Jake White told Wikus van Heerden at the end of last year that he was the Bok captain successor to John Smit, but the Cats captain did not take it too seriously. Now he does.
Van Heerden, delighted that Bok coach Jake White had gone public with the news that Van Heerden was the next in line should Smit be unavailable to lead the Boks this season, told Keo.co.za that White had discussed the national captaincy with him on last year’s end of season tour.
It was the first time Van Heerden had toured with White’s Bok squad but he did not feature in any of the three matches.
White spoke to him about the captaincy at the conclusion of the tour and a day ago confirmed to the media that Van Heerden would be the chosen one in the absence of Smit.
When keo.co.za contacted Van Heerden he had not yet heard the news that broke on Thursday morning, but revealed that White had pulled him aside on the end of year tour and “chatted about things, among them the captaincy.”
“That’s amazing that he has come out and said that though. It certainly gives me extra motivation. It’s a huge compliment!” van Heerden exclaimed. “We had words on the end of year tour and we discussed a little about the captaincy, but I just thought it would be left there. I was flattered, but didn’t think much of it.”
Van Heerden said that White told him he was impresed by the hard-working flanker’s leadership on tour. “I was just contributing in my normal way. As I didn’t get game time, I spent most of the time carrying tackle bags, but I always gave input when I could. I also learned a new respect for those guys in the squad that don’t get to play on the Saturday. It’s not easy, but you live in hope.”
Van Heerden, whose father Moaner played 17 Tests for the Boks between 1974 and 1980, has been a stand-out performer for the Cats for several seasons and was picked by then Bok coach Rudolf Straeuli in 2003, earning his first cap against Scotland at Absa Stadium in Durban. It is difficult to recollect when Wikus last had a poor match for either the Lions or Cats.
Asked if he was now secretly hoping for Smit to pick up a debilitating injury, Van Heerden laughed it off: “No way would I think like that. John is a great captain and it’s a priviledge to be considered as his possible successor by Jake. I’ve always had a positive attitude, but this news certain helps to pick up the spirits after recent times. But I must focus on the Cats game against the Reds because that’s alll that counts right now. We have worked really hard this past week.”
All eyes will be even more fiercely on the tireless flanker throughout the 80 minutes at Ellis Park on Saturday as he aims to justify the huge faith put in him by the national coach – and the enormous pressure that comes with that expectation.
Van Heerden has played five Tests for the Boks, all in 2003, twice against Scotland, twice against Australia and once versus New Zealand and says that the match against the Aussies was his favourite. “The opening match of that year’s Tri-Nations against Australia at Newlands was the most memorable. It was a great win. I really hope I can get to experience more moments like those.”
By Andrew Hollely