Having turned 35 a couple of months ago, and already retired from international rugby, there may be those who are ready to put lanky Albert van den Berg out to pasture.
But the World Cup-winning Sharks lock, just four games away from joining a select few in the Super centurion club, is far from ready to quit the game.
Speaking to Jan De Koning of Rugby365.com, in the build-up to the table-topping Sharks’ Week Eight Super 14 showdown with the Hurricanes, Van den Berg made it clear that he is “going to play rugby for as long as possible”.
“I’m enjoying it a lot, we [the Sharks] are doing well at this stage, so it is all great,” Van den Berg said, adding: “Winning makes it all that much easier. If you win you can get up the next morning, look everybody in the eye and continue.”
He officially retired from the Test arena at the end of 2007, having helped the Boks win the World Cup in France and then accompanying them on their ‘victory parade’ – the year-end tour to Wales.
And he has no plans to rejoin the international scene.
“I made that call [to retire from Test rugby] at the end of 2007, after the World Cup,” he told rugby365.com.
“That [year-end tour] was my last trip with the Springboks.
“I had my innings on the Test stage. I enjoyed it while I was there and I was privileged enough to win the World Cup.
“I need to make time for my family and during the Currie Cup and Super 14 seasons you are only away from home for the one month that you go abroad [with the Super 14],” he added.
But he plans to hang around for a while yet on the Super stage.
“I will continue until they tell me; ‘Listen, it is time to stop now.’
“I have been really blessed with injuries – I had my first surgery at the end of last year [shoulder surgery], the first time in the 16 years that I have played senior rugby. So for me, at this stage, I am just looking to see how long I can still play.
“As long as I enjoy the game I will continue and as soon as I start having doubts I will call it a day. But I certainly have no deadline and I will take from year-to-year,” he said, adding that he still feels good and enjoying it.
“As I said to [Bok captain] John Smit, you can never pay enough money to be in a team environment – that is something you can’t buy. While you can still play and you can be with a team, you can tour and enjoy it, it is worth continuing.
“Once you stop playing those pleasure are gone and no amount of money can buy that.”
While winning his first Currie Cup, with the Sharks last year, ranks second only to the World Cup he won with the Boks in 2007, Van den Berg hopes that this year he can add an elusive Super 14 title to his long list of achievements.
“I played in three [Currie Cup] finals and lost the first two, both against Western Province in 2000 and 2001. To win the Currie Cup last year is a big highlight … and close to that is the fact that I have been with the Sharks for 10 years now,” he said of the decision to leave Kimberley at the end of 1999 and relocate to Durban – where his wife is running a pre-school centre as part of their investment in life after rugby.
But with some unfinished rugby business, Van den Berg feels the Sharks can build on the success of winning the Currie Cup last year.
“In 2007 we lost in the S14 Final and we have been in the [Super 14] semifinals for the past two years … we have been knocking on the door. Now we’ve ended the Cup drought with the win in the Currie Cup Final.
“If we look at our position on the standings [first place] it is important that we kick on and finish strongly to ensure we get a home semifinal or Final. It [being at home] adds so much value to the team and will give us a good shot at winning the competition.
“In 2007 we were so close and then in the dying seconds we lost it [to a scintillating Bryan Habana try], so now we are determined to win that trophy.”
He admits that it is a tall order to win the Super 14, as the competition is so close this year.
“Look at our game against the Reds and the Bulls against the Highlanders – we all know that any team can beat any team on a given day. No.14 can beat No.1 – you simply have to be switched on every week and you certainly can’t take anything for granted.
“We know that nobody will step back for you just because you are in first place on the standings. In fact, the top team is a target for everybody, even the lowly teams can make their season by knocking over a top team.”
Van den Berg have a few milestones in his sights in the next month or so.
Standing on 96 Super Rugby caps – 89 for the Sharks and seven for the Cats in 1999, he will look to become only the third South African to play 100 Super Rugby game – behind Stormers and former Sharks utility forward AJ Venter (118) and another former Sharks in Ollie le Roux (108).
The all-time record stands behind the name of retired Wallaby captain George Gregan (136), with Caleb Ralph (135) and Reuben Thorne (129) next in line.
Van den Berg has some way to go before becoming the oldest to play Super Rugby.
That honour belongs to Johan Ackermann, who was 37 years and 342 days when he played for the Sharks against the Cheetahs in Durban last year.
Retired prop Johan le Roux (37 years and 134 days) is next – having played for the Bulls against the Brumbies in Canberra in 1999 to achieve that.
Retired All Black prop Richard Loe (37 years and 40 days) come in at No.3.
Of those who are still active, Van den Berg’s former Sharks teammate, AJ Venter, now playing for the Stormers, is the oldest. He was 35 years and 242 days when he played against the Crusaders last week.
Van den Berg is second on the ‘active’ list – 35 years and 61 days when he played against the Brumbies last week.
Following the shoulder surgery at the end of 2008, Van den Berg missed the first four rounds of the Super 14 this year, but has made three appearances off the bench in the last three weeks – taking him to 96 Super Rugby caps.
He has scored 14 Super tries 0 two for the Cats and 12 for the Sharks.
He made his Springbok debut against Italy in 1999 and played his 51st and last Test against Wales in 2007.Tweet