Super Rugby

New Bulls recruit: The day Schalk Erasmus kicked a 50m penalty ... as a No 8

Schalk Erasmus (Gallo)
Schalk Erasmus (Gallo)

Hindsight is indeed an exact science, but it's hard not to believe that the events of 1 July 2011 aligned the stars for Schalk Erasmus' "homecoming" to Loftus.

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The 22-year-old hooker, a Junior Springbok star two years ago, was on Tuesday confirmed as the Bulls' latest acquisition in what is now becoming a legendary shopping spree, joining from Western Province.

Yet Erasmus, who hails from Lephalale, first announced himself as a potential star in the most spectacular way - kicking a winning penalty from the halfway line to help the Limpopo Blue Bulls unofficially win the Under-13 Craven Week that year ... as a flyhalf playing at eighthman.

Fittingly, given how his fledgling career has panned out, that famous 8-6 victory came against selfsame Province - his future employer - at Affies, where he would commence high school the next year.

"It was a sight to behold," Gideon 'Giepa' Pelzer, a member of Erasmus' Limpopo Bulls coaching staff at the tournament, told Sport24.

"Schalk wasn't exactly unfamiliar with goal-kicking as he had played flyhalf throughout his time in primary school. When we were awarded the penalty, the obvious feeling was that we needed to go for touch. After all, we're still camped on the halfway line. But Schalk insisted he wanted to take the kick. 

"You want to encourage players even at that age to make their own on-field decisions, so he was given the tee. It was a great strike and we were all pretty excited. Not only did we beat a traditional powerhouse in WP, it was only the second time in the union's history that we'd won a Craven Week tournament."

Pelzer admits he couldn't really foresee that Erasmus would become a rock-solid but highly athletic hooker, yet the genial schools mentor's own thinking of moving him to No 8 was an indication that he wasn't destined to for the backline.

"You always knew he'd eventually be shifted to the pack. Schalk was wiry when he started playing, but in his Grade 7 year he started to grow quite rapidly. He naturally has some bulk.

"Rugby at primary school level isn't necessarily all that intricate, but you still build your team around a few players - like a flyhalf or an inside centre. Schalk was really strong and imposing, so we decided to shift him to eighthman and build our team around him and a few others."

Given the special relationship he enjoyed with Erasmus, Pelzer keenly followed his progress at Affies, culminating in two Craven Week appearances for the Blue Bulls in 2015 and 2016.

"He's a fine player and I never doubted that he'd become successful."

The move to Newlands, as well as Stellenbosch where he played two Varsity Cups for Maties, naturally felt a bit wasteful, but it turns out it was only a minor detour.  

For dedicated grassroots rugby men like Pelzer, Erasmus' return to Pretoria galvanises on so many fronts.

"We're not only excited for Jake White and co. It's also a massive boost for our region too. It shows the youngsters here that they can also carve out a potentially successful future out of the game without having to move too far away," he said.

"It's always a great feeling when home-grown talent is nourished."

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