BLOEMFONTEIN – Chiliboy Ralepelle will make an emotional return to Test rugby on Saturday when he dons the No 16 jersey for the Springboks’ Rugby Championship Test against Australia here at Toyota Stadium.
It’ll be Ralepelle’s first taste of Test rugby since 2013 when he last played for the Boks, off the bench against Italy in June of that year.
He then moved to France to play for Toulon, but an out-of-competition drugs test found he’d used the anabolic steroid drostanolone, and he was banned for two years.
Ralepelle had his contract cancelled and he returned to South Africa, and was thrown a lifeline at the Sharks, where he has played for them since April of last year.
At 31, the former SA Under-21 captain feels he’s been given an opportunity to make up for lost time and opportunities.
“It’s like the first time,” said Ralepelle on Thursday after being picked among the replacements to take on the Wallabies here on Saturday. “I’m so looking forward to this great opportunity.
“It’s been a quite emotional week... but I know I must live the moment every day, and seize the opportunity on Saturday.”
He added he was hopeful that the chance to play Test rugby again would result in his extending his Bok career for a few more years.
“There are a lot of things out there that I can’t control, so I want to just focus on those things I can control. All I can do is trust in God, train hard and work hard, and hopefully get seen again and get chosen again.”
The drugs ban hit Ralepelle hard, but he said he has come out of it a better player and person.
“I was privileged to have worked with some of the best high-performance coaches in the world, and they helped me to get into the proper space, to gather myself again.
“They helped me put goals in place, and I’m thankful for the opportunity I got there and now here... to do what I love.
“Rugby has always been a part of me, it’s been my passion, and deep down, I knew I still had something to offer. I never wanted to walk away with ifs,” he said about putting the past behind him and focusing on the future and giving rugby at the highest level another go.
After the woes experienced against the All Blacks in Albany, the Boks have a big set-piece challenge ahead of them here this weekend.
Ralepelle said he’s confident things will be back to normal on Saturday.
“We worked hard this week. It was a matter of some missed communication last time, but we’ve worked on a turnaround strategy about how we want to execute, and now it comes down to us taking it to the field.”