Super Rugby

Different colour blue not a problem for Aplon

  • Gio Aplon played 160 matches for Western Province and the Stormers, in a first-class career spanning nine years from 2005 and 2014.
  • The 37-year-old says the proposal to join director of rugby Jake White's Bulls project is a no-brainer.
  • Aplon's role at the Bulls will include mentoring young outside backs as well as adding experience to the youthful-looking franchise.

Gio Aplon will have no qualms putting on a different shade of blue, he says, to the one he left behind when he bade the Stormers and Western Province 'au revoir' to play in France six years ago.

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For nearly a decade, Aplon was a 'Lekker Ding' of Newlands, dazzling the faithful with his silky-smooth moves and potent counter-attacking from fullback. It was like a fireworks display had been set off whenever he caught a misplaced kick and exploded through a maze of players to score.

Between the time he made his Western Province debut in 2005 to when he departed in 2014, he was so synonymous with the Cape side that the image of his blue and white striped scrum cap manoeuvring between giants will be difficult for Cape rugby fans to forget.

"You can never erase my time at the Stormers. They will always be a big part of my story. They were the union that gave me a chance to play," Aplon tells Sport24.

"But I'm excited to play for the Bulls and be part of the project Jake's (White, Bulls director of rugby) got there and where they want to take the Bulls. They want to re-establish the Bulls in South African rugby as a ... I won't say giant but to take its rightful place in rugby - to challenge for Super Rugby and become a world-leading franchise.

"The older you get and playing overseas, you move past the rivalry. It will always be there and you'll never take that for granted but, the older you are, it becomes a privilege to play professional rugby.

"One can't be too picky about where he wants play and think too much about rivalry. It's about the privilege to play the game at this level and at this age."

At 37, Aplon is well into the twilight of a career that can only be looked at as one long, enthralling, exhilarating highlights reel. That he can still produce the entertaining quality he became known for will only be proven once rugby returns to the field, likely for a refurbished Currie Cup later this year.

By then he could be 38.

But the biggest clue about his current ability could be found in the value White placed on having someone of his skills and experience to help him navigate the Bulls back to the game's pantheon.

Aplon was White's first confirmed signing of what promises to be an exciting new era for Bulls rugby.

The pair worked together for three years at Toyota Verblitz in Japan and when White was negotiating terms with the Bulls, he broached the subject of possibly coming back to South Africa and playing in Pretoria to Aplon.

It was a proposal he couldn’t refuse.

"I spoke to Jake while he was busy finalising his stuff with the Bulls and he asked me if I would be interested in coming to play for the Bulls," he says.

"Looking at what I could still offer, my specific role at the Bulls and where I’ll be fitting in, he put something on the table and it was probably a no-brainer.  

"All-in-all, the people at the Bulls have put in an amazing effort to get me there and I'm really excited to go there, just by how the negotiations went and also what the plan is for the Bulls."

Part of Aplon s role in Pretoria will be to mentor young talents to achieve the longevity and excellence he did in the game and, most importantly, help bring a winning culture back to Loftus.

They might have lost Warrick Gelant to the Stormers and Manie Libbok to the Sharks but Aplon will stabilise the ship until young fullbacks David and Richard Kriel (21 and 19) as well as utility back Vaughen Isaacs (21) come up to White's expected level.

"Jake is a serial winner," says Aplon.

"Wherever you go, where Jake is, you know you’re going to be driven to results and you know your career is in good hands because you’re going to be in a professional setup.

"You are going to be a force to be reckoned with and all you have to do is your part. You’ll see that players who have that mindset have lasted in his environments.

"Any youngster that gets into that environment will learn a lot and they will get that experience by winning and building their skill set and confidence.

"Whenever teams play against you, they will know that you are ready and you are well-coached."

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