DURBAN – The less than good news for Western Province is that a supremely fit Jean-Luc du Preez is to be unleashed on the Currie Cup final ... and the hulking flank says he has never felt stronger.
The 23-year-old underwent groin surgery not long after playing a starring role in the Springboks’ series win over England in June and over the last fortnight his comeback has been managed off the bench, in the Sharks’ final league match against Griquas and then the weekend’s semi-final against the Lions.
He is now set to start in a powerful loose trio, alongside his twin brother Dan at No 8 and Tyler Paul on the other flank, with the unlucky Jacques Vermeulen likely to lose out, although he will add quality off the bench.
A fighting fit Du Preez, though, is huge boost to a Sharks pack that aims to use its physicality as a weapon at Newlands. And he is in the mood to throw his 115kgs of brawn around, declaring himself in rude health.
“I came back early from rehab at seven weeks, rather than the (predicted) eight weeks. When I got back onto the field, I actually felt brilliant, I have never felt like this in about two years, I feel really good,” Du Preez said. “Fortunately we have one of the best biokineticists in the country in Jimmy Wright, which helped quite a bit.
“And my comeback was managed really well,” Du Preez continued. “After this type of injury, coming off the bench has been good for me because I have gradually made my way back — I got about 20 minutes in the first match, I got about thirty minutes last week, so it is really good to be back.”
All in all, he was out of rugby for three and half months and while he missed the Rugby Championship with the Springboks and most of the Currie Cup, his return has meant he is playing the Currie Cup matches that matter and then the Bok tour of the UK and France lies in wait.
“It is the business end of the season, being sidelined for so long was hardly ideal but fortunately we are in the final again this year and hopefully we can bring the Cup home,” Du Preez said.
This time last year, Jean-Luc and Dan were part of a Sharks team heavily favoured to beat the Province team boasting their older brother, Robert, but a year on it is the Sharks that are the underdogs.
“That loss in the final last year is probably in the back of all our minds,” Du Preez admitted. “Losing a home final is not nice, but we are fortunate to be in the final again this year, and another place that is almost as good as Kings Park is Newlands, so I am looking forward to the clash.”
Du Preez was still out when the Sharks lost 50-27 to Province in Cape Town last month but he says the squad learned valuable lessons.
“We can take a lot out of that defeat. We did not have a full 80-minute performance that day, nor did we last week against the Lions, so we are focussing on going the full 80 or the full 100 if that is what it takes.”
Jean-Luc's rise to the top
Jean-Luc du Preez’s climb to the top of the rugby ladder in South Africa could not have been more text book. He played two years of SA Schools (2012-2013) while at Kearsney College, then two years of SA Under-20 (2014-2015); in 2016 he played for the SA A side before graduating to the Springboks later that year. He has played 13 Tests for his country.