Franco Marais has come through the ranks at the Sharks. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
DURBAN – Almost unnoticed, Franco Marais has entrenched himself as the successor to his schoolboy hero, Bismarck du Plessis, in the Sharks front row.

There is nothing flashy about the hooker’s play, but it is difficult to find a player in the Sharks team with a higher work-rate.

“I give it my all on the field and try to be everywhere because I don’t have the physique of a Bismarck,” he grins.

“I like doing the hard yards. I have done them my whole life since growing up in Vanderbijl Park (a less than fashionable area near Johannesburg). It is almost as rough as where André Esterhuizen comes from,” he laughs, pointing to the rugged centre, who hails from Klerksdorp.

Marais went to humble rugby school Transvalia and his family were fierce Sharks supporters (“It broke my heart when the Sharks lost to the Bulls in the Super 12 final in 2007”).

There was no Craven Week for him. Instead he headed to Durban as a paying customer at the Sharks Academy. He played club Under-21 rugby for Harlequins on the Bluff, where former Natal and London Harlequins coach Andy Keast recognised his potential.

“Andy was the biggest influence on my career, and he and Ettienne Fynn (of the Sharks Academy) persuaded me to change from flank to hooker because I would get more opportunities in that position.”

Marais almost literally threw everything into becoming the best hooker he could be.

“Every day I threw 100 balls at the tyres we have as targets at the Academy, and I had a notebook in which I recorded what I had done in training each day,” he reflects.

“Slowly I climbed the ladder through the U-19 and U-21 ranks before my first reward, which was a game for the SA Under-20 team,” the 24-year-old said.

He came to Durban in 2011 and climbed every rung of the ladder: Under-21 club rugby, senior club rugby, the Sharks age-groups, Vodacom Cup, Currie Cup and then finally Super Rugby.

“It was a hard slog, but I would not have it any other way because it has made me appreciate it all the more,” he said. “Every time I put on that jersey, I play my heart out.”

Only in his third year at the Sharks Academy did he get a contract.

“It would be an honour to fill the void of Bismarck. He, Butch James and John Smit were my heroes. Chiliboy (Ralepelle) is pushing me hard, so there is no comfort zone for me,” he added.

“The competition for places in the pack is why we are playing so well. Nobody is taking anything for granted. We have three very good locks in Etienne Oosthuizen, Ruan Botha and Stephan Lewies, and none of them want to sit out. It is the same in all the positions.”

The Sharks’ last game was an arm wrestle upfront with the tough Jaguares pack, and while the home team were pleased to get the win, Marais says the goal had been five points.

“Somewhere along the line we have to start getting bonus-point wins,” he said. “They are going to be crucial in the long run. This morning, the forwards spoke about going up a level (against the Rebels on Saturday night),” Marais said.

“We want to be one of the top three packs in Super Rugby, so you are going to see greater intensity from us this weekend.”

The Mercury

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