JOHANNESBURG - Big Coenie Oosthuizen reckons his television took a hammering during his beloved Boks’ victory over the All Blacks in Wellington two weeks ago.
Oosthuizen, or “Shrek” to his teammates at the Sharks and the Boks, last week made his comeback to rugby in the Sharks’ Currie Cup win over the Lions after 10 months of injury. He is one of rugby’s enduring characters and in the best traditions of tighthead props, he loves to voice a colourful opinion.
“Watching the Boks is exactly the same for rugby players as it is for supporters. You shout at the TV just like anybody else, and you feel the same pride and emotion when they win,” he says before adding with a grin: “But the luxury of being player is that you can personally congratulate the guys straight after the game. So you send: ‘Well done you beast!’ or ‘Yus, you played like an animal!’ Otherwise it is all the same.”
The 29-year-old Oosthuizen is a veteran of 30 Tests and has explored the triumphant heights and despairing depths that are the reality of life in the green and gold. He knows how powerful a social tool the Springboks can be.
“A great Springbok win changes everything in our country,” he says. “It lifts moods, puts a smile on the nation’s face; it changes the whole perspective of our rugby. It is amazing what the Boks can do for this country. I was so proud of the boys ...” he says, almost mustering a tear.
Oosthuizen, of course, knows all about rugby and emotion. He had neck injuries that almost ended his career, and over the last year he can testify that bad luck indeed strikes in threes.
“That horrible knee injury against Ireland last November ... well it is bigger than that. Let me start at the beginning,” he says, winding himself up for a yarn. “I broke my rib against Argentina in August last year. I sat out a week, then played against Australia and broke my arm, although I did not know it was broken at the time. I came off and went back on again. I can’t take the credit for being courageous ... I didn’t know!
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Im finally back on the field this upcoming weekend. Thanks for all the support the past 10 months and a special thanks to my amazing wife @christi_oosthuizen who has been there through it all, I love you and little baba so much.
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“So the arm kept me out of rugby for six weeks, and then two minutes into the November tour, against Ireland, I received the ball and went over my knee at the same time. It made two clicking sounds, so I immediately knew I was in big trouble.”
Some might have considered packing it in but Oosthuizen says that after a period of self-pity he changed his mindset. He admits, though, that he has had his periods of frustration.
“Yes you ask yourself the question: ‘Why me?', but then you reflect and ask 'why not me?' I have been through it all, injury-wise. I have done it all yet I always come back from injury, I know how to do it. So that was my positive mindset,” he said.
“Training for 10 months was mindbogglingly irritating. It is so annoying when you can’t vent your frustrations by running into somebody on the rugby field. That is the bonus of being a rugby player! But the rehab has been brilliant ... the Sharks have the best rehab expert in South Africa in Jimmy Wright. I am super fit.”
Big and tough as he may be, Oosthuizen was understandably anxious before taking the field against the Lions. “I was so nervous. I was trying hard to forget about my knee ... then you make your first tackle and you realise nothing has gone wrong, and you feel phenomenal.
“Playing again is so much fun it almost makes up for the frustration,” he points out. “I feel like I am starting my professional rugby career all over again. You treasure and look forward to every minute of playing time when you are starting from scratch."
His next game time will be at Newlands on Saturday against Western Province in what is shaping up to be the biggest showdown in the Currie Cup thus far. Both teams are unbeaten.
“Province have a fantastic team. If you think there is no pressure going into a game like this, you are in the wrong job,” Oosthuizen says. “There is always pressure for the individual and the team to give their best. It is all about winning. That is our job for the week. You are only as good as your last game. I know that each and every Sharks player wants to win this game. In fact, we want to go unbeaten this season.”