Rugby: ‘Back at home you would get punched in the face if you said some of the stuff the Munster boys come out with’
Published 01/12/2011 | 05:00
WIAN DU PREEZ is quiet-spoken. Thus, it made sense to meet the Munster and Springbok prop in the calm environs of the Castletroy Carlton Hotel in Limerick, rather than the chaotic surrounds of the Student Cafe in UL.
What was not anticipated was the unfeasibly high decibel levels produced by an adjacent 40-woman coffee morning/ natter-fest. Thankfully, while the ear-strain was considerable, the affable Du Preez was still decipherable and unexpectedly eloquent, considering English is not his first language.
"My English has come on a lot since I came here two years ago, definitely," says Du Preez. "I went to a bilingual school, so I had some experience of speaking English, but it was mostly Afrikaans."
That was in Bloemfontein, the Free State capital and traditional Afrikaner enclave in central South Africa, which Du Preez likens to Limerick -- "not too big, not too small and everybody knows everybody. When the Munster boys ask about it, I say if you are looking for a place to holiday, don't go to Bloemfontein -- the sea is five hours' drive away.
"It is a farming community and a university town. My father worked in the university, but my grandfather had a farm, growing maize and keeping livestock, and I spent a lot of time there when I was young.
"Farming is hard there, it's really dry and I have often thought how they could use some of the rain we get here."
School was Greys, Bloemfontein's famed rugby nursery that has produced a long line of Springboks from legends such as Morne du Plessis and Ruben Kruger to current stars Heinrich Brussow, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis and Francois Steyn.
Though soccer and cricket competed for his attention (Hansie Cronje and Kepler Wessels are other alumni), it was always going to be rugby for Du Preez and, after dabbling in the second and back-rows due to a growth spurt in his early teens, he found his natural home at prop.
From Greys, he followed the established path through university into the Cheetahs system, where he was blessed with some extraordinary tutelage.
"It was a great learning curve," he recalls. "Myself and Jannie (du Plessis) came up together and we were learning from front-rows like Os du Randt, Ollie le Roux, CJ van der Linde and Naka Drotske. I was blessed to have access to that level of front-row knowledge."
With international call-ups creating opportunities, Du Preez made steady progress, his best year coming in 2008/09 when he featured on the Cheetahs side that rattled Ian McGeechan's touring Lions (the day Brussow announced himself to a wider audience as a flanker of rare ability).
However, despite his good form, Du Preez failed to make the Springbok squad for the November tour to Europe so, when he heard Munster were interested in a short-term deal as cover for the injured Marcus Horan, he took the plunge.
It was a decision that led to his first and, thus far, only cap, as injuries to props in a midweek defeat to Leicester meant Du Preez was in the right place at the right time and was called up for the clash with Italy.
"The Italian scrum had gone really well against the All Blacks in Milan the week before and I was up against (Martin) Castrogiovanni, who has a big reputation, and I thought I did okay.
"I know I haven't been called up since, but there has been really strong competition with 'Beast' (Tendai Mtawarira) and Gurthro Steenkamp and the fact I have been playing overseas, means you are not in the system where they will look at home-based players first."
That tour concluded with defeat to Ireland and afterwards Du Preez and fellow Munster Springbok Jean de Villiers were met at the station by Munster manager Shaun Payne and a new chapter began.
"It was a pretty grim start. I remember it being really cold and dark and the floods were really bad at the time. But there was a function a few days later and the Munster players like John Hayes, Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara came over to say hello and I just felt at home straight away.
"The slagging took a bit of getting used to. It goes on in South Africa too, but it's nowhere near as cutting. They go straight for the bone here, man. Back at home you would get punched in the face if you said some of the stuff the Munster boys come out with.
"I get my share -- mainly for being Afrikaans -- and they say that South Africans are tight with their money; when I take my wallet out, there are gasps of shock and stuff like that."
Du Preez was not long acclimatising, his short-term stay proving so successful that he was re-signed on a two-year deal after a brief return to the Cheetahs and he has now amassed 47 appearances for the Reds.
Happily settled in Annacotty with his wife, Du Preez says his desire to win further Springbok honours, best served by a return home, is being challenged by the compulsion to remain in the Munster environment he enjoys so much.
"It is a tough one," admits Du Preez. "I have a lot of ambition to win more caps for my country, but that would probably mean going home and we're very happy here at Munster, very well settled and I am enjoying my rugby, the environment, the competitiveness, the professionalism."
Just 29, Du Preez is heading into his peak propping years and was a standout performer in Munster's memorable Heineken Cup victories over Northampton and Castres.
He welcomes the fact that there is such competition in the squad, as younger and older players seek to establish, and re-establish, themselves in the first 15.
"It's great. Everyone is kept on their toes, Marcus (Horan) played really well the other night and so did Stephen Archer on the tight-head side -- he is a player with a lot of potential.
"There is a good feeling in the squad and an incredible determination to make up for last year. Going out at the pool stages for the first time in 13 years was an unbelievable disappointment.
"I will never forget the feeling on the bus coming out of the Toulon stadium knowing we were out. It was horrible.
"We have tremendous supporters here, real loyal fans and thinking about them back at home and that sense you had let them down ... it was definitely at the back of my mind going into this season.
"But we have fought back from that and the younger fellahs have brought an extra belief with them, which has lifted the older guys also. They know exactly what it is about, coming into the system, they know what is required.
"You have a duty to the Munster name, to your team-mates and to the supporters. It doesn't matter if you are 19, 29, 37 or whatever, when you pull on the red jersey, you are a Munster player and you have to put in a performance."
Wian du Preez may be quiet-spoken, but you don't always need a loud voice to get your message across.