Prop Pat Cilliers hopes his ability to play either side of the scrum will get him a spot on the Springbok bench.
Cilliers was one of the bolters when the Springbok squad was announced last Saturday. With Coenie Oosthuizen recovering from a neck injury and Werner Kruger dropped, the 25-year-old is one of two tightheads in the group and is set to play an understudy role to first-choice Jannie du Plessis.
However, the Lions front rower is also a capable loosehead prop. With the Bok front row set to feature Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis, this versatility could see Cilliers edge Dean Greyling for a place among the reserves during the Rugby Championship.
‘That option was spoken about,’ Cilliers told keo.co.za. ‘My favoured position is tighthead, but I can play loosehead as well. I’ve played both positions at the Sharks and Lions before. Hopefully that can get me a spot on the bench.
‘I’ll be working hard to earn my place,’ he added. ‘I made the provisional Bok squad for the June Test series against England, but didn’t make the cut. I was disappointed but remained motivated. Hopefully my chance will come this time.
‘I’ve had a chat with [scrum consultant] Pieter de Villiers, who is a legend in his own right. I can’t wait to work with him. I also know the Du Plessis brothers and the Beast from my time at the Sharks, so meeting up with them will help me settle in.’
Cilliers went on to credit his move to the Lions from the Sharks in 2011 as a platform for Bok selection. After a couple of frustrating years with injury in Durban, the switch to the Johannesburg franchise has seen him impress with the starting opportunities given to him this season.
‘It was a difficult career choice for me at the time,’ said Cilliers. ‘I’m a Natal player, born and bred. But I struggled with knee injuries from 2007 to 2009 and had to undergo a couple of operations. I needed a new start, and decided to make the most of the opportunity at the Lions.
‘It was a tough experience for the team during Super Rugby as we finished at the bottom of the log. But it wasn’t like we were losing by massive margins week in and week out. So my confidence is still up there. I’m motivated to make full use of my time with the Boks.’
By Gareth Duncan, in Cape Town