Tag Archives: Profile

We Need to Talk About… Metuisela Talebula


Talebula scored a wonderful try in UBB’s 31-25 win over Toulouse last weekend. (c) UBB.

Toulouse were on the attack, 30 metres from UBB’s tryline and with a 9-6 lead, when Clément Poitrenaud’s attempted offload went to ground. Talebula was onto it in a blink, toeing the ball 20 metres ahead and burning past the panicking Poitrenaud. Talebula won the race by a clear metre and gave the ball a second, more delicate touch with his left boot.

The hulking figure of Joe Tekori began looming over his shoulder, but Talebula calmly nudged the pill a third time with his right foot, by now just six metres from the Toulouse tryline. The ball struck the right-hand post, bouncing into Talebula’s expectant hands as he dived over to score.

For the ever-improving Metuisela Talebula, the outcome was never in doubt.

His close control makes sense when you learn that the 22-year-old had a spell at centre back for the football team at Drasa Secondary School in his native Lautoka, Fiji. His rugby career began with the Lautoka Crushers under-9s rugby league team, before he switched to union at the age of 16. Talebula won the Deans Trophy (Fiji’s premier schools competition) in 2009 and 2010, while also being chosen as Fiji Secondary Schools Player of the Year in ’09.


Having already played both league and union, it was in the third rugby code that Talebula first garnered international attention. His form in sevens competitions for the Natabua Rugby Club resulted in a call-up to the Fiji squad for the IRB London and Edinburgh sevens tournaments in May 2011. Having excelled at flyhalf, Talebula was named in Fiji’s U20 squad for the Junior World Championship the following month. Playing at fullback, outhalf and centre, the Lautoka man scored three tries in four starts.

The versatile back’s name (Talebulamaijaini in full) began to get around and Clermont, through their Nadroga academy in Fiji, invited him to France to view their facilities and partake in training. Following that brief experience, Talebula decided to sign a deal with the Fijian sevens set-up for the 2011/12 season and helped them to second place in the IRB World Sevens Series. The flyhalf scored 25 tries and finished second in the individual points-scoring charts with 271.

Racing Metro tracked the Fijian intently for some time and Clermont still had interest, but Talebula eventually signed his first professional 15-a-side contract with a far less renowned club. In June 2012, his move to Union Bordeaux-Bègles was announced, with Talebula telling the Bangkok Post, “I’m still 21 and have a long way to go in my rugby career, so I have decided to play overseas as it will help me develop the way I play. The level of competition there will make me a better rugby player.”


Earlier in the same month, the 6ft 1ins pace merchant had made a sensational start to his senior international career, scoring three tries in two appearances against Tonga and Scotland. Lining out at fullback, Talebula displayed the explosive running style and awareness that would make him such a success in France. Three more starts at fullback have followed for Fiji against England, Ireland and Georgia last November. There are many more caps to come.

Talebula’s first season with UBB was undoubtedly positive. Language and other cultural adjustments were mirrored by a bedding-in period on the pitch but after scoring in his seventh appearance the Fijian didn’t look back, ending the season with eight tries. Talebula mainly played on the wing, although he did start thrice at fullback. UBB’s backs coach Vincent Etcheto sees his future at outside centre.

Despite a physically taxing first season with Bordeaux, Talebula decided to join the Fiji squad for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in June. Reinstalled at flyhalf, he was the tournament’s top try-scorer with seven in six games, as Fiji finished in third place. Talebula’s sevens background and his positional versatility point to the rounded skill set he has developed.


Many Fijian backs are pure finishers, with Napolioni Nalaga a fine example. While Talebula is certainly lethal close to the tryline, there is more to his game. His kicking skills are complemented by excellent offloading ability and piercing vision. Defensively, he does not shirk responsibility and will only improve in this area as his French does too. Timid off the pitch, Talebula must work on his communication during games.

The year in France has seen the 22-year-old become more efficient athletically. Talebula has filled out to nearly 100kg but has retained his natural leanness. He always had speed but now his stride is that of a sprinter’s, streamlined and methodical. Ludovic Loustau, UBB’s préparateur physique, has taken Talebula’s raw physical potential and begun to shape it into something even more potent. The Fijian’s attitude and hard work have been to key to progress.

