Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, ROHAN JANSE VAN RENSBURG talks about the Springbok training camp, taking his game to new heights and the Lions’ clash with the Waratahs in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of your start to the season after defeating the Cheetahs?
Rohan Janse van Rensburg: An away win is always crucial in a competition as lengthy as Super Rugby. It doesn’t matter how you win, it’s just about getting the victory under the belt away from home. At times against the Cheetahs we looked a bit down in the dumps and, as such, this week the main focus has been on chasing intensity, awareness and being quicker than we were last Saturday. Complements to the Cheetahs because they came out all guns blazing in the beginning and it was difficult to defend against them because they were so motivated. However, we know that we have room for improvement and there are learning curves that we still have to overcome. On a personal front, it was quite interesting playing on the wing against the Cheetahs as it was the first time I took up the position since my school days. Despite scoring a brace of tries, I didn’t see the ball as often as I’m used to when I occupy the centre berth. It’s always good to learn something new but I would actually love to move back to the midfield because a player misses his primary position. However, I’m happy to play on the wing if the coach feels it’s in the best interests of the team. Anything the team requires, I’ll more than gladly do because I’m here to serve the team and not play for myself.
Sport24 asked: After a stellar 2016 season, how does the team intend to maintain high standards?
RJVR: Coach Akkies (Johan Ackermann) always emphasises to us that we can’t expect that the jersey is ours. You need to work hard to wear the jersey and if you are not performing the way you should be, it will go to another player because we have quality depth. Moreover, it’s crucial to take it game by game otherwise you can sometimes get caught in a trap if you focus on the season as a whole. We won’t get ahead of ourselves after reaching the Super Rugby final last season and one of the most important factors is to remain coachable. At the Lions, it’s not just about taking pride in who you are and what you can do but also being able to listen to others and improve yourself in various ways. Super Rugby is an unrelenting competition and you have to be willing to adapt. The plan that worked last season might not work this term because other teams have evolved and added more strings to their bow. Every team’s perspective or motivation can change on a weekly basis, so as an individual and collective we have to be single-minded and make improvements and incremental gains. I take pride in my game and do extra work in training in order to expand my repertoire. What also serves us well at the Lions is that we are allowed to express ourselves freely and aren’t boxed in.
Sport24 asked: You appear to be a humble individual. How have you remained so grounded?
RJVR: I believe my late mother raised me right. I have never felt that I am bigger or better than anyone else. To reach success you have to fail. My motto in life is to take every opportunity with a heart full of joy. I’m a religious person and believe that God gifted me my talent, strength and wisdom. I’m a friend to everyone I meet and that is what I strive towards every day of my life. I might play rugby professionally but I’m still an ‘average Joe’ who people can approach and speak to.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to have been named in the 41-man Springbok training squad?
RJVR: To be included in the first of three Springbok training camps with the June Test series against France in mind is a massive privilege personally. I remember when I was younger and was not even playing Super Rugby but I always hoped that my name would one day be on a Springbok squad list. Being part of the end-of-year tour and receiving my first Test cap for South Africa against Wales was special and a dream come true. I’m humbled to be part of the Springbok environment and feel that this is going to be a big year for Bok rugby. I believe we are going take a massive step up and move in the right direction this season. I can’t actually wait to meet up with the players and coaches on Sunday to put the planning in place in order to make this the best year Springbok rugby has ever had. I’m very expectant and optimistic about the first training camp that will conclude next Tuesday.
Sport24 asked: What’s your message to disgruntled followers who don’t share your optimism?
RJVR: The players are willing to be coached and the desire is there to expand our game in a way that the South African public wants to see the Springboks play. It’s a very young squad and the players are willing to embrace an expansive game and play the way everyone likes to see rugby played. I can only see positives with the playing personnel we have at our disposal. The home-grown versus foreign-based player debate will always be a touchy subject but I’m of the view that if a player is at the peak of his powers, he will perform well in any jersey. There are so many quality South African rugby players from which to choose and a head coach should pick players who are in form no matter where they are located on the map. In terms of the coaching set-up, Franco Smith will continue to add value overseeing the Boks’ backline and attacking play. I worked with him on the end-of-year tour and can attest to the fact that he has a good rugby mind and knows what he wants to achieve. Meanwhile, Brendan Venter has been linked with the vacant role of Springbok defence coach. I worked with coach Brendan when I represented the SA under-20 team and, like coach Franco, he loves it when the team is playing with the ball and employing an expansive game. I can’t wait for the camp to start so that we can see what the plan is from the coaches for the next chapter of Springbok rugby. It was a trying season for us in 2016 (South Africa lost eight of 12 Tests) but I still believe in the Springboks and what’s to come. Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.
Sport24 asked: What are your expectations ahead of the match with the Waratahs on Saturday?
It’s going to be a good contest. The Waratahs are
always a competitive side and are very well-respected. They possess a dangerous
backline and a very physical tight five. They can play both ways - an
expansive, running game and closer to the forwards. In a way, you don’t know what
to expect from them so we are going to have to assess how they are playing on
the day and then adapt our tactics accordingly. Everyone is energetic within our
camp and looking forward to our first home game of the season. It doesn’t
actually make a difference if we play the Australian or New Zealand sides in
cross-conference fixtures because we don’t compare ourselves to them. We
compare ourselves to ourselves after every match. We focus on what we need to
do as a team in order to improve whether it be working on our attack, defence,
set-piece, breakdown or tactical kicking plan.