PRETORIA - There have been many great locks of South African rugby that have come out of the kraal at Loftus Versfeld - Louis Moolman, Frik du Preez, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
The lock conveyer belt in Pretoria shows no signs of slowing down with the likes of RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins on the cusp of making names for themselves.
But they are not the only ones chasing silverware and greatness at Loftus with the young Ruben van Heerden also eyeing the Bulls No 5 jersey.
Having starred in last year’s Currie Cup, where he played in all of the Blue Bulls matches, the 20-year-old Van Heerden is biding his time and learning as much as he can from those ahead of him in the pecking order, especially from Springbok lock Lood de Jager and to a lesser extent Snyman and Jenkins.
“I think you grow a lot as a player with as much game time as you can get is valuable. There are things that you learn in a game that you can’t pick up on the training field. As a player you grow and mature, it was a priceless season,” said Van Heerden of his breakthrough season last year.
While Van Heerden will indeed have to patiently wait for his moment to play Super Rugby with De Jager, Snyman and Jenkins in the front of the queue for places in the second row, the Junior Springbok lock has made no secret of his ambition to catapult his more experienced teammates.
And the irony of it all has not escaped Van Heerden with the rest of the locks in the team being friends and mentors but at the same time adversaries as they compete for the same positions in the team.
“I think it is a good thing. Yes, there is competition but I’m not going to lie to myself. I’m still young, I’m 20 years old and these guys have been through a couple of seasons and they have been playing Super Rugby,” Van Heerden said.
"I try to learn as much as I can from a guy like Lood, RG and Jason as well and grow as a player. I also focus on myself and I don’t look at other guys and focus on them. We are blessed at the Bulls with a lot of depth in the locks."
Ready to get 'rough and dirty'
What will surely set Van Heerden apart from the other locks at Loftus is how similar he is to Matfield.
Standing 2m tall and weight 112kg, there is a lot about Van Heerden’s physique that is Matfield. But it is his ability to get rough and dirty, while showing the skills of a backline player where Van Heerden differs from Matfield.
Strangely enough Van Heerden sees himself more as an athlete than a rugby player.
“I admired Matfield a lot and I think he was the best ever. I don’t think there has been a five lock as good as him. Growing up was a much more bulkier kid and as I grew older I started leaning out more and became more leaner. I started focusing on becoming more athletic,” Van Heerden added.
"A lot of my role models aren’t even rugby players. Look at a guy like Anthony Joshua, the world heavyweight boxing champion, and I just admire his athleticism. I watch videos of how he trains and I try to imitate that. If I look at rugby players growing up I liked a guy like Marcel Coetzee who was mobile, Willem Alberts who was a bit bulkier but lock wise, obviously Bakkies and Matfield."
And while Van Heerden’s choice in music, he loves Michael Buble, Josh Groban and Chris de Burgh, and his obsession with being an athlete rather than a rugby player is nothing compared to what Moolman, Du Preez, Botha and to a lesser extent Matfield would have thought of the game. Van Heerden has those undeniable traits that have made Moolman, Du Preez, Matfield and Botha legends and it is only a matter of time before he adds his name to that illustrious lists of great locks.