Upon joining UBB, the Lautoka native signed a two-year espoir contract (similar to a development contract). That deal expires next June and the likes of Toulouse, Clermont, Toulon and Leicester have already cast lustful glances in Talebula’s direction. However, his agent Frédéric Bonhomme told Midi Olympique that the Fijian is “attached to Bordeaux-Bègles and likes the atmosphere there. He knows it’s not a small club. It’s a club of great potential. Extending [his contract] is a genuine option.”

If UBB can uphold the standard they set against Toulouse last weekend, Talebula may consider staying. However, the graceful Fijian will be ready for bigger things by next season and the money men will come calling. UBB’s supporters should appreciate the Talebula show before it moves on.


Photo: UBB.

Who Is Gerhard Van Den Heever?

Van den Heever

Gerhard Van den Heever. (c) Stomers Rugby.

Born in Bloemfontein, van den Heever traveled the 425 kilometres to Pretoria for his schooling at the famous Affies high school. With an alumni including Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies and Leinster’s Quinn Roux, Affies offers one of the best rugby educations in South Africa.

Van den Heevers’s rugby potential was spotted by the Blue Bulls and he represented them at the U16 Grant Khomo week in 2005. The following two years saw Van den Heever making the natural progression to the Academy Week (U18 secondary National competition) in 2006 and finally the 2007 Craven Week, which represents the peak of South African schools rugby. The Bloemfontein flyer didn’t make the international schools team, but his future with the Bulls was secure.

Van den Heever finished out 2007 out by playing for the Bulls in the ABSA U19 competition. 2008 was spent playing Varsity Cup rugby for the University of Pretoria (‘Tuks’), earning him selection for the inaugural World University Championship Rugby Sevens in Spain. He furthered his reputation at the Bulls with another outstanding campaign in the ABSA U19 competition.

2009 was an important developmental year in Van den Heever’s career. In February, he made his first Vodacom Cup appearance for the Bulls, starting on the wing. Two weeks later, a broken hand for Bryan Habana catapulted Van den Heever into the Bulls’ Super Rugby team for their derby with the Stormers. Still only 19, the pacy winger acquitted himself well and went on to make two more starts before Habana returned. Van den Heever scored his first senior try for the Bulls in a 36-12 loss to the Highlanders.

Habana’s recovery meant the youngster dropped out of the match day squad, but his star had been marked. In June, he traveled to the Junior World Championship with a CJ Stander-captained South Africa, scoring three tries in four games as the Baby ‘Boks finished third. Van den Heever was an unstoppable boulder of form at this stage and returned home to be a star of the 2009 Currie Cup, scoring 11 tries in 13 starts on the wing.

(c) SA Rugby.

The Bulls won the Currie Cup that season, but Van den Heever was unlucky to be benched for the knock-out stages as the big names of Habana and Francois Hougaard were drafted in. Instead, Van den Heever dropped back to the Bulls U21 side for their Currie Cup final against Western Province. The 6ft 3ins wide man scored two tries with practically his only touches of the game to round off an incredible year.

Habana’s move to the Stormers at the start of 2010 meant that there was finally a spot in the Bulls’ Super 14 team for the wonderkid. Van den Heever began the season as he intended to go on, scoring a try in a 51-34 win over the Cheetahs. From then on he was undroppable, starting all but two of the Bulls’ 15 games en route to winning the competition. Van den Heever’s eight tries (including this spectacular effort) left him just one behind top scorers Joe Rokocoko and Drew Mitchell.

The 21-year-old’s excellent form continued in the Currie Cup, with 15 starts and 5 tries as the Bulls relinquished their title in a semi-final loss to Natal. Overall, it was an incredible season for the young winger and, amidst the hype, Van den Heever was being talked about as a possible Springbok. Another good season in 2011 would possibly have led to an international call-up.

But after the peak of 2009 and 2010 has come something of an extended trough for Van den Heever. His nickname at the Bulls was ‘Shadow’ due to his extreme pace but ironically his form has gradually become a shadow of that 2010 season.

