at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Cape Town - Joburg housemates Pat Cilliers and Michael Rhodes have enthusiastically packed up the last of their belongings and they’re headed for Cape Town to link up with their new Stormers teammates.
“It was very tough leaving the Lions because I really made Joburg my home,” Cilliers told the Cape Argus on Tuesday. “But now that’s done and dusted, I’m very excited about moving to Cape Town, improving my career and improving as a player, and I’d love to see myself playing for Western Province for the next five years.”
This is the second time that Cilliers, 25, and Rhodes, 24, are moving digs together.
The Michaelhouse old boys shared a fridge in Durban between 2006 and 2010 - while on duty with the Sharks - and they bubble-wrapped the foosball table for the trip to Joburg when they joined the Lions last year.
The Lions’ relegation from Super Rugby in 2013 prompted the duo to explore alternative employment opportunities and Western Province jumped at the chance to sign them up.
“It’s great for us,” said WP and Stormers forwards coach Matt Proudfoot. “It gives us depth to our front row and our tight forwards, and that’s what we really needed.”
Cilliers and Rhodes’ transition to a new team and a new city will be helped along by the fact that three other former Lions have also agreed to terms with Western Province.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies, utility back Jaco Taute (both on one-year loan deals) and lock Ruan Botha will also call Cape Town their home in 2013.
“That does make it easier,” said Rhodes. “It’s nice to move down when you know one or two guys, but three of the guys (Cilliers, Jantjies, Taute) will be on Springbok duty, so I won’t have them here to start with.”
The ball-carrying blindside flanker will have to wait until pre-season training begins on November 26 to meet the Stormers, while the Bok trio will rub shoulders with the contingent of four Province players selected for the tour of Ireland, Scotland and England later this month.
“Having made the Bok squad and meeting the guys earlier this year, I’ve really got on well with Jean (de Villiers) and Juan (de Jongh), so that also makes it easier,” said Cilliers.
“We recruited very smartly,” added Proudfoot. “We looked at the individual, not based on his technical ability, but on the people they are.
“We did a lot of homework on the forwards, a lot of background checking on them. A player like Michael Rhodes has a phenomenal work ethic and that was important to us.
“They had to have characteristics that were important to us, because those are qualities that don’t come from players who think they are individuals, they know the team comes first and they’ll have to contribute.”
Cilliers’ attitude resonates with this line of thinking. “I’m definitely going to serve the team,” said the Bok tighthead prop.
“I’m a huge team player, I know I’ve got a role to play, and I’m excited about taking on the challenges that lie ahead.”
A rickety scrum was the glaring chink in the Stormers’ armour earlier this year and if Cilliers is able to consistently anchor the set piece in 2013, the Currie Cup may have to scoot over to make way for the Super Rugby trophy in the Newlands cabinet.
“That’s a challenge I’ll take up with both arms,” he said. “The Stormers and Western Province have taken a lot of flak for their front row, but Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe really put their hands up this year. For their age they’ve got a huge amount of potential.”
Rhodes is looking forward to slipstreaming in his new team’s building momentum.
“They’ve been the top side in the country for the last three or four years, and winning a trophy will have settled the nerves and take the monkey off their back,” he said.
“It’s going to be great having the chance to play with umpteen number of Springboks and some very exciting youngsters in a good coaching set-up, and one of the best and well-supported franchises in South Africa. “And living in Cape Town doesn’t hurt either.”