Quality tighthead props are a scarce commodity in the world of rugby these days, so when a top No 3 like Patric Cilliers comes along, you want to make sure that you get the best out of him.
And the man himself says he has turned the disappointment of not making the Springbok squad for the England Test series into motivation that saw him produce his best rugby for the Lions, resulting in a Bok call-up from coach Heyneke Meyer for the two Rugby Championship Tests against Argentina.
The “Los Pumas” are known for their famous “Bajada” scrumming technique (where all eight forwards push towards the hooker instead of the props), but Cilliers is relishing the possibility of testing himself against Argentina in the opening match at Newlands next Saturday.
“I was in that 40-man squad that went to Durban, and then I got cut for the 30-man squad for the England Tests. I was disappointed, and it actually motivated me to train harder. You never know when you are going to be selected, and I took my chance and I was ready. Hopefully I am ready for the Argentinian game,” Cilliers said at a media briefing at the team hotel yesterday.
“Argentina do have a very good scrum. I actually played against that Pampas XV in the Vodacom Cup a few years ago, and I remembered that they were very tough up front.”
Despite turning only 25 this year, Cilliers has come through a tough journey into the Bok squad, with three serious knee injuries between 2007 and 2009 stalling his career. That eventually saw him leave his beloved Sharks in 2011, as he was unable to secure a spot in the team – with the likes of Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Eugene van Staden and Wiehahn Herbst at prop – for the Lions in Johannesburg.
Things starting turning around for him, as he anchored the Lions scrum to the Currie Cup title last year, where they beat Western Province in the semi-final and the Sharks in the final. “It was a very stressful decision for me to make – I’m a Natal born-and-bred guy – so to leave the Sharks was a huge decision. But it’s paid off, and I think it was the right decision, to get some gametime. Look where I am sitting now,” he reflected.
“I had three ops in the space of two years, and it was really tough coming back every time. That recovery and rehab process can take it out of you mentally, but I did stay focused, thanks to my family and friends who really motivated me and pushed me hard. I finally got here, and it’s another point to take it further.”
Cilliers could find himself on the Bok bench for the Argentina Test, as Meyer said at the squad announcement that the Lions No 3 is the only player in South Africa at the moment who can handle both sides of the scrum, due to injuries to Coenie Oosthuizen and CJ van der Linde. The Bok coach wants that versatility on the bench, which may see Cilliers get his chance next Saturday.
“Heyneke has spoken to me about that. I have played loosehead before. This year, I focused mostly on tighthead, but I played a little bit of loosehead last year for the Lions and the Sharks, so I can play on both sides. Hopefully we can get a little spot on the bench or something like that – you never know! I do prefer tighthead, as I have been playing there 90 percent of the time for the last two years,” Cilliers said.
“You can never stop learning as a prop, whether you are 30 or 23 or 25, like me.” – Cape Times