In 2011, he made 14 appearances but only scored three tries as the Bulls failed to make the play-offs in the re-structured Super Rugby. It was far from a vintage season for Frans Ludeke’s side and despite starting with a bang, Van den Heever’s form suffered. In that season’s Currie Cup the Bulls struggled again, missing out on the playoffs. Van den Heever made seven starts but managed just one try. The Bulls style of play in 2011 meant Van den Heever saw less of the ball, and his form dropped away.

Van den Heever in action for the Stormers. (c) Paul Barnard.

After a year in which he and the Bulls hadn’t sparked, Van den Heever decided to make a move to the Stormers in Cape Town on a two-year deal. A strange transfer, considering that Habana and Gio Aplon were already established there as first choice wingers. Van den Heever had to be content with warming the bench for much of the 2012 season. He played 15 times (7 starts) and scored a solitary try in round 16. In the Currie Cup, he started all 12 games as Western Province won the competition, but dotted down just twice.

That brings us to the 2013 season, where Van den Heever made 11 appearances (3 starts) as the Stormers missed out on the Super Rugby playoffs. He began the season on the bench again, but an injury to Habana saw him start twice in March before suffering an injury himself. After recovering, Van den Heever was back riding pine. He scored one try in the 2013 Super Rugby season.

I watched Van den Heever in the games he started against the Brumbies in round six, and the Crusaders in round seven. The first thing that struck me was the size of the 24-year-old. At 6ft 3ins and around 100kg, he is in the George North-mould of large wingers. At that size, he’s obviously strong and he often beat the first defender when in possession. He has quick feet for a tall guy and that means he doesn’t run directly into defenders too often.

Van den Heever looked to be solid under the high ball. He has a good leap and with his height advantage he can win attacking kicks and re-starts. Against the Crusaders, the Stormers looked for Van den Heever from the re-starts and he won possession back twice. However, those were the occasions when the winger was in the right place. His reactions and anticipation can be slow. Great players are always in the right place, but Van den Heever wasn’t consistently well positioned.

He was forced to kick twice over the course of the two games and looked uncomfortable doing so. That looks like an area where Munster will need to do some work. Also, his technique at the breakdown is likely to be addressed. Van den Heever looked happy to just add his weight to the ruck, rather than clearing past the ball or counter-rucking. Obviously this is not a winger’s priority, but it’s a necessity for every player.


Off the bench against the Blues in 2012. (c) Paul Barnard.

Van den Heever’s greatest asset is his searing pace. He is one of the quickest wingers South Africa has produced, and a quick search on Youtube will tell you all you need to know. That speed combined with his footwork make him a threat whenever he gets the ball, but I felt that he could have been far more involved. Pacy players are the ones you look to for a spark, but Van den Heever didn’t provide that in either game.

The 24-year-old scored against the Brumbies from an intercept, but apart from that only touched the ball when it was kicked to him or spread wide to his wing. He never came off the touchline looking for work. Having spoken to a few journalists in South Africa, this would be their main concern about Van den Heever. The perception is that he can be one-dimensional and unwilling to get himself involved at crucial times in games.

Defensively, Van den Heever is a good one-on-one tackler. He didn’t miss a tackle in either of the games I watched, but neither did he make a dominant tackle. If he’s going to replace Doug Howlett with conviction, he will need to use that huge frame of his to make an impact on defence. Again, the feeling is that Van den Heever is happy to just do enough to get by. He didn’t go looking for a big defensive play, or to use his power to smash attackers.

With his pace, size, strength, ability in the air, and still being just 24, Van den Heever can definitely offer Munster something they don’t have in the back three. He is not the finished article but the move to Ireland could be just the motivation he needs to start showing that incredible form of 2010 again. His size and speed make him an exciting prospect and it will be fascinating to watch his progress at Munster.


Photos: Paul Barnard.

The Exiled Irish: Les Grenoblois


Grenoble’s Stade Lesdiguières has become home for three Irish professionals. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks.

This time a year ago, The Touchline featured an Exiled Irish piece on four Irish professionals contracted in France. Picking up in that vein, this article looks at the growing Irish community at French Top 14 club Grenoble. The Isère-based outfit currently have two Irish players on their cards, as well as a coach. James Hart and Andrew Farley are at very different stages of their careers, but both are enjoying success at Grenoble. The experiences of Hart should encourage young Irish players who miss out on Academy and provincial contracts that there are other options, while Farley’s example will surely inspire older professionals to try something different.

