my game. It is quick and expansive, and I am used to that.’
*The full feature appears in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images