DURBAN - From the days in his Junior Springbok jumper, there was always something quite special about the hulking ball-carrying centre that is Andre Esterhuizen. He could carry well, defend even better, and always make metres over the gain line.
As his career progressed and he became more a part of the senior Sharks set-up, a bit of evolution was needed as the big back was starting to get shut down with ball in hand. However, even with his form coming and going, he was always in line for a Bok call-up, eventually. However, a six-week ban for a dangerous tackle in April saw him slip from the minds of the national selectors.
Esterhuizen returned from his ban, played some good rugby, but then went away to have a stint in Japan where he admits he learnt a lot, especially about keeping the ball alive and making vital passes and offloads. With that new edge to his game, it was an inevitability that the No 12 from the Sharks would make Rassie Erasmus’ squad for June, especially after shining for the Durban team in the early rounds with his new-found skills.
So, it has been a good year for Esterhuizen, and he admits it himself that it has been an enjoyable year. “It has been an exciting year,” the centre said ahead of their clash with the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
“A good year for me and I am quite happy with the form I have shown lately. I am very fortunate to get a call up from the Boks. It was an exciting time for me and I learnt a lot there. I think it is going to help me at the Sharks as well, but it was a privilege to play for the Boks.”
Esterhuizen was one of a large contingent of Sharks selected for the Springboks in June. He joined 13 out of a possible starting 15 that saw some action in the green and gold. For Esterhuizen, there is a lot of value in that, especially returning to his franchise with some vital games left.
“We were almost about 13 of the 15 guys there at the Springboks and I think the whole team that was there learnt a lot and everyone is going to bring that back to the Sharks,” Esterhuizen explained. “All the individual stuff and all the team stuff, everything they learnt there they can show here.”
Esterhuizen was probably not the first choice No 12 for the Boks; that accolade belongs to his opponent from the Cape, Damian de Allende, but he admits that there was a big step-up felt in the time he got against those national teams in June.
“The biggest step up for me was to get myself mentally right for Test match rugby,” Esterhuizen said. “It is always going to be a bigger match than you have ever played before. It was a great experience, but a hard game, a lot different to Super Rugby.”