Patric Cilliers has only just turned 21 and is already something of an enigma. The easy-going young prop really set the early rounds of the 2007 Currie Cup alight, before going down with a cruel knee injury while pulling off an outrageous sidestep against the Lions. After an intensive rehabilitation program, Pat is now back and we are very fortunate to have secured a few minutes of his time for a chat.
We asked Pat a little about where he comes from. “I grew up in the Northern Cape and that’s where I started playing rugby at a very young age; about 6 or 7” he tells us. “Then I moved to the Midlands, where I went on to High School at Michaelhouse.
“I’ve basically played in the front row my whole life – I played a little bit of number 8 in Standard 8, but that was just for about half the season.”
What made him decide to play at tighthead prop, one of the least glamorous and toughest positions there is? “I think I’ve always been more of a big-boned guy… at school, they always stuck me at prop. As for why I played tighthead, I’ve always gone to a smallish school and there always seemed to be a shortage at tigthead prop and I’ve just sort-of stuck there. I’ve enjoyed it.”
What about the less conventional aspects of his game? Pat certainly does a lot more with ball in hand than the majority of number 3’s out there. “I’ve always loved running with the ball and just getting involved – that’s a big part of playing rugby. I like to think my work rate is pretty high, although at the moment it’s pretty low because of my fitness. When I’m fit and running and all is good, I’m pretty mobile. “ he says.
So how did Pat progress from Michaelhouse to the Sharks? “First year out I joined the Academy; they offered me a junior contract with the Sharks. I played for Rovers for the first half [of the season] and for the second half I played for the Natal u19 side, which I captained. From there, Dick brought me into the Super 14 squad for the next year, but at first I didn’t play much rugby. I was mostly what they call ‘in the fridge’– a bulking up program where you just gym a lot and don’t train that much. From there I gained one Super 14 cap and then played Currie Cup. “
We asked him about going straight from under-19 rugby to the Super 14, without playing Currie Cup or Vodacom Cup in-between. “Obviously the step up is pretty huge,” he says. “The pace picks up a lot. I think it’s just like any other step – like when you play Under 16 and you look at the first team and you think you’re never going to be able to play at that level. There are many steps up in life that you just need to take.”
Pat told us that he’s running well again after the injury and things are looking good. We asked him about how he sees the rest of the season unfolding for him. “Well, the number 1 and number 2 tighthead props in South Africa are at the Sharks; I have got the toughest competition. But I’m coming back from injury. I’m in the Wildebeest squad now and played my first game back last weekend and I’m playing again now this weekend. So I’m just working my way back into things and I’m not expecting to play any Super 14 games this year. Hopefully for the Currie Cup I can start coming back into the scheme of things.”
Was he disappointed about not making the Sharks tour squad this year? “I knew when I was due back and it was actually just one game before the tour. My match fitness is still very average, so it wasn’t like I was disappointed not making the tour; I knew where I stood. Obviously my competition is very strong – it’s not just a team that you walk into. You have to perform every week to make the Sharks team nowadays. “
We spoke a little about the Wildebeest team: the challenges that the coaches face. Pat concedes, “if a player gets injured in the Sharks team, then a Wildebeest player will come up, but there might be niggles so they never know who’s going to play, so the Wildebeest coaches have a tough time to even just select a team for the weekend. As to how they’re going, they had a bit of a shaky start; they lost the first two games. Then Deon Carstens came back from injury, as well as Skipper Badenhorst. Obviously their captain Alistair Hargreaves is playing some good rugby as well. They won the last games and are on the up – sort of got one eye on the trophy now. I think we’ve got a really good side, lots of young guys. I think it should be exciting from here on in. “
And what of the new laws? “As far as the Super 14 new rules are concerned, I actually quite like them. I’m not so fond of the full ELV’s in the Vodacom cup, though. There’s basically no such thing as a ruck now. Sometimes it gets a bit scrappy. There’s no such thing as truck and trailer either and you can collapse the maul. I don’t agree with some of the rules, but I am enjoying more short-arms. The game has picked up and is even faster than last year. The game is obviously going to develop every year and it’s a step forward – a more entertaining game so far.”
Our final question was whether the new laws are going to change the role of the tighthead prop in any significant way. Pat doesn’t think so. “When the season started and no-one had played under these new rules, everyone said you’re going to need a lighter and more mobile pack. But we’ve had just as many scrums as last year and it’s been proven that the more dominating pack has dominated loose play as well. Props haven’t changed – a good scrummaging prop like BJ adds just as much this year as he did last year.”
Thanks to Pat for taking the time to chat to Sharksworld. We wish him all the best for the season ahead.Tweet