After predominantly fulfilling a vital role providing depth at flank for the Sharks in 2006 and 2007, Keegan Daniel really came of age this year, impressing in the Super 14 and starring in the Currie Cup.
Craig Lewis caught up with the former South African U21 player of the year and, among other things, got his take on 2008 and found out what his plans are for the future.
Craig Lewis: Where were you schooled and what was your early involvement in the game?
Keegan Daniel: Well I was born in Humansdorp, I went to Gonubie Primary and then to Dale College. I was always involved in rugby and it was just part and parcel of growing up. I played Craven Week for the Border rugby team in 2003 and I then applied to come to the Sharks Academy of my own accord, I was just a regular bloke who wanted to give rugby a shot.
CL: And how was your time at the Academy?
KD: It was definitely one of the best investments I have made in my career. I learned so much about the game and for me it was certainly the best move I could have made.
CL: 2006 was obviously a big year for you, being named the SA U21 player of the year and debuting for the Sharks, do you remember 2006 fondly?
KD: Ja, it was a great year. I’d just started playing at U21 level the year before, I also played for the Wildebeest, in the Super 14 and in the Currie Cup that year. It was a truly phenomenal time.
CL: What are some of your memories from making your Super 14 and Currie Cup debut in 2006?
KD: I played Super 14 before Currie Cup so it was a bit weird. I’ll never forget my name being announced in the team, I never expected it and no one had told me anything so it was incredible. Suddenly I was playing alongside legends of the game, it was great.
CL: After such a successful year in 2006, how would you describe 2007?
KD: I think I can sum up 2007 as a year of frustration for me. There was a lot of competition for a position in the team and game-time was far and few between. I became frustrated with myself and that reflected in the way I played. It certainly wasn’t my greatest year, but it was a year in which I matured and learned a lot about myself.
CL: However, you then had an incredible Super 14 campaign this year, forcing your way back into the starting line-up, how would you describe that tournament for you?
KD: Ja, I got a lot more starts than I expected. You always aim to be in the starting line-up and surprisingly enough I got quite a few starts in the Super 14 this year and I really relished the opportunity. It was a really enjoyable experience and then moving into the Currie Cup, a position opened up with Ryan (Kankowski) being involved with the Springboks and then being injured, so it was a big opportunity and it turned out to be a fantastic season. Then ending off the year with a Currie Cup win after a 12-year drought was just phenomenal.
CL: After making the Super 14 play-offs for the last two years and now having won the Currie Cup, do you think it’s fair to say that the Sharks have established themselves as the leading team in the country?
KD: Ja, I think it would be a fair comment. Over the past couple of years, the guys have really proved that we can beat big sides both at home and away. I think we are one of the better touring sides and we have shown that. I’d like to think that we’ve pushed ourselves to the top of the ladder here in South Africa as a whole.
CL: Personally, what are some of the goals you have set yourself looking ahead?
KD: 2009 is obviously a new season, a different season and you can’t look back on past performances. I think consistency will be key for me and just to bring what I can to the team. Like I said, I think I learned a lot in 2007 about how to handle myself in certain situations and I have somewhat matured as a player. So personally I’d just like to be involved in the team week in and week out and cement a spot in the starting line-up. However, it’s now all about the squad and team dynamics, some days I’ll have to be on the bench or not even in the match-day 22. As a team we definitely want to bring back some silverware in 2009.
CL: After such a successful year, the bar has been set, do you think there will be a lot of expectation on the team in 2009?
KD: Oh ja definitely. I think lots of people will be expecting top performances from the team and they’ll want results. It does add a lot of pressure but most guys in the team have played quite a lot of Super 14 now and they know what it’s about and they can handle the pressure. There will be expectations, but you can never be at your absolute best every week.
CL: You’ve obviously worked very well with Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes and Jean Deysel in the loose-trio during the Currie Cup in particular, how have you enjoyed playing with them?
KD: I think it’s a vital combination that you have to get right. You can’t have three of the exact same players in the loose-trio. We all bring something different to the party and that combination really worked well for us this year. You need to let the loose-trio settle and mature and I think that happened successfully during the Currie Cup.
CL: Certain critics have suggested that you and Jacques Botes cannot successfully start together on the flank because you are similar in stature and neither of you is an out and out ball-carrier. What is your take on that?
KD: Well I really think each of us brings something different to the team. We might be similar in certain aspects, but we’ve played together throughout the Currie Cup and have played a lot of Super 14 games together. During that time I don’t think we’ve given anyone any reason to think we can’t play together.
CL: Looking to the Springboks, have you set yourself a goal for when you’d like to break into the team?
KD: To be honest I haven’t sat down and given it a whole lot of thought. I’ve got another two years left at the Sharks and I think if you just focus on the steps ahead of you, then the steps above it will come naturally. If the Sharks perform well it really just gives the players within the team a better opportunity to be selected. Springbok selection is also something that is completely out of your control and you’ve just got to do what you can do best, if it happens it happens, but for now I’m just focused on doing well with the Sharks.
CL: Would you ever consider going overseas at some stage in your career?
KD: Well it’s something that’s definitely not at the back of my mind at the moment and I’m not considering it at this stage of my career. However, I will be 25 after my two years are up with the Sharks and then we’ll just see how things are going at that stage, you never know what can happen.
CL: What do you do to relax?
KD: I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend, I also enjoy playing a good game of golf now and then. However, I wouldn’t say I have any specific hobby or anything like that.
CL: What kind of music do you enjoy?
KD: I’m all over the place, I enjoy lots of different types of music, there’s nothing specific that I listen to.
CL: Who are some of your favourite players?
KD: I admired Corne Krige growing up, he had that dog-like attitude and played with an incredible intensity. Jonny Wilkinson is another player who I admireTweet