Befor handing you over to David, kindly be reminded were he left off last time; in South-Africa however no scholarship or contract insight yet so in need for a plan B. David will tell you how that turned out. Furthermore; posting in English is not customary for us yet, should you prefer to have us try to pump up the volume of new items in English, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Western Province Academy
And there I was. The sun burning on my head, the heat reflecting off the tarmac road, while doing the single-hardest thing I’ve ever had to do mentally and physically.
I have met those demons before. They try to talk you out of continuing during a tough fitness session or some other difficult moments, and tell you it’s okay to stop. Up until this points those demons had always kind of whispered to me, but now they were full on screaming. ‘David you crazy son of a bitch, you don’t have to do this, there is no reason why you should keep going!!’ I’d been running on my own for about 40 min, there were only 5 more in front of me, and about 50 that’d fallen behind. They’d already started listening to the demons..
For this particular assignment we had woken up at 4 am, eaten our breakfast of oats with water (and if you were quick you might just get some sugar) and we gathered at a little forest path. One of the coaches, and ex-military commander, pointed to a telephone mast on the top of a mountain: ‘You see that Mast? That is more than 900m above sea level. The road leading up to it is about 10km long, and you’re going to race to the top. Good luck.’
I’ve wanted to do the whole race without walking, and so it was a big thing for me to keep jogging no matter what. The winding road went uphill for só long, that I put my mind on just making it to the next turn, because I was sure that there was going to be a flat part then. But there never was. Turn after turn, it just kept going up! It continued like this for what seemed like hours, and eventually, after yet another disappointment, I cracked. ‘F*CK!!!!!!!’
The demons got to me.
I started walking.
After a while a group of 4 players started coming up behind me. They’d started a tactic which was walking 100m, then jogging 200m, and repeating that over and over again. I tagged along with them, and together we crossed the finish line as 5th, after 1h40 min.
After 30 minutes of lying on the floor, trying to grasp the fact of what the hell just happened, we got the message from the Coach: ‘Alright boys, well done. Pick up your stuff and walk down. After lunch we’ll see you on the field for a contact session.’
This example is taken from my 3rd day on the WPRA ‘Outdoor Phase’. A 2 week camp in the beginning of the season, meant for teambuilding and testing the players, and to see what the coaches had to work with. I’ve done 2 Outdoor Phases in my time at the WPRA, and literally every single day we ended up doing something insane. While most of the things we did were horrible during it, the feeling it gave you afterwards was incredible. To do something you previously thought of as impossible, and to do it together with a bunch of future teammates, creates an amazing energy between everyone. You really get to know your teammates (for better and worse) doing these tests together.
Change of Scenery
I decided to go to the WPRA because I did not feel good with the offer (or lack thereof) that we got from the Sharks Academy. They did end up offering us a small discount to attend their Academy, but considering the total price it might as well have been nothing .
Two of my good friends, Daniel Bouwens and Conrad van der Klaauw, had both decided to go to this Western Province Academy, where our old Rugby Academy Zuid-West coach (and ex HRC player) Jonny Raphael was coaching. That’s how I came to know of its existence, and I thought it could be good to change scenery. They also ended up offering me a bit more as well so that made the choice even easier to leave Durban. Duncan did end up taking the Sharks offer so that unfortunately meant that our ways would be splitting from here.
The WPRA was a fairly new Academy that was set up in suburbs of Cape Town. There was already a prestigious WP Academy in Stellenbosch called ‘The Institute’, to which the crème de la crème of South African School Boys got contracts and scholarships to. The WPRA offers opportunities to players who haven’t quite gotten that chance, and most people have to pay yearly sums to attend.
The Western Province U19 and U21 squads got chosen from both these Academies, and there were multiple games between the WPRA and Institute to find out who deserved a shot.
The trainings at the WPRA were insanely tough, especially the first 4 months. We were put in 3 different gym groups depending on what you needed to work on: the Sumo’s (fat loss), the Bob de Builders (muscle gain) and the C4’s (good balance but overall improvement). My first year I was a Bob, and my 2nd year I was a C4. Each day consisted of an early morning gym session, followed by skills or running, and then into a team orientated or structural training. All before 13h30.
Looking back on it that is definitely not my preferred training schedule, I do believe people are able to train a bit more effectively when the sessions are spread out a bit.
Bad Luck Bobby
I went to the WPRA with the mindset that since this was going to be my first year as a ‘full time’ rugby player, I wanted to make the absolute most of it. Make sure I did everything by the book. Unfortunately that did not work out so great, as it became one of my worst years ever injury-wise.
