Cape Town - Former Stormers prop Oli Kebble is set to qualify for Scotland within the next 12 months, but for now he has his eyes firmly set on helping Glasgow Warriors go one better this year and win the PRO14.
Kebble, who left South Africa to join the Warriors and is now a permanent front-row fixture in the side, said he never regretted making the move, and at 27 years old is now enjoying every moment of his rugby in Scotland.
He said the arrival of New Zealand coach Dave Rennie had really sparked a “hunger” in the side to succeed and while they narrowly lost to Leinster in an epic final in May, they were hoping to go one better this season.
“I’d say when Dave Rennie came in, he brought a massive aspiration to the squad and we were very disappointed to lose the previous year in the semi-final. We went one better but still one short of winning the league was a disappointment,” Kebble said.
“We’ve had a long time to think about that final, and this year is an opportunity for us to go one better.”
Kebble could follow in the footsteps of Allan Dell and WP Nel in continuing Scotland’s import of South African players into their international team, but the big prop isn’t focusing too much on international rugby, even though he admits it remains a dream for him.
“I wasn’t too apprehensive about moving to the UK because I had attended school there before and have lived overseas before. I wasn’t too worried about the change of environment and knew a bit about Scotland. I’m also good mates with Huw Jones, who played for Scotland at the time and it meant I had some kind of connection there,” he said.
“It was a pretty easy decision and since I’ve been there I’ve been enjoying it up there. I’ve been there for two seasons now. It took a bit of acclimatising initially but really loving it right now.
“It has always been an aspiration for me to play international rugby, that is for sure. But I wouldn’t say I’ve given it too much thought. I’m just trying to play well for Glasgow and if I do play well, hopefully I will give myself a chance in future. But Glasgow are the ones who contracted me, so I’m concentrating on my club rugby at the moment.
“I think it is a case that the grass is not really greener, it is what you make of it. But I can say that I have never had any regrets in the past. There are certain times I miss Cape Town and my family, but I do feel I made the right decision in moving over.”
Kebble believes those who still believe Northern Hemisphere rugby is slow and cumbersome, are not only wrong, but in for a surprise should they tune in to watch some of the derby games. The intensity is just as high as anything he experienced in Super Rugby.
“In PRO14 in particular, the rugby is of a very high standard and not always forwards-orientated. If you look at Glasgow in particular, we are one of the best attacking teams in Europe. PRO14 perhaps from a South African perspective isn’t as known, but the level is impressive. It is some of the toughest rugby I’ve played so far, and that is comparing it to European Cup, which is close to test level.
“It’s a different game from Super Rugby, especially if you take into account how long the season is over there. You are going to have highs and lows and you can’t peak for 30 weeks in a row. At the Stormers was 15 or 16 weeks, so you go no-holds-barred approach. For us, when we do go into those big derby games – Leinster, Edinburgh, Scarletts, I find that the intensity is up there and it is more physical than Super Rugby.
“Super Rugby at times is quicker, but PRO14 is physical.”
While Scotland doesn’t possess the player pool that South Africa does, Kebble believes local rugby administrators can take a leaf out of the way Scotland nurture their talent better.
“There are certainly less rugby players in Scotland but they do nurture the talent better. Scottish rugby players – in my experience – are incredibly hard-working. What they don’t have what South Africans have in terms of size, they work incredibly hard to get to that level.
“I think in South Africa it is so easy to be lost when you are a talented player, because there are so many talented players. It is a lot easier to identify the talented players in Scotland because there is a smaller pool.”
The former prop does have one desire though – and that is to see his South African opposition be supported better. Having experienced the support of fans while he was at the Stormers, Kebble wants his team-mates to experience the battle in South Africa with fans getting behind the Cheetahs and Kings.
“I’d like to see them get behind the Kings and the Cheetahs more. For all the teams coming down here, I’d like to see some big crowds backing the teams when we play them. We want the Kings and Cheetahs to do well in the competition and we want to see them have the support.”
For now, it is packing down in the scrum with a mission. The PRO14 Championship eluded them last season. Kebble wants to do his part this season to make sure it isn’t the same.