Branco Blitzbok superman
It’s the first exercise Du Preez hits when their conditioning coach isn’t patrolling the floor. And it’s probably on that very bench that the 29-year-old clears his head, or gets his head in the game for the next challenge.
If that’s the case, and if he’s done that in this week, you’d be forgiven for the thinking that Du Preez’s looming milestone has been dominating his thoughts during bench time.
It’s almost expected.
Du Preez will today play in his 70th World Sevens Series tournament, the most by any Springbok Sevens player in history, overtaking Kyle Brown’s record of 69 tournament appearances.
But as massive as the individual milestone may be, coach Neil Powell points out the Du Preez he knows won’t be too focused on his personal achievement: “Branco will be the first to tell you it is not about accolades, but about contributing to the team, so it is pleasing that he can claim a personal milestone such as this one. He is one of the best examples of what this team stands for and this is just reward for a very humble person.”
And Powell is dead right.
When I spoke to the Harmony Academy product ahead of the penultimate event of the 2018/19 season, “team” was the word before the emotions accompanying his individual feat were even mentioned.
He chose to focus on what he could contribute to the team at Twickenham as they aim to retain their top-four spot on the standings to gain automatic qualification to next year’s Olympic Games in Japan.
Maybe it’s that attitude that has helped him. After all, this isn’t Du Preez’s first record.
He has played 350 matches, the most by any Blitzbok, and has scored the most conversions (398).
And as with many a big career, it hasn’t always been easy.
Sitting at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport ahead of their departure, Du Preez explained how tough it was for him as a young player – after making his debut back in 2010 – to spend so much time away from home.
“It’s tough spending so much time on the road, but that makes it even more special when you do see your family and you get to enjoy that time,” he said.
Du Preez went on to explain that it’s hard work, hard lessons and a willing attitude over the years, especially at the start, that helped mould him as not only a player, but also as a person.
He made a special mention of former Blitzboks coach Paul Treu and the role he played in his development.
“At one stage I thought ‘ek moet maar die besigheid los’,” he said with a grin. “At times I felt that he had been hard on me. It was tough, but I decided to push through. And looking back, it helped me in many ways. It helped me become who I am.”
Many things in the sport have changed over the years and Du Preez, as a player who’s been around for quite some time, would be able to tell you that.
The George-born player mentioned how team dynamics have changed over the years, how it changed from back when newcomers or younger players had limited say to the more open platform it is today. He also spoke about how the game of Sevens itself has changed, how interest in the sport has grown and the fact that he’d like to play some Fifteens again, although he’s focused on Sevens for now.
He went over how he prefers a laid back braai over a night out, his family’s affinity for sport, the fact that he’s a dog person, that Las Vegas is his favourite stop on the circuit and how he reckons he would have made a decent cricketer.
But what he did not mention is the role he plays in this team, the role he’s played for the Blitzboks over many years. He didn’t mention the contributions he’s made.
Today will be testament to that, though. When he runs out at Twickenham, his 70th tournament will be testament to that role he’s played.
Until now, it’s been a big one, and if he continues on this path, this surely won’t be his last record.