Waratahs born again with Jacques Potgieter

2014-07-13 15:00

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Every picture tells a story and the one that sums up the Waratahs’ surge to the top of the Super Rugby log is of a smiling, triumphant player, hands held high in a V for victory after scoring a try.

You would expect the player to be Israel Folau, the Waratahs’ wonderfully gifted fullback, but it is in fact a forward and a South African to boot – Jacques Potgieter.

Formerly of the Kings and the Bulls, and a man with three Springbok caps, Potgieter is one of the key individual success stories in the Waratahs’ resurgence under coach Michael Cheika.

The ball-in-hand game Cheika has enforced worked so well for the men from New South Wales, they clinched the top rung on the ladder the week before the final round of league matches. Their 51 tries were the most scored in the competition – two more than the Hurricanes, 16 more than South Africa’s top try scorers the Cheetahs and 25 more than top local team the Sharks.

Potgieter’s transformation from a typical crash-bang forward to an integral part of the Waratahs’ running game has been one of the features of the season.

And the big man with the mop of stringy black hair, so reminiscent of France’s “l’homme des cavernes” (the caveman) Sébastien Chabal, says it is because of the influence of Cheika.

“I have loved every minute at the Waratahs,” said Potgieter when contacted in Sydney. “Michael Cheika has made me a better person on and off the field. He has helped me become a more complete player; to bring to bear the crash ball I am good at and which at times is needed, but also to look for the holes and spaces.

“He has imparted a family atmosphere at the Tahs. We play for each other, we back each other and we’re always ready to have a go. I like his philosophy that he doesn’t want any of us to look back one day and be sorry for something we didn’t do or didn’t try,” said Potgieter.

Potgieter also had praise for Cheika’s two assistants – former Wallaby and New South Wales centre Nathan Grey and former Crusaders and All Blacks three-quarter Daryl Gibson.

“They spend a lot of time with us on skills and keeping the ball alive,” he said.

Potgieter has settled in at the Waratahs as Cheika’s go-to No 4 lock, but he has not ruled out a return to the back row.

A product of Daniel Pienaar High School in Port Elizabeth, Potgieter played Craven Week for Eastern Province and caught the eye as a rumbustious forward for the Kings before being persuaded to join the Bulls. He had two seasons with the Bulls and then packed his kitbag to head for the Fukuoka Sanix Blues in Japan, en route to accepting Cheika’s offer to don yet another blue jersey at the Waratahs.

Potgieter said recent reports that he had been in negotiations with the Bulls are erroneous.

“I don’t know where that came from. I signed up with the Waratahs for two years, until the end of 2015, and because this has been an unbelievable learning experience for me and I’m loving my rugby, I intend to see it out.”

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