Jean Deysel’s friendly, down-to-earth personality somewhat precedes him, and upon first meeting the burly Sharks loose-forward, those genial traits are immediately identifiable
With a broad smile and a hearty “howzit”, the big man extends his hand and readily agrees to an interview despite the fact he’s just left the gym and a shower must seem far more appealing. Casually, we get chatting and the 2008 Absa Currie Cup player of the year starts to describe his early involvement in the game.
“I was born in Virginia in the Free State and I started rugby at a young age,” he says.
“From Grade 1 onwards, I played rugby throughout school. When I was growing up I always thought it would be great to play professional rugby but I really didn’t think I was going to take that path.
“I went to UJ (University of Johannesburg) after matric to study but I carried on playing rugby. Luckily it went well. I played for the Lions U20s, U21s and in the Vodacom Cup, it was a good start because they have a very good junior programme.”
The 23-year-old joined the Sharks towards the end of last year but as he explains, his “real Sharks season” only began at the beginning of this year.
“This year’s Super 14 was my first full season here and I was actually really surprised to play. Dick (Muir) and Plum (John Plumtree) gave me an opportunity to play off the bench, and although I had a shocker in my first game, I kept at it and got a bit more game time as a replacement. So that was incredible.”
Deysel really came into his own in this year’s Currie Cup campaign, playing in 11 games, starting 10 and earning a Man of the Match award as well as the Player of the Month accolade in August.
And so it is understandable that it is with a beaming smile that Deysel describes what the Currie Cup meant to him.
“This was also my first full Currie Cup season and it was just awesome, absolutely indescribable. Not just the final but the whole build-up.
“It was an amazing feeling to be part of the Sharks squad for this campaign. I still can’t find the words when I try to describe it.”
So what were his standout memories from the tournament?
“It must be when I played my first match against the Lions (in week six) after returning from my pre-season hand injury.
“It was awesome to be back after so long on the sidelines. That was very special, as was my first semifinal and final.”
Deysel broke his hand in a compulsory pre-season friendly against the Griffons and his presence as a big, ball-carrying loose forward was clearly missed during the first few rounds of the Currie Cup.
“To break my hand was a setback but it gave me some time to sit back and think about my game,” he explained. “Rugby is about 80% mental and I really got hungry for the game in the time off. When I came back I was far hungrier than ever before.”
Deysel admitted he loved fulfilling the role of a destructive ball-carrier.
“My main role in the Currie Cup was to carry the ball across the advantage line, but the opposition is so smart these days that unless you add extra elements to your game, they will very quickly work you out.
“So that’s the challenge for me, although I must admit that if I have the ball in my hands, I’m the happiest guy on the field.”
However, when he’s off the field, Deysel says he enjoys little more than simply heading down to the water’s edge to go fishing. “I really enjoy going fishing whenever I have time off.
“I love the outdoors. I enjoy playing golf, but fishing is definitely my No 1.”
“I enjoy country music a lot,” Deysel says when asked to describe his music-taste. “I have a country CD in my car right now.”
Turning our attention back to Deysel’s on-field preferences, the big man explains that he is intent on settling himself in the No 7 jersey.
“I played eighth man for most of my life, and you are perhaps a little more involved in the game in this position, but here at the Sharks I think we have the best No 8 in the country in Ryan (Kankowski). So I’m keen to settle rather at No 7, which I also really enjoy.”
Indeed, it was in this position that he shone for most of the Currie Cup, forming a great working relationship with fellow loose-forwards Jacques Botes, Ryan Kankowski and Keegan Daniel.
“Playing with those three guys was just awesome,” Deysel says. “The main thing about a loose-trio is that you have to complement each other and I think us four do that on a really high level.
“Jacques is always there, Ryan can run from everywhere and create something from nothing while with Keegan – you never know what’s going to happen, but it’s always something special,” he adds with a hearty laugh.
In fact, a broad smile and a friendly chuckle accompanies almost every answer the young man gives, especially when he explains how he has really taken to life in Durban.
“Coming from Virginia, I was never a guy for the city. I think there are about two street lights in Virginia, but having spent some time in Johannesburg, I find Durban is more like country life, it’s relaxed and that’s more for me.”
A smile is painted on his face as he explains what it means to him to receive the Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year award at a glittering ceremony in Johannesburg in November.
“I was really stoked to get that award, in the interview afterwards I could hardly speak I was so chuffed and it was just a great cherry on top for me. It also gives me a bit of a goal to work towards next year. It was just an amazing feeling.
“In the end, though, you just have to thank your team-mates for their role alongside you during the campaign as well.”
Deysel missed selection for the Springboks’ end-of-year tour. “I was a bit disappointed to miss out on selection but not really all that much,” he admits. But Sharks coach John Plumtree said earlier in the year: “Jean Deysel has Springbok written all over him”.
Indeed he does.Tweet