'Big Joe' chats to Sport24

2013-10-09 11:07
Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok loose forward and current Toulon captain Joe van Niekerk talks about his French revolution, the standard of refereeing in the Top 14 and the funniest on-field incident...

Sport24 asked: To what do you attribute your rugby renaissance in France?

Joe van Niekerk: Embracing a new culture and a new way of life wholeheartedly. And playing with freedom and no added expectations. When I joined Toulon, for the first time in my career I felt the timing was spot on. The team was in need of uplifting and some positive energy; I arrived with no baggage and was able to light the fire. This has been an invigorating journey.

Sport24 asked: Has the captaincy also proved pivotal?

Joe van Niekerk: Yes, this that has been the key in my renaissance and I enjoy the added responsibility. It has brought out the best in me as a person and rugby player. I have loved every minute and it has reminded me that rugby is most certainly my passion.

Sport24 asked: You have made some positive changes in your life. Can you share some of these?

Joe van Niekerk: I’m not going to delve too deep into my personal life, but let’s just say that as human beings, I believe we need to be constantly reinventing ourselves - especially in terms of personal growth. Times of hardship make you look inward.

Sport24 asked: What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt from the oval game?

Joe van Niekerk: If you work hard and keep your head down things can happen. Self-belief is important as is really enjoying your rugby and being totally content with who you are as a person.

Sport24 asked: Fair to say that the pace of the French league is not up to South African standards?

Joe van Niekerk: The game is most certainly not as fast, but I believe this is not due to the calibre of players. Perhaps the refereeing is not of the same standard as there are only three professional referees in the league. However, some of the best players in the world rugby ply their trade here, so the league is extremely competitive.

Sport24 asked: Of the 52 Test matches you played for the Springboks, which stand out and why?

Joe van Niekerk: My first Test match and my 50th. Both days were highly emotional and I will hold those feelings close for life… I will forever have the Springbok imprinted in my heart.

Sport24 asked: What’s the most amusing incident you’ve experienced on the rugby field?

Joe van Niekerk: We had one of the biggest props I have ever seen weighing close to a 140kg in our side. He was effective for about ten minutes and then would begin to hit a wall of fatigue. In one game, he made a big run (amazing for a guy his size) and in the process tore his shorts. The referee stopped play and signalled for a new pair of shorts to be sent. As the physio ran on, one of the boys shouted: ‘That‘s a bed sheet not shorts!’ All the boys burst into laughter. Those are the biggest shorts I have ever seen. They must have been a size 50!

Sport24 asked: And finally, when you’re not chasing the oval ball around, how do you unwind?

Joe van Niekerk: The weather here (South of France) is great most of the year so the beach is a good spot to visit. I also love the port of Carquieranne... There’s a special restaurant La Reserve, which serves super food at great value.


Nick Mallett

Heyneke Meyer

Tiaan Strauss

John Mitchell

David Campese

Dean Furman

Heineken Cup holders Toulon tackle Glasgow Warriors in Round 1 this Sunday live on SuperSport.

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