SA duo opts for French flair

2014-12-28 15:00

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The Sharks and SA’s loss could soon turn into yet another important boost for French rugby.

A pair of South African brothers, Jandré and Peet Marais, are making ripples in the Top 14 competition and there is speculation that the former might be the next “Saffer” to be selected for the French national squad.

Jandré, at 25, a year older than his brother, plays for Bordeaux Bègles and Peet is contracted to Brive.

The brothers hail from Welkom in the Free State and followed an almost identical path into senior rugby.

The big boerseuns (roughly 1.99m and 118kg) are both locks, attended Welkom Gymnasium, made the Griffons Craven Week side and were then recruited to join the Sharks Academy before climbing the rungs into the Sharks’ senior side.

However, Jandré explained, even though he earned a number of caps, they were mostly off the bench, coming on for the likes of Stephen Sykes, Anton Bresler, Alistair Hargreaves and Ross Skeate.

“I found it very frustrating and decided it was time to look for a contract overseas. France was my first choice and it has been amazing. I love the lifestyle, and I often get to start and be the target line-out forward,” he said.

A similar fate befell Peet, he explained. “He wasn’t being picked by Jake White and wasn’t enjoying his rugby at all, and I told him: ‘If you’re not going to be a Springbok, boet, come to France.’”

Jandré, who is studying for a degree in finance and who says he might enter the wine industry in the world-famous region where he now resides, provided the perfect validation of why young South Africans head overseas.

“It makes so much financial sense. A rugby career can be very short and you have to make good while you can. We’re paid in euros, play at a high level and can come out with something to show for it.

“I’d love to play international rugby. Playing Super Rugby gave me a taste of what it must be like, and the Springboks would come first, but you can’t sit around waiting for it when you’re not even starting for the team you play for,” he explained.

French rugby has a strong South African connection. Jandré plays alongside two of his countrymen, scrum half Heini Adams and Berend Botha, a brute of a lock from Springs in Gauteng who tips the scales at 127kg.

Peet has many opportunities to speak Afrikaans with compatriots Pat Barnard, Kevin Buys, Johan Coetzee, Petrus Hauman and Riaan Swanepoel, all on the Brive books.

Both Jandré and Peet have been named in the Midi Olympique newspaper’s prestige Team of the Week, which is a barometer of form in the Top 14.

“There are as many top-quality South African locks in the Top 14 as there are French ones,” says Sky Sports commentator Martin Gillingham. “The Marais brothers are certainly among them, with Jandré, in particular, carving out a significant reputation at a club that is on the verge of breaking into the superelite group of Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont.

“Jandré has all the attributes you would expect of a South African lock, as well as a knack for scoring tries. The France squad will no doubt undergo a bit of a shake-up after the World Cup and if Jandré keeps on playing consistently to the high level he’s achieved in his first 18 months in France, then he will be in a strong position to follow the path trodden most recently by Scott Spedding and Rory Kockott.”

Having “all the attributes” even runs to having the right surname. Paris’ most aristocratic arrondissement is called Le Marais and Jandré jokes that perhaps he should change his name to André.

The two have not played against each other, but brotherly love will be sorely tested on December 28, when they go toe-to-toe in a Top 14 league match between their respective clubs.

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