Meanwhile, the success of Bernard Jackman in his first season at Grenoble will be equally encouraging to young Irish coaches, as well as to other French clubs. With Jackman’s positive impact comes more international acceptance of the quality of Irish coaches. The news that Mike Pendergast will join Jackman as Grenoble’s Skills Coach may be a sign of things to come for Irish backroom staff. With 30 professional clubs spread over the Top 14 and Pro D2, as well as a host of semi-pro teams in Fédérale 1, there is far greater need for good coaches. The more Irish players and coaches we can have playing and working regularly in a professional environment, the better Irish rugby will be.


James Hart

Hart’s move to Grenoble last summer was one that flew well under the radar. The  21-year-old halfback is Dublin-born and attended Belvedere College. His mother hails from Toulouse, and Hart’s rugby education was kick-started there. At the age of 16, Hart moved to Toulouse for transition year, living with his grandparents. He stayed for 8 months, playing for Stade Toulousain’s Cadet team alongside the likes of Jean-Marc Doussain and Nicolas Bézy. Hart claims that period made him “physically and technically stronger“. He returned to Ireland to play Schools Senior Cup, as well as for Leinster up to U20 level.

Having graduated from school in 2010, and with no Academy offer from Leinster, Hart joined AIL side Clontarf, where he was coached by Bernard Jackman. This relationship resulted in Hart joining Grenoble a year later, in the summer of 2011. His first season at FCG saw the halfback play for the Espoirs side (U23 level), while training with the pro side. This season has seen Hart make big strides. He made his first senior start last December, playing outhalf in FCG’s 20-9 win over London Welsh in the Challenge Cup. Substitue appearances followed in the return match and against Stade Francais in the same competition.

The 83kg Dubliner had to wait a little longer for his first Top 14 chance. Last month, he started at scrumhalf in the 33-16 loss away to Biarritz and then came off the bench against Bayonne just 2 weeks ago. Hart’s goal-kicking skills have seen him convert 3 penalties (one of which earned FCG a losing bonus point in the last minute) and 2 conversions in his 5 appearances so far. Grenoble appear to see the youngster as a scrumhalf, but he has plenty of experience at outhalf. He also played in the centre for Clontarf (as shown in the video above). His impressive progress this season has resulted in him signing a new two-year deal.  Certainly one to watch next season for Irish rugby fans.

Grenoble Profile: James Hart


Andrew Farley

Farley has been captaining Grenoble since

Farley (first on left) has been captaining Grenoble since 2010. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks

Farley was one of those featured in the original Exiled Irish piece mentioned above. Born in Australia (and capped at U19 and U21 level), the second-row qualified for Ireland on residency grounds after 5 seasons with Connacht. That spell followed short stints in Italy with L’Aquila (under Mike Brewer) and Wales with Swansea. The Brisbane-native was part of the Ireland ‘A’ side who won the Plate at the 2007 Churchill Cup. In 2009, Farley decided to take up an offer from Grenoble, then in Pro D2, and hasn’t looked back since.

His first season at the Isère club saw them finish 6th, before agonisingly missing out on automatic promotion to the Top 14 by just 2 points in the ’10/11 season. Already a key player thanks to his excellent line-out work and leadership, the 112kg lock was installed as captain that season. The following year, FCG stormed to the Pro D2 title, 18 points clear of 2nd-placed Pau. Most promoted sides have serious struggles in the Top 14, but that hasn’t been the case for Grenoble. Their excellent start to the season meant they were realistically safe by Christmas. Last weekend’s stunning last-gasp win over Toulon left them 9th, with just one game to go.

32-year-old Farley has enjoyed 14 starts in the league campaign as well as 5 in the Challenge Cup. His form shows no sign of decline and he recently penned a new deal keeping him in France until the end of the ’13/14 season, with the option of another year. Grenoble are an ambitious club and look set to continue their rise. Adopted Irish man Farley will continue to play a key part.

Grenoble Profile: Andrew Farley     Twitter: @BruceFarls


Bernard Jackman

Jackman scoring for Leinster (wearing green!) against the Reds in 2008. (c) Paul Walsh.

Jackman scoring for Leinster (wearing green!) against the Reds in 2008. (c) Paul Walsh.

