Lions

Big Joe is job hunting in SA

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Springbok loose forward Joe van Niekerk’s failed attempt to join the Great Trek to the Northern Hemisphere has resulted in the 27-year-old becoming a free agent.

Now he is looking to reignite his career at the union where it all started, the Lions.

Van Niekerk’s three-year deal with England’s National Division One club the Northampton Saints fell through on 30 October and earlier this week he was spotted at Ellis Park, “negotiating” with Lions officials.

While Van Niekerk’s mother and agent Cathy van Niekerk was unwilling to divulge details – because of legal implications – she admitted that the planned move to Northampton is off.

“On 30 October we received an e-mail to say they would not honour the deal,” she said.

The Saints cited a back injury that has sidelined the player for months as the reason for them pulling out of the deal. They said “independent tests” had been conducted to determine the extent of the injury.

Cathy van Niekerk confirmed that the matter was in the hands of their lawyers, suggesting there could be legal ramifications.

In the meantime the player, Big Joe as he is affectionately known, has been job hunting in South Africa.

His contract with Western Province, where he has played the last three years, was not renewed – after he announced his plans to move to England.

They have concluded most of their contract negotiations with players, as has done all the major unions, and Van Niekerk was left in limbo.

However, his former mentor – Lions coach Eugene Eloff – may just have an opening for him, having lost the services of Jacques Cronj’ (now playing in France).

Despite a history of injury problems in recent years – a leg injury ruled him out for a lengthy period earlier this year and upon his return he injured his back in a gym session, which ruled him out of World Cup contention – Eloff may just be the spark Van Niekerk needs to get his career back on track.

It was under Eloff’s tutelage that Van Niekerk burst onto the scene in 2001 – making his Springbok debut before he had played in the Absa Currie Cup or Super Rugby tournaments, while he also captained the South African Under-21 team.

He was named South African Player of the Year in 2002 and was nominated as one of the International Rugby Board (IRB) Player of the Year finalists.

He joined Western Province in 2004 from the Lions.

A mobile and tenacious loose forward, Joe van Niekerk is known for his exceptional pace, anticipation and quality ball skills.

However, injuries have limited his game time in the past two years.

By Siyabonga Mchunu 365 Digital

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