“Let me tell you what – these last few months have been a life-changing thing for me!” When it comes to the opportunity to play for the Sharks, new signing Jean Stemmet battles to contain his enthusiasm. So how exactly did this promising talent from the Western Cape end up plying his trade at outside centre for the Sharks XV? Sharksworld investigates.
“I grew up in Paarl and attended Paarl Gimnasium,” Stemmet tells us, “playing for Western Province Academy and also the WP Craven week side while I was at school. I went on to play under 19 and under 21 rugby for Province as well as some Vodacom Cup, but then somehow I seemed to slip through the cracks. With Kobus van der Merwe in charge there I just stopped getting the opportunities to play.
“I then went to Stellenbosch University and played a bit of Varsity Cup rugby for Maties. Rudolf Straeuli called me up last year and invited me for an interview – and so I ended up at the Sharks.” Stemmet’s story is a familiar one, just the latest in a long list of talented junior players who have left the Western Province ranks to pursue careers elsewhere as a result of a lack of opportunities. “It was frustrating there – it seemed like there was no plan for us. They just always wanted to buy the high profile payers – the Habana’s, Fouries and Vermeulens. The Sharks are so much more professional in the structures they have and the way they treat people.”
The young man is steadily finding his feet in the Sharks system and clearly appreciates the way he is being treated by the administration and fellow players alike. “The people I’m dealing with here are treating me fairly and I can trust what they say to me,” he tells me. “I feel like I know where I stand and what I need to do to improve.” Although initially named in the wider Super 14 training group, Stemmet reveals that playing Super 14 this year wasn’t a part of the plan that was discussed with him when he moved.
“Rudolf felt that the step up from Maties – which is really a club side – to the Super 14 would be a very big one to make in just one season. Playing one or two bad games in the Super 14 can really damage your career and your reputation if you’re not ready for that, so we decided it would be best for me to play Vodacom Cup now and then go on to Currie Cup and maybe Super 15 next year. All of the guys in the Vodacom Cup team are really keen to play well and put pressure on the Super 14 squad anyway, so who knows what opportunities might come up later in the season? The Vodacom Cup only runs for 6 weeks, while the Super 14 still has months to go.
“Just taking part in the Super 14 squad training camp was a huge benefit for me. I learned so much from being around Springbok players and training with them and I’m already a much better player for it.”
Stemmet and his teammates are really focused on a good Vodacom Cup campaign and are determined to bring the trophy back to ABSA Stadium – to “put some pride back into the union”, as he puts it. Again he points out a contrast to the Province setup, where, he claims, “senior players who came down from the Stormers saw it as a real step down to play Vodacom Cup – they weren’t motivated at all and it rubbed off on the team. In the Sharks XV it is different, with the seniors really motivating the team to do well.”
Our discussion naturally moved onto this past weekend’s game against his former teamates, one which the Sharks XV lost by three points. Stemmet is clearly frustrated at the result. “We lost it in the first 20 minutes. Maybe it was down to a bit of inexperience in the team – especially amongst the backs. It’s only really Andries [Strauss] who’s played a lot of big rugby. Also, Louis Ludik was struggling a bit with fitness. We took too long to get into the game and before we knew it we were 17-0 down. It was a big occasion too in front of a big home crowd for Province and I think that affected us more than it should have. The team showed great character to come from 17-0 down to 23-all and it’s just unfortunate that we lost to a penalty right at the end. We’ll turn it around this week, though… just watch!”
Once again, I’m completely blown away by the level of commitment and enthusiasm shown by every member of this Sharks XV squad. Sharksworld would like to thank Jean for his time – as well as agreeing to be interviewed in a language that he concedes he is “still learning – although the girls in Durban are really helping me with my English”. The Sharks XV take on the Cheetahs in Empangeni this weekend and need as much support as we can give them. Get out there and show your colours, Sharks fans!Tweet