Ex-Ireland, Leinster and Connacht hooker Jackman is coming to the end of his first full season as the club’s Defence Coach. The Tullow-native’s playing career saw him win 9 caps for Ireland, as well as a Heineken Cup with Leinster in 2009. He also enjoyed a spell with Sale, where he won a Challenge Cup. His coaching career began in 2005 at Newbridge Rugby Club. He led Newbridge to Leinster League Division 3 title and a Lalor Cup, before taking over at Coolmine RFC in 2007. Success followed again, culminating with the Dublin 15 side winning Leinster League Division 2 in 2009.

Jackman’s long-time club side Clontarf came calling in 2009, and he joined as Head Coach. With the Leinster hooker still playing at that stage, the ’09/10 season saw them relegated from Division 1A of the then AIB League. However, having retired from playing ahead of the ’10/11 season, Jackman helped the club bounce straight back up. The summer of 2011 saw Jackman resign for “professional developmental reasons” and he went on a two-month consultancy period with Grenoble, then in the Pro D2. Head Coach Fabrice Landreau was evidently impressed and Jackman signed on full-time for the start of the current season.

FCG’s promotion to the Top 14 meant Jackman was stepping into the fire in his new role as Defence and Skills Coach. However, Jackman and the rest of the coaching staff enjoyed a hugely positive start to the season, winning 10 of their first 15 league matches up until the New Year. Since then, the wins have been rare, just 1 in 9 games until last weekend’s win over Toulon. Still, for a promoted team it’s been a fantastic first season back in the top flight. Jackman has made a big impression and recently signed a new 1-year contract with the club, with a new title of Defence and Collisions coach. It’s great to see Irish coaches working in technical roles such as this at a top-level. That knowledge can hopefully help the Irish provinces and national team at some stage. Still only 36, Jackman has a long coaching career ahead of him. His rise looks set to continue.

Grenoble Profile: Bernard Jackman     Twitter: @bernardjackman


Grenoble’s last game of the season is in two week’s time, May the 4th, away to Toulouse. They’re 9th (joint-8th really) heading into that game, but nothing is decided yet. Depending on the outcome, and results elsewhere, they could finish anywhere from 8th to 11th. Their achievements look all the better when you compare them to the other promoted side, Mont de Marsan. They’ve won just 2 league games all season. Grenoble are a hugely ambitious club, and should push on again next year.


Photos: Vijay Photwalk, Paul Walsh.

Who is Quinn Roux?


Signing young South Africans seems to be all the rage in Ireland at the moment. The agents over there appear to be increasingly aware of the lucrative market that is Irish rugby. In the last few weeks, Munster have signed CJ Stander, Connacht have nabbed Danie Poolman (profile coming soon) and Leinster have secured second-row Quinn Roux on a one-year deal. There’s still been no official announcement from Leinster, but the deal looks done. Here, I take a look at Roux’s career up to this point and the potential benefits of the move.

As we saw in this week’s profile of CJ Stander, he was picked out as special from a young age. Roux’s progression has been a little different. Born and bred in Pretoria, Roux’s rugby interest began at the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Afrikaans Boys’ High School). The secondary school is literally across the road from the Blue Bulls’ Loftus Versfeld Stadium. It’s no surprise then that Affies is one of the most prestigious and elite rugby schools in South Africa. The educational institute has produced many professional rugby players including Springboks Pierre Spies, Wynand Olivier and Fourie du Preez.

The fact that Affies normally field more than 10 senior teams every year makes it an achievement just to play 1st XV rugby there. Roux did so in 2008 and impressed enough to be selected for the Northern Transvaal provincial team for that year’s Craven Week. As explained in the Stander piece, Craven Week is one of the most renowned schoolboy competitions in the world. The best young players in the country are chosen to represent their province and it’s often the place where they start to build real buzz. To make a crude comparison, it was like Roux being selected for the Leinster schools team for an interprovincial series.

Loftus Versfeld Stadium

With this stadium across the road from your school, how could you not aspire to be a professional rugby player? (c) legio09.

