Van der Walt has matured into one of the brightest loose-forward prospects in Bloemfontein.
The 103kg, 1.94m flank is strong and elusive with ball in hand, and often gives his team the momentum to break the opposition’s defensive lines.
Van der Walt struggled to adapt to a tight game in his first season with the union, but after putting in some hard work, he became the incumbent No 7 for the Free State U21 side this season, and was equally suitable for a tight or loose game.
Van der Walt started his schoolboy career at pivot and was only selected as a flank once he started high school at Adelaide Gymnasium in the Eastern Cape. The 20-year-old says that backline experience enabled him to develop into an attacking flank.
‘It has definitely helped my offensive game,’ he says. ‘I like stepping and running into spaces. I also have good handling skills, so my biggest strength is to have possession. But I’m also a good defender.’
Van der Walt earned provincial colours in 2006 and 2007 for EP’s Academy and Craven Week sides respectively. However, bigger opportunities at the Cheetahs and the chance to study Human Resource Management part time at Free State University, saw him decide to continue his career in Bloemfontein.
From there, he travelled to Argentina with the Baby Boks provisional U20 World Cup squad in 2009, but was left out of the final squad that reached the semi-finals in Japan.
Van der Walt has Currie Cup and Super 14 ambitions and Free State U21 coach Pine Pienaar believes the flank can achieve those goals in the near future.
‘Philip is in the same mould as Juan Smith, as he is a strong ball-carrier and provides an extra lineout option,’ he says. ‘I think he will get an opportunity in the Currie Cup within the next two seasons. Hopefully with that experience, he can become a top-class loose forward. He’s definitely one to look out for in the future.’
The Cheetahs already have formidable loose forwards, with Smith and Frans Viljoen having a monopoly on the No 7 jersey, but Van der Walt says this will inspire him to work even harder.
‘There is a lot of competition for that position, but that motivates me. Guys like Juan and Frans are impact players, while I’m more of an attacking flank. As a young player, hopefully I can bring something different to the team when I do get the opportunity.’
By Gareth Duncan