Chris Cloete is Kings’ new domkrag

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

Forget Lionel Cronjé’s around the back dummy, or Maka­zole Mapimpi’s catchy post-try cel­e­bra­tions, the one South­ern Kings player com­men­ta­tors were moggy about dur­ing their tour of Aus­tralia was Chris Cloete, an un­fash­ion­able open­side flanker.

The Aussies, who like their rugby play­ers Croc­o­dile Dundee tough, were taken by Cloete’s an­gry warthog rou­tine through­out the trip. His call­ing card was ex­treme brav­ery and al­most Mighty Mouse-like strength for a man stand­ing at only 1.76m tall and weigh­ing 101kg.

As it turns out, their in­stincts about the 26-year-old, whose job de­scrip­tion in­cludes pok­ing his head into the ruck fur­nace, are spot on – Cloete is one of the strong­est, if not fittest, play­ers at the Kings.

Nadus Nieu­woudt, the Kings’ con­di­tion­ing coach re­spon­si­ble for those strong fin­ishes we’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to this sea­son, says a big part of his deal­ings with Cloete is sav­ing him from him­self.

“When it comes to gym, the guy is ac­tu­ally a freak with the amount of train­ing he does,” Nieu­woudt says.

“You won’t find a guy who wants to train harder, or does, than Chris. The big­gest job for me is man­ag­ing him against him­self so he doesn’t do too much.”

Hav­ing been out for eight months with torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ments when the Kings be­gan their pre­sea­son train­ing in Novem­ber, Cloete some­how was on the same fit­ness level as the rest of the team when he joined them in Jan­uary – a tes­ta­ment to his nat­u­ral fit­ness lev­els.

Nieu­woudt says the for­mer Sharks man’s se­cret is that he is a great all-round ath­lete.

“Not only has he got ex­plo­sive power, but he’s also got strength, which is what makes him dif­fer­ent. He’s one of the best all-round ath­letes around – he’s strong, fast, he’s got a lot of power and his fit­ness lev­els are great.”

While he couldn’t have his fit­ness mea­sured in the Kings’ con­di­tion­ing phase be­cause he wasn’t in full run­ning yet, Nieu­woudt says Cloete had what it takes to do well in re­peat sprints and yo-yo tests (which are a bit like the old bleep test).

“You get guys on the wing who can run quickly in a straight line, for ex­am­ple Usain Bolt is quick over 100m, but he doesn’t do 10 of them back-to-back. Chris has got speed en­durance be­cause he can do mul­ti­ple 60m sprints over the du­ra­tion of the game and his qual­ity lev­els don’t drop off.”

But the most im­pres­sive as­pect of his phys­i­cal gifts are ex­er­cises that are up­per-body based, as his Popeye physique sug­gests.

“We have a 100kg bench press test, where the guys have to bench un­til they can’t any more,” says Nieu­woudt.

“Chris has done 28, which is the strong­est in our squad. The next best is 27, by one of the props. So he is stronger than even the front-row­ers in that re­gard.

“We no longer do the sin­gle max­i­mum bench press be­cause I’ve had one or two guys pop a pec­toral mus­cle, but if we were to do it, Chris would prob­a­bly be do­ing 180kg to 200kg. In the wide over­hand pullups, he does about 44, which places him in our top five in the squad.”

As a re­sult, Cloete is some­thing of a tal­is­man for the Kings in train­ing: “The guys look up to him be­cause they know what his phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties are. But he al­ways jokes about it to chal­lenge the oth­ers.”

Nieu­woudt warns against peo­ple read­ing too much into Cloete’s gym num­bers and con­clud­ing that he’s not a qual­ity player, and points out how im­por­tant he is to a Kings side that still needs to play with the old­fash­ioned open­side flanker when oth­ers are mov­ing away from that.

“We feed off turnover ball be­cause we’ve got pure pace in our squad. With turnovers, we can re­lease [the ball] and put the op­po­si­tion on the scram­ble. Those guys make a mas­sive dif­fer­ence in terms of mo­men­tum, we call them Staffies – you’ve got to have a cer­tain type of dog in you to play that po­si­tion,” says Nieu­woudt.

In­deed, Cloete has more than proved his brav­ery in the po­si­tion, as Nieu­woudt re­mem­bers: “Once, he dis­lo­cated his finger and the bone came through the skin. The doc­tor came on, snapped the finger back and strapped it. Not long after that, Chris went on to make a try-sav­ing tackle.

“He’s just one of those guys who doesn’t feel pain; he’s a dif­fer­ent breed who doesn’t com­plain and is al­ways ask­ing for more.”

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