The best players during Craven Week go on to be selected for the South African Schools. While Stander was chosen as the Schools captain in 2008, Roux missed out on selection. But the 6’5″ lock was determined to forge a professional career for himself and, in 2009, decided on a 1,427km move to the Western Province Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch. Attending the WP Institute is like taking a Masters degree in rugby. Students pay around €12,000 for the privilege of a top-quality rugby education, although some receive scholarships. The Institue’s mission “lies in transforming young boys into rugby-playing men”. It’s a fascinating facility, and their website is worth a look.

The move paid immediate dividends for Roux, as the Western Province Rugby Union signed him up that same year. He battled hard to earn a place on the U19 side, and helped them to the semi-finals of the U19 Currie Cup, where, just days before Roux turned 19, they narrowly lost out to the Cheetahs. Still, the move had proven a success. Roux was now on the first steps of the ladder towards Super Rugby. The Stormers franchise is centred on the Western Province union, although players from the Boland Cavaliers are also eligible. If a player can reach Currie Cup level for WP he has every chance of stepping up for the Stormers. That was now the target for the determined Roux.

Having graduated from the WP Institute, 2010 saw Roux move to the Western Province U21 side. The year of intense physical preparation at the Institute had visibly benefited the lock as he neared his current 120kg weight. He became a key member of the side as Western Province won the U21 Currie Cup. Alongside Roux in that team were the likes of Johann Sadie, JJ Engelbrecht and Danie Poolman. On the same day, Eben Etzebeth helped the WP U19s to victory in the U19 Currie Cup Final. Etzebeth would soon prove to be an imposing road block on Roux’s journey to Super Rugby.


Still just 20 years of age, Roux graduated into the senior squad at WP for 2011. The second-row’s season got off to a decent start as he made appearances in all 9 of WP’s Vodacom Cup games, 4 of them starts. This tournament is the third tier of competition in South Africa, behind Currie Cup and Super Rugby. While Roux didn’t do enough to earn a Super Rugby spot, he was included in the Currie Cup squad later in the year. He only managed 5 appearances, 1 of them a start, as WP made the semi-finals. Still, it was more clear progress from the physical lock.

2012 began spectacularly well for a confident Roux. His growing presence on the pitch led to the call from the Stormers ahead of 2012’s Super Rugby kick-off.  He then started every game as Western Province won the Vodacom Cup, even scoring a try against the Lions along the way. Having turned 21, Roux was already fully developed and his reputation as an enforcer on the pitch was growing. However, the buzz around Etzebeth, almost exactly a year younger, had been growing even more rapidly. His performances for South Africa U20s at the 2011 Junior World Championship tipped the scales in his favour and he started the Super Rugby season as first-choice.

With Springbok giant Andries Bekker occupying the number 5 jersey and the more experienced De Kock Steenkamp being preferred as second-row cover on the bench, there has been little opportunity for Roux this season. Also, his status as a Vodacom Cup stalwart may not have helped, as that competition overlaps with the first few rounds of Super Rugby. Since the conclusion of the Vodacom cup, Roux has made two appearances off the bench for the Stormers. His Super Rugby debut came in the massive derby game against the Bulls, when he replaced Etzebeth for the last 29 minutes, helping the Stormers to a crucial 19-14 win.

Roux on Super Rugby debut against the Bulls. (c) SuperSport.

Roux’s second appearance came just last weekend, when he played 12 minutes at the end of the Stormers’ 27-17 win over the Lions. With Etzebeth feeling the effects of his first international test series with South Africa, Roux will be hoping that more Super Rugby action is coming his way in the final rounds. His contract with the Stormers comes to an end with the conclusion of the Super Rugby competition. The Stormers are currently top of the South African conference and have every chance of making the final on the 4th of August.

Roux’s decision to join Leinster on a one-year deal has been met with a mixed response in South Africa. With Bekker, Etzebeth, Steenkamp and Rynhardt Elstadt ahead of him in the Stormers depth chart at lock, he has little chance of playing regular Super Rugby. At Leinster, his competition will be Leo Cullen, Devin Toner and Tom Denton. No offence to those players, but it’s relatively weaker competition for the 21-year-old. It’s a one-year deal and the view in SA is that Roux is coming to Ireland to pick up some experience before returning home.

