- Gio Aplon said he was never entitled to play more games for South Africa, even though he would have loved to.
- The new Bulls fullback played his first Test at 27 years old and his last at 29.
- He earned a Springbok squad recall in 2018, under Rassie Erasmus, whom he credited as having changed his perspective on the game during their time at the Stormers.
- In 17 Tests, Aplon scored five tries and played in the 2011 Rugby World Cup under Peter de Villiers.
A player possessed with the talents he had at his peak might feel justifiably aggrieved at the low total of Springbok caps he accumulated in his career, but not Gio Aplon.
The new Bulls fullback, who played 17 times for South Africa, says it was a privilege to play even one Test for his country.
He broke through internationally rather late in his career, at 27, but there was no doubt that Aplon, at his Stormers epoch when he sliced and diced defenders almost at will, could have gone on to star in more international battles.
He made the 2011 World Cup squad under Peter de Villiers, a year after making his debut against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. By the time De Villiers’s successor Heyneke Meyer finished his first full year in charge, Aplon had played his last Test.
It was an international career that appeared desperately too short.
"I was also very fortunate that when I broke through Peter de Villiers was there and he backed me. Unfortunately, it came in his last year, year-and-a-half, but he backed me at national level," Aplon told Sport24.
"One would always believe that they could play more for the Springboks but I think there’s a fine line between entitlement and privilege. For me, the 17 times was a privilege.
"Would I have loved to play more? Yes, of course, but I would never say I was entitled to play more Tests. It was privilege to play that many times for my country."
When Rassie Erasmus took over in 2018, he immediately recalled Aplon into that year’s end tour, but he never managed to play him in any games –- leaving Aplon’s final Test being the 14-14 draw with England in 2012.
The World Cup-winning coach was searching for something that he eventually found in Cheslin Kolbe: a player with a special quality, something beyond X-factor, who could turn 80-minute rugby games in one split second of genius.
Though he never got to be part of last year’s success in Japan - by then he was long in the tooth in rugby terms - Aplon, 37, credited Erasmus for evolving his outlook and perspective on the game during the time they worked together at the Stormers between 2007 and 2011.
"I’ve been privileged to work with Rassie from when he came to the Stormers, and he really changed my world in how I was thinking about rugby and going about my game," he said.
"A lot of the things I achieved was because of the base he laid and the way he taught us how to think about rugby. His teachings were a huge part of how I analyse my game and how I look at rugby today."