The desire not to replicate mistakes of four years ago was the driving force behind Wikus van Heerden’s superb performances on the Australasia leg of the Tri-Nations.
The Bulls man left South Africa knowing that nothing but 160 minutes of polished openside play would convince Jake White and the national selectors to include him in the 30-man World Cup squad. And that’s exactly what he delivered.
Australia will attest to that, with Van Heerden forcing their world class scavenger, George Smith, to lift his level of performance considerably. Over two matches he largely shattered the perception that he is only a force when the tight five are dominating the set phases and collisions.
Van Heerden now has an anxious wait to hear if he will be trudging around Brakpan and Wellington with the Blue Bulls or running drills in the wholly more desirable cities like Paris, Lens, Montpellier and St Denis.
“It’s difficult not to have expectations, but I try and suppress those as best I can. But it’s hard,” Van Heerden confessed to Keo.co.za.
“Having played Australia and New Zealand and faced the haka makes you hungry to experience that level of competition again, and if it’s at the World Cup it would make that experience so much better.”
He attributes his form on tour to learning from previous mistakes. There’s more than a touch of irony in the fact that his World Cup dream crumbled in a Tri-Nations Test against Wallabies in Brisbane four years ago, where that dream has been revitalised against the same opponents this time around.
Van Heerden came on as a late substitute for CornÃ© Krige in that 29-9 defeat and seemed to give coach Rudolf Straeuli the reasons he needed to exclude him from his World Cup squad.
“The last time I played Test rugby before was four years ago in a similar scenario to what I experienced on the Australasia tour,” he recalls.
“I was playing for a spot in the World Cup squad, and that’s all that consumed my thoughts. I was so desperate to make it to Australia. I think that had an adverse effect on my performances because I lost focus on the game at hand in focusing on those still to come.
“This time I promised myself to take it game by game and to really enjoy it. I approached the two matches on their merit and I think that helped my performances a lot.”
When Keo.co.za called Van Heerden he admitted to hoping that it would be Jake White telling him that he had cracked the nod. “I’m on edge here. My wife and I freeze everytime the phone rings,” he said, the desperation evident in his voice.
Van Heerden is however under no illusions that it may indeed be White, but with the entirely undesirable news that he had failed to make the squad.
“The World Cup comes around once every four years and to miss out now having come so close would be devastating,” he said. “It’s probably my last chance to go to a World Cup, so ja, it’ll be devastating if I don’t crack it.”
By Ryan Vrede