That’s exactly what a one-year deal suggests. For me, it’s a little less clear cut than that. The IRFU have enticed this brute of a second-row over to Ireland. If next season goes well, and Roux proves a success, they’ll be keen re-sign him. If he has enjoyed the year and settled well, Roux will be tempted to stay. Never mind the pecking order at the Stormers, for South Africa the likes of Juandre Kruger and Flip van der Merwe mean Roux is even further from recognition. This is not a guy who has played underage rugby for South Africa. He’s not somebody like CJ Stander, who has always been marked out as a probable Springbok.

While playing Super Rugby is obviously a dream for any young South African player, Roux is not a boyhood Stormers supporter. His loyalty to the franchise may not be set in stone. While South Africa have depth at lock, Ireland aren’t quite at the same level. Whether or not Roux should even be considered as a potential Irish international, when the likes of Ian Nagle, Dave Foley and Mark Flanagan have yet to break into their provincial sides’ XVs, is a debate for another time. This discussion may become redundant if Roux arranges a return to South Africa before he even leaves.

Leinster have got themselves a big, strong, mean, tighthead lock who has shown great determination so far in his career. Despite only being 21, he looks like a potential replacement for Brad Thorn in the enforcer role. If anyone knows more about this guy, please share your knowledge by leaving a comment!

*Roux is on the bench for the Stormers game against the Cheetahs on Saturday at 2.00pm Irish time. I don’t think Sky Sports are showing the game, so First Row are usually good for a link, just check there on Saturday.


Photos courtesy: legio09, SuperSport.

Who is CJ Stander?

(c) Blue Bulls.

Munster look to have pulled off quite a coup by securing CJ Stander on a two-year deal. Judging by the reaction of coaches and fans alike in South Africa, there appears to be genuine surprise that the 22-year-old has decided to move abroad. A former South Africa Schools and U2o captain, Stander had been marked out as a likely senior Springbok in the near future. The viewpoint there is that money may have played a part in the back-rower’s decision. So what exactly have Munster got for their presumably big bucks?

Stander’s swift physical development meant he was marked out as a distinct prospect from an early age. At 17, he was already representing the South Western Districts Eagles U18 side at the annual Craven Week. This tournament is one of the most prestigious schoolboy events in world rugby. It’s played out over a week, usually in July (this year’s version starts next weekend), and is quite often the stage on which future Springboks announce themselves. Despite being a year younger than his rivals, Stander’s displays earned him the captaincy of the South African Schools Academy team in 2007 (The Academy side is basically the Schools ‘B’ team, although political factors play a part in some selections).

Another impressive Craven Week the following year saw the No.8 named captain of the 2008 South African Schools team, a side which included current ‘Bok Patrick Lambie. That summer, Stander graduated from school and the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls swept to sign him. The possibility of playing Super Rugby down the line enticed the young back-row away from the SWD Eagles in his hometown of George. Back in 2008, the new Southern Kings franchise was a mere idea, meaning the highest level Stander could have played with the Eagles was Currie Cup. (From 2013, the Eagles will act as a feeder side to the Kings).

Deon Stegmann and CJ Stander take a break.

Stander (left) is a big youngfella! (c) Getty.

The meteoric rise continued in 2009 as Stander was selected in the South Africa U20 squad for the Junior World Championships, despite being a year young for the age-group. He started all 5 games at No.8, scoring 2 tries, as the Baby Boks finished 3rd. He was back in the squad the following year too, this time as captain. Again, Stander started all 5 games in the 8 jersey, scoring once, as the South Africans earned another 3rd place finish.

Stander returned home to play 12 times for the Bulls in the 2010 Currie Cup. This tournament is the South African equivalent of the PRO12 or ITM Cup, one step below Super Rugby. Stander started 5 times, but interestingly only wore the No.8 jersey once, with Gerrit-Jan van Velze preferred there. Instead, Stander mainly appeared at blindside (the number 7 jersey in SA), a move we have seen plenty of this season. The Bulls managed to reach the semi-finals, before losing to the Sharks.

Turning 21 in 2011 meant that Stander’s international age-grade days were over and his focus switched entirely to the Bulls. The year started well as Stander made 11 appearances, including 5 starts at No.8, in the Bulls’ run to the Vodacom Cup final. This tournament is the third-tier of South African rugby, behind Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. It’s often used to accelerate young players’ development, and that’s certainly what it did for Stander. He scored 3 tries, making an impression with his work-rate and ball-carrying ability.

