DURBAN – Franco Marais’ decision to put on hold his childhood dream of playing for the Sharks and move to the UK is because he ultimately could not turn down repeated offers from Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann, who highly rates the Sharks hooker.
Marais has signed a two-year contract with Gloucester and will move to the club at the end of the Sharks’ Super Rugby campaign.
Marais, who is still only 25, might also be boxing clever given that Ackermann is certain to return to South Arica to play a senior coaching role, possibly as coach of the Springboks.
“It was not an easy decision and I thought long and hard about it,” Marais said. “I was never one of those players hunting for a contract in the UK or France. I had always planned to stay in SA until my early 30s, playing for the Sharks.
“But a few things changed for me last year. When Johan Ackermann was coach of the SA A team that I played in against the French Barbarians last year, he asked me if I would be interested in playing for his club, Gloucester.
“I said I was settled at the Sharks but that I was flattered by the offer. My ambitions were to play for the Springboks but it has become clear to me that I am not in the Springbok plans despite me having what I believe was a very good Currie Cup last year,” Marais said.
Ackermann phoned Marais again this year and said his offer still stood.
“While my long-term plans had always been to stay at the Sharks and hope for a Bok chance, I have felt that I am stagnating and need to give my career a kick-start,” Marais said. “I am only 25 and while I have only a two-year contract with Gloucester, I am hopeful that doors will open and if I can stay there for five years, and have the opportunity to get a British passport for myself and my family.”
Marais said that he wanted to emphasise that he had never planned to leave the Sharks.
The offer came to me and I felt it was too good to turn down and it was flattering that a coach of the quality of Ackermann twice knocked on my door,” he said.
“Right now my biggest goal is to play my heart out for the Sharks and for the team to have a fantastic Super Rugby season. And my ultimate fantasy is to return to the Sharks one day and play out my career in Durban,” Marais said.
* In a statement the Sharks have said that they did their best to maintain the services of Franco Marais but regret that they were unable to do so.