Rags to riches to rags

2015-02-22 15:00

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As Cinderella sporting stories go, you would be hard pressed to beat that of Springbok lock Gerhard Mostert.

In the build-up to the last World Cup (2011), it took just four weeks for Mostert (30) to go from rags to riches and back again.

One moment he was trying to preserve his rugby career after suffering a number of serious injuries and the next he had accomplished the dream of all South African youngsters by becoming a Springbok.

And as quickly and unexpectedly as that, he was soon back to plying his trade in the harsh underworld of scrums, mauls and line-outs in relative obscurity.

Today Mostert lives in the commune of Clamart on the outskirts of Paris and plays rugby for Stade Français.

He reflects on his brief flirtation with the Springboks in the bemused but happy tone of someone who won the jackpot.

In early July 2011, Mostert, then 27 years old with a career stalled by injuries, had given up on his ambition of becoming a Springbok and decided to leave the Sharks to take up a contract in France.

In late July 2011, the Springbok side was denuded by injuries, especially to its locks, and suffered a 39-20 thrashing at the Wallabies’ hands in Sydney – and the next day Mostert received a call from then coach Peter de Villiers summoning him to join the Boks.

Mostert, to the chagrin of the Stade Français coach who told him he had been signed because he was free of international commitments, rushed to catch a series of flights around the globe.

And on July 30, he made his Springbok debut against the All Blacks in Wellington, New Zealand.

With a number of first-choice players unavailable, the Boks suffered a heavy 40-7 beating, but Mostert was singled out as one of those who could hold his head high.

The Boks returned to South Africa and, on August 11, Mostert was still in the Springbok squad to take on the All Blacks in Durban. Although Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha were back to full fitness and started, Mostert replaced the latter in the 64th minute and was praised for his contribution.

The next test, on August 20, was also against the All Blacks, but this time De Villiers chose to reshuffle his loose forwards and put Danie Rossouw on the bench to cover for Matfield and Botha.

And that was the last time Mostert heard from the Springboks. He wasn’t included in the squad for the World Cup in New Zealand in September that year.

He returned to France and forged a successful career with Stade Français, a Parisian club known for its extravagant, mostly pink jerseys and vibrant new home ground, Stade Jean-Bouin.

Mostert says becoming a Springbok was “a dream come true” and holds no bitterness about how brief the affair was.

“To be a Springbok is what drives every young South African player and for me it came out of the blue.

“I’ll always be grateful for that. By the time I got to France I was too old to have the time to qualify for Les Tricolores, so getting my Bok cap was a real bonus,” he explains.

Mostert now has South African company in the City of Lights in the shape of Morné Steyn, Meyer Bosman, Heinke van der Merwe and Jono Ross. He says they have formed a bit of a support group – speaking a bit of Afrikaans and lighting the occasional braai fire.

Mostert recently signed a two-year extension to his contract and might consider, “depending how the body holds up” adding another year to that before returning home to his family in Rustenburg.

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