Former NWU Pukke hold Currie Cup high
The work-horse, the pharmacist and the little lad from Lichtenburg.
Or Franco van der Merwe, Deon van Rensburg and Michael Bondesio, three former NWU Pukke who helped the Golden Lions won their first Currie Cup title since 1999 on Saturday 29 October.
Deon van Rensburg.
Under the direction of the dynamic Kiwi coach, John Mitchell, the Lions beat a star-studded Sharks team, with 15 Springboks in their team of 22 as well as the French fly-half, Frederic Michalak, and had thousands of Lions supporters euphoric with the final score of 42-16.
These three players, who played lock, wing and scrumhalf respectively against the Sharks, represented the NWU as U/19 youngsters before they moved on from the first team to the Leopards and then to the Lions.
Although Van der Merwe and Van Rensburg were regular players in the Lions’ starting team, Bondesio had to play second fiddle to Jano Vermaak.
However, in the middle of the season the latter accepted an offer from the Blue Bulls to play on the other side of the Jukskei next season, and Mitchell gave him the boot there and then, which paved the way for Bondesio. The rest, as is engraved on Sir Donald Currie’s cup, is history.
"It is very nice and a good reward for hard work. I never thought I’d be lifting the Currie Cup. Up till halfway through the competition we didn’t think we could win it, but when we started preparing for the semi-final (against WP), we realised it’s now becoming a reality. Our motivation was huge,” said Van Rensburg, who completed his Pharmacy master’s degree at the NWU Puk.
"All thanks must firstly go to the Lord who gave us the talent. John (Mitchell) brought in the right structures and every guy knew exactly what was expected of him."
For the former learner of HTS Potchefstroom the joy was so much more because he could share it with a 1,98 m giant from Hartswater.
"Franco and I are very good friends and we come a long way. It was something special to celebrate the victory with him. Last year Michael was still with the Leopards and I don’t think he quite expected things to move so quickly. It’s also a compliment for all his hard work.”
According to him the Lions’ luck started turning on their Australasian leg of the Super 15 tournament.
"From our overseas tour this year during the Super 15 series we started to move closer together as a team and we became a unit. One could see on the field that there was a brotherhood. No team can win if there is no comradeship between the players.”
He was also full of praise for his coach, who is rapidly gaining legend status since he made Johannesburg his home.
"With John you know where you stand. He is strict and set on discipline, but also very value-driven. He has goals that he wants to achieve and if something bothers him, it’s quickly addressed."
However, thunderclouds threatened to hang the Lions after their 53-9 defeat against the Sharks in Durban when their Springboks returned after the World Cup. Before this game the Lions won ten of their 13 Currie Cup games.
"We were not worried at all. Many of our senior players were given a chance to rest, that’s why the final score didn’t mean much. When we went to the changing rooms after the match, we said to ourselves: ‘It’s over’. We immediately started to focus on the next game.”
The 29 year-old lightning bolt, who celebrates his third decade on 24 January, agrees that the Lions can emulate their Currie Cup success in next year’s Super Rugby competition.
"You must enjoy what you do and rugby is still my passion. It’s all about whom you play with and with the Lions we have an unbelievable group of guys. I still have a contract of two years with the Lions that expires at the end of 2013, so until then I’m looking forward to achieve a lot together with the Lions. We still have a point to prove in Super Rugby and we know we can do it.”
According to the rugby manager of the NWU Puk, Mervyn Taylor, the university is very proud of these three products of the rugby institute.
"All three these guys worked very hard to be where they are today and they deserve everything that comes their way. It’s very nice to see how they progress and we are very proud of them.”