Just 10 months ago, Bulls flank Jacques Potgieter was sitting in the stands at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium cheering the Springboks to victory over the All Blacks.
Then, Potgieter was a 25-year-old Port Elizabeth boytjie playing rugby for the Eastern Province Kings and dreaming of playing Super Rugby and turning out for the Springboks.
Well, for the better part of this week Potgieter has been pinching himself, trying to separate a dream from reality.
On that day 10 months ago, Potgieter and his friends made a promise to watch every Springbok game played in Port Elizabeth.
Now he will truly live his dream when he makes his Springbok debut against England on Saturday
Potgieter’s approach to rugby is simple: he runs in where angels fear to tread and does so at high-octane speed, with no regard for life and limb.
His meteoric rise to the pinnacle of rugby has happened in the same year Potgieter made his Super Rugby debut for the Bulls – and it took only nine matches to convince Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer that he is worthy of the jersey.
Potgieter joined the Bulls in the middle of last year and played in the Currie Cup after being bought from Eastern Province.
“It has been a huge roller-coaster ride. Last year I was still playing First Division rugby and sitting in the stands. My friends said we should go and watch every Bok game. I said ‘ja, ja’ and we said next year we should watch a game together.
“It is just an amazing feeling and when we played in the Nations Cup for the SA Kings in Romania, that was the first time I sang the national anthem and that is when I said I can’t wait to play for the Boks. Obviously it was only a dream then but here I am,” said an upbeat Potgieter this week.
Potgieter, who was schooled at HTS Daniel Pienaar in Uitenhage, has often been likened to French international Sebastien Chabal – with his long black hair and a beard to match – but Potgieter has lived up to the comparison of having the power of Samson.
In his debut Super Rugby season, Potgieter was one of the outstanding players for the Bulls and when he was not making bone-crunching tackles and flying into rucks, then it was his powerful forays over the advantage line that made him one of the favourites at Loftus Versfeld.
While Potgieter was not expected to feature much in this year’s Super Rugby competition because of a healthy supply of loose forwards at the Bulls, he found himself being thrown in at the deep end when Deon Stegmann and Dewald Potgieter got injured in pre-season.
Potgieter has not looked back and his elevation to the Springbok starting line-up has now come through injury to Willem Alberts.
He has promised to grab the opportunity with both hands. “I think Willem had an amazing two games, he is an amazing player. It is going to be big boots to fill because he just bashed those England okes very hard. It won’t be easy but I am looking forward to the challenge.
“I always throw myself in front of anyone in front of me, I mean that is the way I play. I just see it as a challenge to be as effective as he (Alberts) was.
“He always got us over the advantage line to give our backs ball and that is what I will try to do,” Potgieter said.
There is a concern, though, about his battle readiness as he has not played in five weeks after injuring his knee during the Super Rugby season – but the Bulls man has laughed off suggestions that he might be a pace or two slower than his teammates and adversaries.
“If you don’t play for that long, you are really hungry to get hold of someone so I think if I see a white jersey it doesn’t matter if it is the ref who is wearing white, I am just going to go for it,” joked Potgieter.
Judging by how he has single-mindedly gone for his dream and lives it to the fullest in the past 10 months, there is no doubt this fairytale Springbok story is one that can only have a happy ending for a player who wears his heart on his sleeve.
And he does it all with a smile. – The Star