Springbok alignment camp: Sticking to his guns pays off for Neethling Fouche

Stormers prop Neethling Fouche with the ball

File. Stormers prop Neethling Fouché was earlier this week included in the first Springbok alignment camp of the year at the age of 31. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency ( ANA)

Published Feb 25, 2024


From an always-injured junior rugby player to a first Springbok alignment camp call-up at the age of 31, was not how Stormers prop Neethling Fouche had envisioned his rugby career progressing.

But looking back at all the hard work he has put in, and overcoming the doubts he had when he was younger, the tighthead prop is happy and relieved that he stuck to his guns when the going was tough.

Fouché, one of the stalwarts at the Stormers, was an injury-plagued junior player whose career could not take flight when he was fresh out of school.

“I felt like I didn’t reach the potential I knew I could in those few seasons after school. And it felt like I was not ever going to get there.

More on the physio table than on the rugby field

“All I asked for was to reach my potential and with that I would be happy,” Fouché told Independent Newspapers.

“A lot of people back then asked me ‘where are you, are you still playing rugby?’ I always said I was injured. I was more on the physiotherapist’s bed than on the rugby field. My uncle back then also asked when he would see me on TV and I always answered, ‘I hope I can play on TV.’”

Ever since he moved to Cape Town, and found his feet first at Maties Rugby Club and then at Western Province and the Stormers, he has slowly but surely dug his boots into the ground, scrummed, and worked his way to the top.

And although double World Cup winner Frans Malherbe is the incumbent for the Cape side, Fouché still grabbed every chance he could over the past couple of seasons to make his mark.

It has now been rewarded by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, with Fouché, along with 10 other Stormers players, receiving an invite to the alignment camp set for the first week of March.

“It’s just an absolute honour to read your name among those big Springbok names,” the prop said about his inclusion in the camp.

“It still feels as if I am dreaming a bit. I was really emotional and my wife Janca and I just took a moment to be grateful for this. There were a couple of years when I thought something like this was not in the plans for me.

“But at the same time, I also realise this is the first camp of a few and a lot of water needs to run under the bridge. I will continue to work hard. This is a step in the right direction.”

Eternally grateful

The stand-in captain of the Stormers says he is eternally grateful to head coach John Dobson, his assistants Rito Hlungwani and Dawie Snyman, and the rest of the management at the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC) winning side.

“I told Dobbo (Dobson) the other day, the Stormers are my adopted family. Now, I see myself as a son of the Western Cape, although I am not from here or have been to school here. I am proud to say I am a Stormer.

“To be part of this select group that can play for the team, it’s special. This is the vehicle that gets you to the top level.

“Yes, there is a big responsibility on our shoulders, but it remains a privilege to play for our families, and the entire Western and Southern Cape.”