Super Rugby

Sharks' high-flying Venter embraces comparisons to Bok fetcher Brussow

James Venter (Gallo)
James Venter (Gallo)
  • Sharks flank views comparisons to former Springbok Heinrich Brussow as a compliment.
  • Coach Sean Everitt has wanted a specialist fetcher ever since taking the reins in Durban.
  • Venter had entered the Springbok conversation before Super Rugby was suspended in March.

Still just 23-years-old, James Venter was experiencing a breakthrough season in Super Rugby with the Sharks this year before global sport shut down.

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On the surface, little was achieved in Super Rugby 2020, but Venter was one player who did enough in those first seven rounds of fixtures to significantly enhance his reputation in South African rugby circles. 

The Sharks were top of the South African conference and the combined log when the tournament was suspended at the end of March, and Venter was one of the form players at the franchise having made the move back to KwaZulu-Natal from the Golden Lions at the end of 2019. 

Born and bred in Port Shepstone before completing school at Glenwood High in Durban, Venter is now back home with the Sharks and has become a vital cog in new coach Sean Everitt's machine. 

Everitt has been vocal on his eagerness to field a specialist fetcher in his Sharks sides, saying at the start of the season that he felt it was a skill that had been lost somewhat at the union in recent years, and Venter has been the man to answer that call. 

It may only have been for less than half a full season, but in 2020 Venter's work over the ball in Super Rugby was noticeable as he enforced numerous quick turnovers that allowed the Sharks to unleash their potent counter-attacking backs. 

It didn't go unnoticed, and Venter had started to generate some Springbok heat and while being included in the July international against Scotland and Georgia may have still been a long shot, he had certainly played himself into that conversation. 

Rugby analysts have made comparisons to former Springbok Heinrich Brussow, one of the most natural fetchers this country has ever produced despite his modest return of 23 Test caps. 

Venter has heard those comparisons, and while he is more than pleased to be spoken of alongside a player of Brussow's pedigree, he says he has tried to take pieces from several players over the years in an effort to improve. 

"I can't take it any other way but as a compliment," Venter told Sport24 on Thursday.

"Heinrich Brussow is someone I did look up to a lot in his playing career. As a youngster, you want to mold yourself around certain players and take some tips from those guys.

"As a fetcher, Heinrich was second to none. I definitely take it as a massive compliment, but I'm trying to bring a different dynamic to the No 6; be focused on the ground, provide the team with turnover attack ... with the side we have, turnover attack is gold."

Venter also mentions Springbok legend Schalk Burger and All Black great Richie McCaw as influences on his career.

"It's just trying to combine the best of the best tol try and mold myself into something special in the future," he said. 

The disruption could not have come at a worse time for a young player who was beginning to make waves, and Venter was not the only one at the Sharks. 

Curwin Bosch and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, while not part of the Springboks' 2019 World Cup campaign, were in sublime form in 2020 and would surely have been included in the national set-up in July. 

With South Africa next week moving into Level 3 of its national lockdown, a return to play for rugby still seems a long way off and the fear is that the momentum these players have gathered so far this year will now be lost. 

"I was really excited to see where the season was going to go, which is a bit frustrating, but there is no reason we can't pick up where we left off," he said. 

While 2020, even in its disrupted state, has been a big year for Venter, he is staying grounded when it comes to anything Springbok related. 

"Someone like Notshe or like Curwin, they're working really hard to cement their place in that Springbok side and rightfully so," he said. 

"The end goal is not to represent the Springboks, that's not what you're training for every day in the Sharks set-up, but when you start doing those little things to make the Sharks better, you start realising there is that chat and you know that is a drive for a lot of the guys.

"Form comes from when a team plays well, so when you're surrounded by guys that are all performing, it just allows you to bring the best of yourself."

When rugby does return, in whatever form, all Venter and his high-flying Sharks team-mates can do is look to find those same levels of form and performance as soon as possible. 

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