(c) SA Rugby.

Super Rugby didn’t follow that summer, but Stander went on to play a far more important part in that year’s Currie Cup campaign. He nailed down the starting berth at No.8 and played in all 14 of the Bulls’ games, 11 of them in the starting XV. He showed his try-scoring ability by crossing the whitewash 6 times from the base of the scrum. This form marked him out as a definite Super Rugby squad player for 2012. The back-rower’s 2011 season was topped off nicely when he helped the Bulls U21 side to win the ABSA U21 Currie Cup, scoring a try in the final.

This year’s Super Rugby season started with Stander firmly a squad player. With gym-rat Pierre Spies the incumbent at No.8, Springbok Deon Stegmann at 6 and Jacques Potgieter (four year his senior) at 7, Stander had to make do with a bench spot for the first 2 games. However, a hamstring injury to Stegmann catapulted Stander into the starting team for round 3 and he has coped well at openside. He’s been an ever-present for the Bulls since, although he switched across to blindside in the 4 games leading up to the international break. 

His Super Rugby form led to a call-up to the 42-man Springboks training squad in the build-up to the test series against Wales. Another factor towards the call-up may have been the early murmurings that the 22-year-old was in discussions with Munster. By bringing him into the ‘Boks training group, coach Heyneke Meyer may have been trying to convince Stander to stay in South Africa. However, that might be a cynical suggestion on my part, as Stander has done well for the Bulls, scoring 4 tries in his 14 appearances up to now.


I’ve only seen Stander in live action twice this season, against the Reds in round 4 and the Chiefs in round 14. Playing at openside against the Reds and blindside against the Chiefs, Stander played the full 80 minutes in both. He didn’t stand out in either game, but at the same time there was nothing to fault in his performances. The first thing that struck me was that Stander is physically well-developed for a 22-year-old. He’s 6’2″ in height, and while the Bulls’ site lists him as 106kg, he’s almost certainly heavier than that. He’s clearly a strong, powerful player, something which is highlighted by the fact that he consistently went in high in the tackle, never getting bounced off.

Watching both games, I immediately felt that Stander was a No.8 playing out of position. He looked slightly unsure of where he should be running, supporting, clearing out, etc. The occasions when he looked truly comfortable were when he got a little bit of time on the ball in space. He showed a few glimpses of soft hands too, but playing at flanker for the Bulls seems to limit that aspect of his game. Much of Stander’s involvement came around the fringes of rucks, and to be honest he didn’t seem overly keen to be stuck in there. When play broke up, he had a good awareness of where the space was.

Having played most of his underage rugby at No.8, Stander is still learning the two other back-row positions and will only become more effective. A recurring feature of both games I watched was his control at the back of the Bulls’ incredibly effective maul. He seemed intent on getting on the ball at the back, showcasing his No.8 instincts. Indeed, he managed to score a try against the Reds from this very position.  He also scored a replica of that try against the Rebels in round 11 (6.33 in the video above). In my opinion, all the signs are that Stander is a natural No.8.


Stander’s try against the Brumbies in round 9 (2.53 above, definite Steyn knock-on!) showed just how much pace and power the youngster has. From my limited viewing, this is the kind of position Munster will need to use Stander in. Whenever he receives ball in wider channels with a little more time, he looks far more threatening. Playing at 6 and 7, he carried around the fringes more, and while he never went backwards, these carries are for the tight five. His pace would also make him effective off the base of the scrum with the defence 5 metres back.

Stander’s CV and the glimpses I’ve seen in this year’s Super Rugby lead me to believe that he will have an important impact for Munster, most probably at No.8. He’s contracted to the Bulls until the conclusion of the Currie Cup. The final takes place on the 27th of October, and the Bulls will fancy their chances of making the showpiece. It’s quite likely that Munster fans will be paying more attention than usual to the South African tournament as they hope to get a good look at their new signing!

*Has anyone seen Stander playing? If you have, leave a comment below with your thoughts. Do you think he’ll be a good signing? With the possibility of Stander returning to South Africa in two years’ time, should Munster even be making signings like this, possibly stunting the development of Irish players? All opinions and feedback welcome.