- Newly-signed Bulls prop Robert Hunt, who is already packing his bags for Pretoria, talks about the surprise missive from Jake White which is set to take his career to the next level.
- The Varsity Cup runner-up for the Ikey Tigers addresses the heartbreak of losing in the final, having gone the regular season unbeaten, and what made the campaign so special.
- He also picks the props he believes are the best in the business and offers his expert opinion in terms of the starting props for the British & Irish Lions who face the Springboks.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up the Varsity Cup campaign?
Robert Hunt: It was tough to lose the final against Tuks after such hard work was put into the tournament but it was a great campaign for us nonetheless. Coming up short at the final hurdle was so emotional for the guys and seeing everyone tearing up in the post-match circle was really tough. That moment really made me realise how much it meant to the team and it was definitely the most special group I have been part of so far in my playing career. We made the best of the bio-bubble life which was at times both good and bad. It was tough to be far away from home and we couldn’t leave the campus. However, on the flipside it was some of the best bonds I have built with my teammates. I had also never before worked with a guy like (Ikeys head coach) Tom Dawson-Squibb. The stuff he did behind the scenes to build a culture where rugby could flourish was quite insane. Tom and his management team made a point of building a culture in which everyone was comfortable. Our slogan for the recently-concluded Varsity Cup campaign was, ‘Turning noise into music.’ It was about taking the circumstances we were dealing with and then making the best of it.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess your game development?
Robert Hunt: It was cool to be back playing the game I love. For a long time, we weren’t able to play owing to the pandemic and then all of a sudden we were playing eight games in two-and-a-half months. It was quite intense but I started to get back into motion and the way I can play. For me, I think all the hard work paid off in the final. The scrums went really well and as a pack we just came together. A lot of credit must go to our scrum coach Tank Lanning. He put in countless hours helping us out with extras and making us not only better players but also better human beings. In terms of the scrummaging, everything Tank wanted us to implement all of a sudden happened. It proves that if you stick to a plan it will work. I’m proud of my performances but I’m a team man through and through... I started playing rugby when I was very young and the game became the best way of expressing myself. When you are between those four lines there are no distractions and everything else becomes distant. My main motivation or the ‘why’ for playing rugby is to make my family proud.
Sport24 asked: How did your move to the Bulls come about?
Robert Hunt: I played in the Varsity Cup final on Monday night and then on Tuesday morning I was very surprised by a message I received on WhatsApp. It said, “Hi Rob, can you talk? Jake” I initially thought who’s Jake? But then I saw from the profile picture it was Jake White! We chatted over the phone when I was at the airport and at that point he had already spoken to my agent. Jake said that he heard about my potential trial at the Sharks and was really interested in me. He had also done his research and had spoken to a few guys from my school in terms of me as a person. It proved that it was not just words into the wind and the offer to join the Bulls was a no-brainer. Jake sounds like a great guy and has the experience of winning the 2007 World Cup. If he thinks I can fit into the Bulls system and culture then it means that he will bring the best out of me, which is why I’m heading north. In terms of my contract, I’ve agreed a deal until next October and am looking forward to the challenge. As of Friday I was already packing my bags. I will drive up and start in Pretoria on Monday.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel heading to enemy territory?
Robert Hunt: It’s bit soon after losing (to the Pretoria-based Tukkies) in the Varsity Cup final but it is what it is. There was a lot of chat about potentially joining the Stormers prior to my move to the Bulls. Ultimately, however, I don’t believe WP have enough spots available – they have quite a few tighthead props signed up. It had always been a dream of mine to represent the Stormers and Western Province. I grew up as a Western Province supporter but for now it doesn’t look like there is any opportunity available. In terms of the Bulls’ offer, even if I had received an opportunity at the Stormers I might have still taken the Bulls deal. It’s just the best opportunity for me at the moment. I saw the other day that all the trophies in South African rugby are in Pretoria. The fact that the silverware is there means that what Jake is doing is working. It’s a great opportunity because he brings the best out of players and teams. It will lay the foundation for me to grow as a rugby player.
Sport24 asked: Who tops your list as the best tighthead props?
Robert Hunt: Frans Malherbe would be my first choice. He’s the guy I idolise in rugby at the moment. I only had one session where we scrummed with the Stormers but he scrums unbelievably well. Even after the World Cup his performances didn’t drop off and he is still dominating. He continues to master his craft and changes it up from time to time by altering his technique or set-up. For me, to watch a guy like him offers a great point of learning and I base my approach to scrummaging off of his. My second pick is Vincent Koch. He is definitely one of the best tightheads in the world. He’s an amazing scrummager and can also throw the ball around the park. But coming back to Malherbe, he might not be running lines and throwing offloads like Koch but I think he’s under-appreciated for the other stuff he does off the ball. He runs like a machine, is very good at breakdown time, he makes his tackles and is always where he needs to be… The talk of him being over-weight and under-conditioned was quite interesting. Times have changed for props. If you show just a slight bit of fat they say you are overweight. Frans was a bit unconditioned during the first phase after the World Cup but it didn’t impact on his performances and he remains a class act.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the British & Irish Lions props picked?
Robert Hunt: They have selected quite a good group of props. That said, I was quite shocked about Kyle Sinckler not making it because I would maybe even have started him. Based on my personal preference, I would opt for Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong as the British & Irish Lions’ starting props. They offer an impressive double act in terms of the scrum and doing the donkey work. As far as the Boks, along with Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff would undoubtedly be in the starting XV. In my opinion, internationally he is the premier loosehead prop at the moment. Kitsie has the all-round skill-set. He’s an unbelievable scrummager and is quite mobile. It ties in with conditioning and he is very well-conditioned. He makes an unbelievable amount of ball-carries and always gets over the advantage line. He also does the dirty work and I’d back him to make the offload from a line-break.
Sport24 asked: How do you foresee the series unfolding in July?
Robert Hunt: It’s been 18 months since the Springboks last played a Test, whereas the Lions players have been playing for a while up north and also have a few Test matches under their belt for their home nations. I see the British Lions as well-prepared, while you could question South Africa’s match readiness. However, I still believe the South African structures and planning will see the Springboks able to perform at their best. As opponents, the British & Irish Lions are never an easy side to face but I think a 3-0 series sweep is doable for the Springboks. The tourists will definitely prove competitive but when it comes to physicality the Boks will take them. In terms of tactics, the Lions will aim to be very direct but as soon as they get momentum will try to throw it out to the backline.
Sport24 asked: Your aspirations of playing for the Springboks?
Robert Hunt: Representing the Springboks one day has pretty much been my drive throughout my rugby career. When times get tough, all I envisage is one day pulling that green and gold jersey over my head and singing the national anthem. I have plenty of sentiment towards the Springbok jersey and that is what I’m working towards. I know that it’s going to take everything to reach that level but there is no such thing as impossible. In sport, and life in general, if you are persistent and work your heart out then you will eventually get there. My motto is to never be closed off to learn from others. The key is to learn from players and coaches who have been at that level if you want to get there. Rugby is always hard work and there are constantly new guys coming through the system. They are all just as eager as I am to wear the Bok jersey. It’s pretty much going to take everything I have. I have to keep on putting in the hard work and do whatever it takes – be it physical or psychological.
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