'I always have stuff to prove. . . Every day is a dogfight'
South African winger working tirelessly to win back his place after injury and suspension
Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30
Gerhard van den Heever has talked about the possibility of following former Blue Bulls team-mate CJ Stander, and wearing the Irish jersey at some stage in the future.
The Big Interview: Gerhard van den Heever
But for now he is in a battle to win back his place in the Munster team, where he relishes the chance to pit his wits against some of the best wingers in the Pro12.
Munster may have been knocked out of the Champions Cup early, but that allowed Anthony Foley to examine all corners of his squad, and a number of future talents have emerged.
Darren Sweetnam has taken his opportunity and Ronan O'Mahony continues to put his best foot forward when he gets the chance.
Felix Jones may have retired, but other marquee names still remain, and Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway have gone about locking down the back three positions for themselves.
But van den Heever still has plenty to give and 29 appearances into his Munster career, the 26-year-old, who has scored six tries, is facing a major cross-roads.
The former Stormers ace is aware of the pressure being applied by the in-form wingers in the team, but he knows he can be one of the best on his day.
"There's always stuff I can work on. I have been training really well, and doing my best in the training sessions," he says.
"I had a few opportunities here and there. The last time I played was against Treviso and it was really wet and muddy but at least I got into the corner for a try.
"I had played seven big games before I got cited this season. And then after that I got a few opportunities here and there.
"I think I have played well, I didn't think I have cost the team anything. It's just keep on knocking on the door.
"I definitely always have stuff to prove. Every day is a fight. There's guys every day looking for a spot. Every day is a fight at training and that is why I love it. You don't want to be able to sit back and be guaranteed your spot.
"And they are challenging you for that spot, so it keeps you on your toes and keeps you improving your game. It's a good pressure environment and you need the pressure."
The Bloemfontein native has played 11 times for Munster this term, and scored two tries after his return from a horrific knee injury last season.
It happened in the Champions Cup loss at home to Clermont; the ruptured cruciate ligament forced him to cut short his season early and he missed valuable time where he could have been impressing on the field.
It meant he only had seven chances to prove himself in his second season with Munster and he fell down the pecking order as a result.
"The guys are working hard. It's about hard work. Nothing just falls in your lap. That's why they are very talented. They work hard and the training comes out in the games and they have been playing very well," he says.
"I am very positive for the future. You can never stop working hard. I will always work hard. I will never sit back, or not keep on trying my best. That's my motto for every day. Try my best and good things will come to me.
"My fitness is at 100pc, I am just waiting for the opportunities after the few niggles I had in the past."
And after he dotted down the first try in Munster's crucial 16-13 Pro12 victory away to Treviso in Round 16, Van den Heever has given himself the best possible chance to claim his spot in the squad for the latter stages.
Munster are facing a really tough run-in, with the potential of missing out on the Pro12 play-offs, and even Champions Cup rugby next term. It's unfathomable that the two time European Cup champions would not be a part of next year's event and Van den Heever wants to do his bit to ensure that doesn't happen.
"Munster have a great history with what they have accomplished in the past. It's big shoes to fill, but if we keep on working hard and giving each other 100pc then things will start picking up again," he says.
"The fans are die-hard fans here. They choose Munster from once they are born, and they stick with Munster for life. They are really supportive of the players. When you get on the field, it's not just 15 guys playing, it's the whole of the Munster stadium playing against the other team.
"I have been here two and a half years now. I have loved it so far, to be part of such a great organisation. I am training hard and hopefully I will get my chance again."
In the summer Ireland will tour to South Africa for their three Tests against the fearsome Springboks.
Van den Heever knows it will be a really tough examination for his adopted country, but he says Ireland will revel down south.
"South Africa always have a good team. And it is a contrasting style of rugby that the two teams play," he says.
"If you watch the Super Rugby now, the weather is very nice. The guys can throw the ball around now, whereas in the Pro12 it's really muddy and rainy.
"The game is closer and it's more of a dog-fight.
"It will be interesting to see what happens. Ireland showed they can play a nice attacking brand. And they need to build on that and take it forward to the summer."