Halfway through the Outdoor Phase, I managed to break my pinkie-toe in half after Daniel, of all people, accidentally stepped on it during a game of touch. I only found out it was broken áfter the Outdoor Phase had finished, so I’d done Mountain hikes, hill-sprints and all the trainings with a broken toe swollen up to the size of a freakin’ golf ball. If you’re wondering if that injury feels as funny as it sounds, I can assure you it doesn’t!
After what felt like ages I finally was able to come back and start training, now we could go and start improving. Then I got a spider-bite.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME???
5 Days on antibiotics and wasn’t allowed to train on that either. Luckily I was able to do that Monday to Friday, so I came back just in time for our game on the Saturday. Yep, you guessed it people. There is another ‘But then..’ coming.
First half of the game, I carry the ball into contact, get tackled and land awkwardly on my shoulder. One of those things that you do thousands of times during trainings and games, but you want to guess what happened?Ah well I’ll just tell you. Messed up my AC joint, heavy 2nd grade tear.
I just wanted to disappear at that moment. In a season that I was so focussed on giving it everything, I barely played any minutes of rugby. Hell, I barely even had any minutes of training, and now I was looking at a rehab period of 4-5 months.
I went off the field and got some ice from the clubhouse-bar, and went to lie on one of the terrace benches that were standing next to the field. Just to lie there with my eyes closed, thinking about how much I hated life and just taking my sweet time to feel sorry for myself, until I heard a familiar voice behind me starting to giggle: It was Daniel, with his arm in a sling. He had also messed up his shoulder. There is a weird feeling that comes over you in a moment. We just started laughing uncontrollably, at the thoughts of this scene and the sheer bizarreness of it. It’s comforting in a way, because seconds ago you felt like you were the unluckiest person in the world, and you had no one that would really understand, but here was one man that would definitely understand what I was going through and going to go through. Daantje had unfortunately already encountered quite a few of these periods himself, but therefore he was quite helpful during this situation.
We had an incredible physio at the Academy named Greg. He was pretty alternative in his approach but scientific and calculated at the same time. I really enjoyed the exercises and trainings he planned for me and I came back within the 4 months to finish off the year playing some hard-earned rugby.
Getting in the Groove
My 2nd year I was there with Koos de Haan, who also became a friend of mine during this period. This one was a lot better, although I still hadn’t really learned to manage my body, training and diet at the same time.
Looking back on it I was too focussed on getting the ‘Beach Body’, and I thought the best way to do that was through training as hard as possible, while eating as little as possible. Now I know a bit more about nutrition and training (and my own body), that was always going to be an injury waiting to happen.
None the less, I was playing a lot, and enjoying training hard, with good results. I was one of the fitter people of the group, and I was starting to play some good rugby.
There were some incredible players in the WPRA, and it was cool to see how we measured up to them, and what their little tricks or habits were that made them who they were. It was also hugely eye-opening as some of the players I initially thought were going to be good examples, since they played Craven Week or were from big Schools, ended up being the worst behaviours of them all. Smoking, drinking, skipping practices etc.
The question I couldn’t help but ask myself was always: does the bad stuff just not have an effect on their performances, or does this mean that they could have been better?
It was a similar feeling the first time that I saw professional Sharks players, some of my biggest idols, drinking and smoking the hardest at a after-match party. I always believed (and still do) that if you want to play at the highest level you have to do everything correct, according to the book, but this definitely seemed to argue that thought. It didn’t dramatically affect my life in any way, but it did take away the nice romanticism and naivety that you kind of have growing up.
First taste of Senior Rugby
I was still an Under-20 player, but I got the opportunity to play Senior rugby at NNK. An Afrikaans club that plays in the Super League A.
The ‘SLA’ is the highest club level before Professional rugby, so there are insanely talented players walking around. And in SA ‘talented’ usually has something to do with size, so coincidentally there were insanely large specimens walking around there.
That season we got smashed quite regularly, and were fighting relegation, but the game time was important to me and during this period I learned a lot about Senior rugby. I really enjoyed my time with the club and got coached by some pretty special coaches, so it was an invaluable learning curve for me.
Most beautiful place in the World
The WPRA allowed us some pretty cool experiences over the years. We were given the opportunity to train with the Western Province and Stormers teams at their Captain’s Runs, and had to act like their opposition of the next game. We trained with and against the Springboks when they were preparing for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. We played against touring Argentinean teams, and have played a full game against the Baby Boks in preparation of their Junior World Cup.
Till the day of today I keep saying that the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to is Cape Town. It has mountains, the ocean, rugby, incredible food, cheap delicious beer and everyone seems to be sporty.
The memories I’ve made there will stay with me for life. The people I’ve met, the coaches I’ve played under and the players I’ve played with have all made lasting impressions on me that were nice to recall while writing this article. Eventhough it has once again become quite a long article, I still had to leave out the vast majority of stuff, so if there are any questions feel free to look me up on Facebook or Instagram and I will happily answer them for you.