By Craig Lewis
After making his debut for the Sharks back in 2001, prop Deon Carstens has become one of the stalwarts of the Sharks’ esteemed front row and enjoyed a magnificent year with the coastal franchise in 2008.
Craig Lewis caught up with affable front-rower and got his thoughts on his time with the Sharks, what it felt like to win a trophy at long last, as well as his hopes and goals for the future.
Craig Lewis: What was your early involvement in rugby?
Deon Carstens: I started my playing career at Boland Landbouskool. It’s a very big rugby school, probably out of 250 pupils about 240 play rugby, so that’s how it all started. One of my early memories of rugby and what made me want to play professionally, was when I went to watch the 1995 World Cup and saw England play New Zealand at Newlands. After watching that amazing match there was nothing else that I wanted to do besides play professional rugby.
CL: And you made your debut for the Sharks in 2001?
DC: Yes, I was at Stellenbosch and I was then called up to a trial game, when a gap opened up for me, Rudolf Straeuli gave me my first contract with the Sharks. My first match was against the Highlanders and at that stage they had some pretty mean players, so it was a great game and then we played the Hurricanes after that, so it was an amazing start to my career!
CL: What are your memories of making your Springbok debut at the end of 2002?
DC: Well that was quite a bit different. Whereas I had a very sweet Sharks debut, it was a bitter day when the Boks lost badly to Scotland and then also to England. When I look back at it now, I think it made me a better rugby player because I had to pick myself up after that.
CL: You were then out of the Bok set-up for around four years, was that a difficult time for you?
DC: Well ja, my form did take a bit of a dip and that happens. Then Balie Swart moved me to loosehead prop and told me to play Vodacom Cup and start all over again. So at 25 and after having already played for the Boks I basically had to start things over again, I’m not going to lie and say it was the happiest time of my life, but at the end I’m just grateful for what happened and now I’m playing loosehead and loving it.
CL: And injuries also played their part in hampering your progress to some degree didn’t they?
DC: Well I was lucky that my first big injury only happened last year when I injured my shoulder, I lost a lot of the nerves in my right arm and it got quite a lot weaker. But it’s all coming back and feeling good now.
CL: What are your memories of the 2007 Super 14 campaign?
DC: Well it was a tremendous team that we had and there were a lot of similar aspects between that team and this year’s Currie Cup side. There was a great team ethic and many great players, with lots of great leaders and motivators.
CL: Have you now somewhat come down off the Currie Cup high?
DC: Well for me, the relief of winning a trophy at long last was just indescribable. To finally win a trophy after eight years with the union was such a weight off my shoulders, but I’m still thinking back and smiling when I wake up and know it’s true.
CL: What are some of the other standout memories from the Currie Cup?
DC: Keegan Daniel’s incredible solo try against the Blue Bulls (at the beginning of September) for sure. That win in Durban as well as beating Western Province down in Cape Town was special. I think a real turning point in the campaign also came about when Keegan scored that match-winning try against the Lions (in week six). Those were definitely some key moments to me.
CL: Personally, the Sharks have such depth in the front row, is it sometimes a bit tough trying to secure yourself a starting berth?
DC: Well I think it’s actually part of the reason I’ve been able to get my game back on track because there are lots of good players in each position and you have to play to your potential or you will get left out. It’s definitely a motivating factor!
CL: What are some of your short- and long-term plans?
DC: Ideally I’d like to finish my career at the Sharks, but that’s in the perfect world. I certainly want to stay here, but the trend for rugby players is to generally go overseas at some stage because it can make life a bit easier financially. But I have another year left on my contract so we’ll see. Hopefully I can extend that.
CL: What did you make of John Plumtree’s influence this season?
DC: He and Dick (Muir) were a good coaching team, but Plum brings a different aspect to the team, his approach has been fresh and he is a family-orientated person and he brought that feeling to the team.
CL: How do you feel John Smit played at tighthead against Wales last month?
DC: I think he did well. It was his first test in that position, but John is a great player so it could be a good option. He is also such a tremendous hooker, though, so we’ll have to see what happens.
CL: What ambitions do you have of playing for the Boks?
DC: You know I would not be playing if I did not still have ambitions to play for the Boks. At the moment it seems to be in the distance and I’m a bit far down in the pecking order, but I will just keep doing my bit and hopefully a gap will come up in the future. If it doesn’t, though, then I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
CL: At age 29, do you think you could still be reaching the pinnacle of your career?
DC: I would hope so, many props only reach their potential when they are over 30. I want to spend my golden years in Natal and enjoy it, but that’s not for me to decide.
CL: Do you have any superstitions or hobbies?
DC: No superstitions but my hobby is to play poker at Craig Davidson’s house once a month and while I love playing golf, I can’t say I can play golf.
CL: What music do you enjoy?
DC: My music taste is by far the most bizarre in the world. I have classical music, Marilyn Manson, Afrikaans music, a bit of everything.
CL: What is your life motto?
DC: To accept the things I cannot change, to have the courage to change what I can.Tweet