Os overcame critics to make Bok history

Os du Randt (Gallo Images)
Os du Randt (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Os du Randt is the epitome of Springbok rugby - a legend of the game and one of the finest loosehead props of all time.

He is the only South African who has been part of two World Cup winning squads, joining the likes of All Black legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

Lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in the historic 1995 Rugby World Cup filled the then 23-year-old with pride, but to do it for a second time as a 35-year-old veteran was just 'special'.

"I was very fortunate to be involved in both World Cups," Du Randt told Sport24 in an exclusive interview.

"I don't think that I've done my part differently than any other player. In 1995 in my first game I was shaking and trembling while singing the national anthem and in 2007 it was the reverse I had to be the one to calm people down.

"To be the only South African is very special. An individual is never bigger than a game and I would've liked 20 South Africans to be involved in two World Cups rather than only me."

Du Randt's incredible career in the green and gold was plagued by injury.

"In Grade 12 I tore my ACL (in my left knee), went to a doctor and he said I won't be able to play rugby ever again in my life. Back then I was playing in SA Schools and in Craven Week and I was devastated to hear that," said Du Randt.

Growing up poor, Du Randt looked to his province, Free State, to pay for the reconstruction of his knee, which kept him out of the game for the duration of 1993.

"I made my Cheetahs debut when Ollie (Le Roux) was selected for the Springboks and when he came back (former Cheetahs coach) Nelie Smith asked me if I'll consider going to tighthead so he can use both Ollie and myself," said Du Randt.

"I told him that I'll rather play for the second team because I wanted to enjoy my rugby and not just play... I was a young and I made that big decision based on knowing that I was told two years ago that I'll never play again.

"I wanted to pressure Ollie for the No 1 spot and luckily it worked out."

And so it did.

Le Roux's No 1 spot at provincial and national level was opening up and after Guy Kebble and Balie Swart failed to impress in the Springbok tour to New Zealand, Du Randt got a national call-up.

He made his Springbok debut against Argentina in 1994 - at the age of 22.

"In the year I made my debut I played more games (four) for the Springboks than I did for Free State. It just shows you how much my injury was affecting my game."

In 1998, Du Randt tore his hamstring while playing for the-then Cats franchise (combination of the Cheetahs and Lions) and it led to his early retirement.

"After the 1999 World Cup, I started struggling with my knee and I decided to retire in 2000," said Du Randt.

"But I always knew in the back of my mind that I haven't fulfilled my desire. I went back to the farm and I realised how tough it was to make money outside of rugby. I knew I had to support my family and farming wasn't producing enough to fulfil that role. I had to do something, but coming back into rugby wasn't easy..."

Thanks to a bit of encouragement from former Cheetahs coach Rassie Erasmus, Du Randt returned to his beloved game and in no time Springbok coach Jake White wanted Du Randt back in the front row.

"When Jake (White) wanted me back in, I first asked him: 'As a coach?' and he said, 'No as a player'.

"I remember I asked him, 'Are you mad? Why?' I didn't believe it.

"He wanted Schalk Burger and JP Pietersen to look up to someone in the dressing room. He wanted them to feed off how calm and content I was. I knew there were some that didn't want me there, but I wanted to work hard and do the job that Jake wanted me to do."

Things were not going so smoothly in the Du Randt household either.

Du Randt's wife, Hanlie, was now put in charge of maintaining their struggling farm and looking after their two boys, Tiaan (19) and JP (17).

"There was a lot of pressure and speculation coming back with people saying, 'Is Os du Randt too old?'" said Du Randt.

"That pressure rolled over to my wife, who took over from the farm and there were struggles with the cattle which we lost and she had to slaughter all 58 cattle and load them on a truck to sell them.

"It was all those things that were happening behind the scenes and no one knew about it and it was added pressure."

Du Randt's confidence was at an all-time low leading up to his career revival. However, one team meeting changed the way he perceived his second stint in the green and gold.

"We had a team meeting, where we sat in the circle and we were given a rugby jersey and whomever held the jersey everyone could say a comment on that person whether it was good or bad," reminisced Du Randt.

"I was there and John Smit was the captain and he said we'll start with No 1 and I was sitting there and I just said, 'Just don't say anything about me'.

"After about 30 seconds, I took a deep breath and got the jersey and Bakkies Botha just jumped up and said, 'Listen Os, it is the greatest honour to play with you'. And I just sat there and thought, 'Wow!'

"It literally felt like a backpack with 20kgs of weight got lifted off my back. His words gave me such a lift. Coming back that was a defining moment for me to realise that I can make this work and have these guys back and support me.

"From that moment on, I just said: 'Bugger what everyone says. I'm just doing my job and my team's happy with it.'"

If there was ever a Springbok who had a fairytale retirement, Du Randt takes that award.

His final match came at the 2007 Rugby World Cup final in France, where the Springboks defeated England 15-6.

Du Randt - in his 80th Test match - played the entire 80 minutes at Stade de France.

"I always said to myself that I wanted to retire with a big bang and to be able to retire with the biggest bang ever by winning your second World Cup, playing your 80th Test and playing the full 80 minutes. You can't ask for a better ending."

Du Randt lent his expertise to the Cheetahs in 2009 as forwards coach and took up the same position with Peter de Villiers' Springboks in 2010.

Ten years after hanging up his boots, the 44-year-old is about to face something even more intimidating than facing the haka.

Along with former team-mate Naka Drotske, Du Randt is involved in TopTrim, a company which manufactures fitness and nutrition products and encourages people to work out and get into fitness.

"I always joke about front rows and how when they retire they get small, but for some reason I only got bigger," said Du Randt.

TopTrim's Os du Randt Body Shape Challenge is asking South Africans to sign up and challenge the former Springbok prop and lose weight at the same time.

The 30-or 60-day fitness and health programme allows Du Randt's challengers to receive TopTrim supplements and detailed plans.

Prizes include winning a trip for two to Thailand, a three-day luxurious cruise to the Portuguese Islands and weekend's stay at a wine farm in Stellenbosch.

Du Randt talks openly about his struggle to lose weight after retirement and his health issues.

"I think the defining moment for me was when we went to this meeting in Bloemfontein and we had to walk 1.2km and I was so embarrassed because I couldn't walk it. I was huffing and puffing and I told my wife it feels like I'm having a heart attack.

"Naka came to me the following week and I wanted to get involved when I heard about TopTrim. I've been struggling with being overweight - but I'd like to think I carry it better than most people - and blood pressure.

"I want to motivate the young kids out there and want them to start looking after themselves and eat right. Hopefully with this Challenge, I'll have an impact on people's lives.

"It's always going to come back to my family and this TopTrim challenge will help not only my family, but more so myself. I want to keep going and be here for the next 30 years, experience my grandkids and live more."

CLICK here to challenge Os du Randt

Images: Gallo

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