Stormers

The Reflections of Joe van Niekerk

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Joe van Niekerk has not had many starts in a Stormers jersey since joining the franchise in 2004, and Saturday’s performance against the Reds is his penultimate match in Super rugby, as he has confirmed he will be heading abroad after the World Cup.

Van Niekerk, or ‘Big Joe’, has struggled to realise his potential in the last few years in all arenas of rugby union, and this year may be his final shot at the greatness he promised earlier on in his career, when he was name South African Player of the Year in 2002.

If it were not for the injury of Justin Melck, he may not have had the benefit of starting any of the final two matches of Super 14 2007, ahead of what is likely to be his last season of test rugby, if selected.

Last World Cup, Joe promised to be the hope of the Springboks, only to be injured ahead of the crucial quarter-final against the All Blacks.

But now Joe is hungry for the remaining four test caps to finish his half-century, and thus become only the seventh Springbok to achieve that accolade. He also has a chance to finish some World Cup business.

And a season of last chances begins on Saturday.

Speaking to this website Joe said it was “good to be back.”

“It has been frustrating. I damaged the cartilage of my left knee when someone fell on me at the lineout, when we lost to the Force earlier this season.

“And since then there has been an operation, rehabilitation, and some sitting on the bench.”

Joe did confirm, after a week of media speculation, that, while he was definitely heading north, no agreement had been reached.

“It is solid to say I will be going overseas, and it is likely that I will be going to England, or, as an outside chance France. But we are still in contractual negotiations.”

But Van Niekerk assured that as long as he is playing, he will never write off donning the green and gold.

“There will always be Bok aspirations, but it will be up to the future coach. Jake has opted to look at some players based overseas, and maybe the future coach would do the same. I would always be available.”

As for the tenure at the Stormers, Joe said he has no regrets.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Unfortunately I have never really had the consistency of being injury-free, and that is how a player gets a hold of form, but I will always love Caoe Town and the Stormers, as well as Western Province rugby.”

As for the highs and lows of his international career, Joe said there had been many.

“Just being a part of the Springboks cancels out so many of the lows. Being involved with Jake White, winning the Tri-Nations, restoring the respect of Springbok rugby after being in the doldrums, those are the highlights.

“And it all started at Newlands in 2001.”

Joe was selected by then Springbok coach Harry Viljoen to play off the bench against the All Blacks, without having had played a Currie Cup or Super rugby match.

“It is an interesting debate as to whether it was too early, but I was never going to turn it down! I still remember the nerves of that day.”

Not only has Van Niekerk’s career struggled through some peaks and valleys, the performance of the Stormers has mimicked that, never so much as this year.

“The key word is consistency. Where has the consistency been this year? This team is a champion side, we showed that gainst the Crusaders last year, and against the Blues this year.

“But it is a crazy competiton. The Chiefs, who have recordered the same number of wins as us, are pushing for a play-off spot – we just failed to pick up some bonus points.

The Stormers crashed and burned against the Bulls two weeks ago, and then completely dominated the Blues.

“Since I arrived in Cape Town there has always been something about that Bulls fixture. It is never nice losing to the Bulls.

“There is a psychological barrier there that needs to be broken.”

As for the all-important weekend fixture against the Reds, Van Niekerk affirmed that there would be “no complacency”.

“They have a brilliant coach in Eddie Jones, and some super players. We will need to keep to our structure.

“As for my part, I will probably play a tighter game in the wetter conditions.

“I like to think I can mix it up both in the tight and the loose.”

By Chris Waldburger 365 Digital 

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