Prop life chooses you, says Junior Bok captain Porthen

‘TOUCHING that ball, going into contact, making a couple of metres for the team, I love it,’ said Junior Springbok captain Zachary Porthen. BackpagePix

‘TOUCHING that ball, going into contact, making a couple of metres for the team, I love it,’ said Junior Springbok captain Zachary Porthen. BackpagePix

Published Jun 29, 2024


ZACHARY Porthen is not your typical tighthead prop.

In fact, he wasn’t a prop until he got to high school, having first played at No 8 in his formative years.

Now, he is about to lead his country into battle as the captain of the Junior Springboks at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in the Western Cape.

The Junior Boks open their tournament against Fiji at the Cape Town Stadium tonight (7pm kick-off), and Porthen follows in the footsteps of a number of Western Province players who have captained the SA Under-20 side over the last decade.

That list includes his predecessor Paul de Villiers, and before that, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (2022) – who made his senior Springbok debut just last weekend against Wales at Twickenham – Salmaan Moerat (2018), Ernst van Rhyn (2017) and Handré Pollard (2014).

Hailing from Strandfontein and then Plumstead, Porthen has come through Wynberg Boys’ High, where he captained their first team and was chosen as the WP and SA Schools skipper, before graduating to the SA Under-20 side last year.

“For me, this is a dream come true. Playing for the Junior Boks is one thing I’ve dreamed about, but captaining – having that pressure, or privilege actually, is something special,” Porthen told Independent Newspapers this week.

“Not many get to do that, so I get an opportunity now to help my team on a new level. I get to make a difference, and that’s what I’m about. I want to serve my players, my team, the coaches... I want to do the best that I can do for my country, so it’s very important to me.

“Since I was young, I went to the Newlands Rugby Stadium with my parents, and from Grade 2, I decided that I want to play for the Stormers.

“I’m actually contracted by Western Province, so my journey started at Wynberg Boys’ at a young age.

“I fell in love with it, and now I’m here today because of that love, that passion – it’s driven me to be who I am today.”

Porthen may be a big unit at 1.89m and 124kg, but he is so much more than just a powerful scrummager. Apart from playing No 8 initially, he also played first team water polo at school, and enjoys carrying the ball in the tight loose.

But he knows that his primary job is to get that right shoulder.

“I was always quickish, but I was a big boy. Some people say that being a prop is not something you choose, but the prop life chooses you! That’s actually what happened with me, and I love it,” Porthen said.

“Touching that ball, going into contact, making a couple of metres for the team, I love it. It actually gives you a joyous feeling – it energises you. Love it.

“(But) The biggest thing that gets a prop into a team is the scrumming. A prop needs to scrum, and that’s when I look to someone like Frans (Malherbe). Frans’ numbers, his stats, are outstanding. That’s almost something I want to achieve in my journey – I want to be known for that.

“I’m far from that at the moment. I know it’s a work-on, but I know I will get there because that’s all I want. I want to be a professional, I want to play for the Springboks – that’s what I’m aiming to do, and I will do it.”

JUNIOR Springbok captain Zachary Porthen (fifth from left) poses with the other skippers at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship. World Rugby

Porthen lists Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff, Eben Etzebeth and Bryan Habana as players he admires, adding that he has pictures with the latter three Boks as well.

But now it’s all about putting the heat on the Fiji scrum tonight as coach Bafana Nhleko’s Junior Boks try to emulate the class of 2012, who are the only SA side to have won the Under-20 Championship, which was also in Cape Town.

“We’ve been working on our set-piece, since Australia, for quite a while, we’ve actually been going really hard at it,” Porthen said.

“We know that Fiji will definitely not be a walkover; no team in the Junior World Cup will be a walkover: not up front, not with the backs, nothing.

“We definitely won’t underestimate them, but I trust that we will bring a lot in the scrums, line-outs... We’ve done the prep, and we will be ready.”

Junior Springbok Team

15 Michail Damon 14 Joel Leotlela 13 Jurenzo Julius 12 Joshua Boulle 11 Litelihle Bester 10 Liam Koen 9 Asad Moos 8 Tiaan Jacobs 7 Thabang Mphafi 6 Sibabalwe Mahashe 5 JF van Heerden 4 Bathobele Hlekani 3 Zachary Porthen (captain) 2 Luca Bakkes 1 Ruan Swart

Bench: 16 Juan Smal 17 Liyema Ntshanga 18 Casper Badenhorst 19 Keanu Coetsee 20 Divan Fuller 21 Ezekiel Ngobeni 22 Tylor Sefoor 23 Likhona Finca

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