Cape Town - Friendships and creating memories have been the highlights of Ruaan Lerm’s career spanning three years and 49 matches so far at the Southern Kings.
The 27-year-old No 8 is on the verge of playing in his 50th match for the Port Elizabeth-based side, having joined the team in their 2017 Super Rugby season.
In 2017 he played in only seven matches in the side’s final season of Super Rugby before going on to make PRO14 appearances since the Kings joined the prominent European championship.
Reflecting on his colourful career which has seen him grow, both as a player and individual, over the years, "Lerries", as he is affectionately known by his peers, looks back with fondness on what he has achieved.
Chief among the album of memories are the friendships formed – particularly the "brotherhood" that continues to this day with Springboks World Cup-winning winger, Makazole Mapimpi.
"One of the memories close to my heart – and to this day people still ask about it – is the relationship that I have with Makazole Mapimpi," reflected Lerm with a smile.
"His English and my English at that stage was not very good. Every break during training or on tour we would sit next to each other and he would speak isiXhosa and I would speak Afrikaans even though we would not fully understand each other.
"Up until today we call each other and the first thing he says to me is 'Wat sê jy?' (What are you saying?).
"That’s what I used to say to him because I could not understand him. That is something special that I treasure and will keep with me for a long time – the friends that we make."
An emotional Lerm indicated that reaching the milestone, potentially in Friday’s match against Munster in Cork, of having played 50 games for the franchise is an occasion he will hold close to his heart.
"This is something special for me, something that one looks forward to when playing rugby. You look up to the greats, you see them reaching their 50th or 100th cap and want to achieve the same," the brawny backrower said.
"I’m humbled and excited for the weekend.
"To be honest, I never thought I would go on to play 50 games for the Kings when I joined the team in 2017. That was a different time of my life, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have gone on to get here. I’ve grown so much here at the Kings that it is now part of my life, part of my family."
Having joined the Kings as a youngster in 2017 from the Lion in Johannesburg, where he had played a handful of matches for the side in Super Rugby, Lerm now remains one of the senior men in the Kings team, and has seen a lot of growth in his professional career in the years spent at the Port Elizabeth-based side.
He is also relishing the opportunity to be playing in a prestigious competition such as the PRO14.
"It’s completely different setups that we have had – different players from Super Rugby to PRO14 Rugby. It has all been a big learning opportunity," he said.
"I think we are finally in a good space with the right people here, and I am very excited for the future.
"I have grown tremendously over the past few years.
"When I started out here, I was a junior with two or three caps previously at the Lions at Super Rugby level, and now I’m one of the older guys, but still relatively young. The roles have changed completely since then. I am more of a mature head now.
"PRO14 Rugby is more like test rugby in a sense that the set piece has to be good and every team knows how to maul and scrum well, they are all good at kicking and controlling the game; and being good under the high balls. There’s a lot of wet conditions that we face, and we have to play that type of rugby, whereas in Super Rugby you can just put the ball out wide. PRO14 Rugby is a very difference game to Super Rugby."
Despite having come so far in his career to reach the 50-mark milestone, the hard-working No 8 still believes he still has a lot to offer.
"There is still a lot of stuff that I have to offer and still a lot of personal goals that I want to reach," said Lerm.
"I also want to see the team do well. I have been here through the tough times and the good times, and we still want to continue to build. Personally, I still want to see this ship turning completely and still be part of this team when that happens."
15 Andell Loubser, 14 Chris Hollis, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Erich Cronje, 11 Eddie Ludick, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Bobby de Wee, 6 Lusanda Badiyana, 5 JC Astle (captain), 4 Jerry Sexton, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Substitutes: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Xandre Vos, 18 Ignatius Prinsloo, 19 Aston Fortuin, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Luyolo Dapula, 22 Josh Allderman, 23 Courtney Winnaar
- PRO14 media