Sunday Times

Three’s a crowd, but one stands out

- By LIAM DEL CARME Frans Malherbe · Wales · Belgium · Iceland · Thomas du Toit · Vincent Koch · Ruan Dreyer · Austria · South Africa national rugby union team · Rassie Erasmus · England · England national football team · Western Province · Western Province · Bloemfontein Celtic F.C. · Bloemfontein · Coenie Oosthuizen · Wilco Louw

● A ca­reer-threat­en­ing neck in­jury has brought rugby and life into sharper fo­cus for Spring­bok prop Frans Mal­herbe.

But then, he’s al­ways been armed with a healthy dose of per­spec­tive.

“I’ve known him since he was a school­boy. I think he’s men­tally tough and he’s a good leader. He’s a tough player and I re­ally trust him,” came for­mer Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s pre­scient assess­ment of Mal­herbe in the lead-up to his Test de­but in Wales in 2013.

Mal­herbe ar­rived on the scene with a rep­u­ta­tion as big as his phys­i­cal di­men­sions. How­ever, the bone-shud­der­ing col­li­sions which his po­si­tion de­mands took an or­thopaedic toll on his 124kg, 1.9m frame.

It has served as a hand-brake to a ca­reer that had promised to go places.

Tight­head queue heav­ily con­gested

A neck in­jury halted his progress last sea­son and proper di­ag­no­sis dur­ing the Rugby Cham­pi­onship con­firmed he would be con­fined to the side­lines for an ex­tended pe­riod.

The time-out taught him to live in the mo­ment and em­brace the here and now. Hav­ing watched other tight­heads pack down for the Boks brought the re­al­i­sa­tion that life goes on, no mat­ter what. The Bok tight­head queue is a heav­ily con­gested space with Wilco Louw, Trevor Nyakane, Coe­nie Oosthuizen, Thomas du Toit, Vin­cent Koch and Ruan Dreyer all ca­pa­ble of do­ing what is re­quired.

“If you get ner­vous about that you’re think­ing about your­self,” said Mal­herbe about the com­pe­ti­tion. “The fo­cus has to be on the team. Do your pri­mary job to the best of your abil­ity. It brings con­fi­dence be­cause the guys in the queue can take my po­si­tion any day.

“It is not an in­di­vid­ual thing. All of us get along re­ally well. We help each other and share knowl­edge. Vin­cent (Koch) has played at Sara­cens for quite a while. The other guys haven’t (played over­seas), so there is ex­pe­ri­ence to be gained from him. At the end of the day the Spring­boks must ben­e­fit from that.

“There is ob­vi­ously very good com­pe­ti­tion at tight­head. With good com­pe­ti­tion among each other it will bring out the best in each other.”

Given the grav­ity of his in­jury, Mal­herbe’s re­cov­ery and rapid re­turn to form has been quite stag­ger­ing. He has been the ful­crum of the Bok scrum this sea­son, while the alacrity with which he cleans rucks, de­fends around the fringes, or even bursts through the odd gap, sug­gests he is at the peak of his pow­ers.

He played a hand­ful of games be­fore Bok coach Rassie Eras­mus selected him for the se­ries against Eng­land.

“I’m very grate­ful to Western Prov­ince for giv­ing me that op­por­tu­nity. I went from there to Su­per Rugby and got some game time and then Rassie backed me against the English. I’m very grate­ful when I look back, to where I started this sea­son and I’m sit­ting here now.

“There are dif­fer­ent opin­ions about how you get back from long-term in­jury. It worked out quite well for me.”

On his toes, al­ways

Mal­herbe, who in June made his come­back 365 days af­ter his last Bok ap­pear­ance, made it clear then that there was no eas­ing back. “There is no place to hide any­more. You have to be more dy­namic. You have to be fit­ter, more ag­ile and keep up with the pace of the game,” he said then in Bloem­fontein.

He has played seven Tests this year and has looked ev­ery bit the player Meyer waxed lyri­cal about in 2013.

“Ev­ery week with the Boks you gain ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery game, there is a mas­sive amount of pres­sure you have to deal with. You never get used to it. You are al­ways on your toes to be your best.”

 ?? Back­pagePix ?? Seven Tests into his re­turn from a ca­reerthreat­en­ing neck in­jury, Bok prop Frans Mal­herbe is tak­ing noth­ing for granted.
Back­pagePix Seven Tests into his re­turn from a ca­reerthreat­en­ing neck in­jury, Bok prop Frans Mal­herbe is tak­ing noth­ing for granted.

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