Joe van Niekerk will play in his 50th rugby Test match when South Africa take on Argentina in the Mandela Tribute match at Coca-Cola Park here on Saturday.
However, there were times when Big Joe did not have this milestone in his sights.
Whether the problems were caused by a move from Johannesburg to Cape Town, a busy social schedule, injuries or poor form is hard to say but the road to his half century took a number of turns.
It taught him to take nothing for granted and helped him decide to change his lifestyle and to return to Johannesburg, he says.
“It enabled me to play for the Springboks again after I had been down on the canvas,” Van Niekerk said here on Thursday.
For a long time, the idea of playing in 50 internationals was not in his sights.
Now, looking back, he says, “When you play in your first Test, you don’t really expect to reach 50.
“Every Test was remarkable. I find it just unbelievable that I have worn the Springbok jersey so many times when one considers that only a few more than 800 people have worn it.
Nearly lost to Springbok rugby
“My first Test was special, even though we lost to New Zealand, with Jonah Lomu and Anton Oliver in their team.
“A number of other Tests were also special. The one in Dunedin was certainly among them,” he says, referring to South Africa’s first victory at Carisbrook recently.
Liam Del Carme writes in Beeld that until then Van Niekerk had never been in a team that beat the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Van Niekerk was nearly lost to Springbok rugby when he signed a contract with Northampton last year.
However, the English club did not honour the agreement, citing Van Niekerk’s “medical record”.
“They had to find reasons not to comply with my contract,” he explains. “They had dropped one division and did not have enough money.”
The disappointment did not stop the Springbok from signing to play for a French club, Toulon, for a year.
“I’m looking forward to teaming up with (All Black) Jerry Collins. He’s a monster.”
Van Niekerk will remain available to play for South Africa. “I don’t know about the regulations but the way I understand it, players can be called upon for certain matches.
“If the call comes I’ll always be ready to play for the Springboks.”Tweet