Friday 23 August 2019

Cloete keen to make his mark as he battles back from injury

The Big Interview: Chris Cloete

Chris Cloete hopes to make Munster’s next trip to South Africa. Photo: Sportsfile
Chris Cloete hopes to make Munster’s next trip to South Africa. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Munster secured a brilliant 39-22 win against Southern Kings last weekend with CJ Stander crowning his return to George with a try.

It was the perfect start to their tour of South Africa, but openside flanker Chris Cloete wished he was there to experience it all.

The 27-year-old is a former Southern King and he had shown some stunning form for the province before injury cruelly struck against Glasgow Warriors on February 23.

It meant the East London native missed out on a trip back to the place of his birth, while the rehab kicked into overdrive as he dreams of playing a part in the big games towards the end of 2017-'18.

And with a strike rate of three tries in ten games for Munster, Johann van Graan would be thrilled to have another specialist openside at his disposal for the crunch knockout fixtures in Europe and the Guinness PRO14.

But for now it's all about ensuring that the body heals and Cloete is in a position to wear red again before his first season in Limerick concludes.

"I hate missing out playing and being with the team, going back home for a bit too. It's disappointing being injured but it's just one of those things in the game," says Cloete.

"The injury is going well. I am training and gyming already. I will have another scan in the next few weeks to see when I will be able to play again.

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"It happened in a tackle in the game against Glasgow Warriors, it was very unfortunate especially at that time of the season. And it was a fracture of my wrist and a dislocation of my arm.

"Hopefully I will be back this season. But I am not sure, it depends on the scan to see how the bone is growing and everything."

Cloete has taken up residence in Limerick with his girlfriend Kaytlin, as he aims to follow in the footsteps of Ireland Grand Slam winner Stander, Jean Kleyn and Jaco Taute.

Gerbrandt Grobler signed at the same time as Cloete and they have added to a formidable South African backbone in this Munster side right now.

It's a team built on heart and gritty determination, emphasised by their sensational 20-19 Champions Cup quarter-final win against Toulon in Thomond Park.

Munster are on the up and their clash with Racing 92 in France, provides them with their best opportunity to reach a Champions Cup final since they won their second Heineken Cup in 2008.


"Silverware is a real possibility. We have two competitions this season with the PRO14 and the European tournament, and we are gaining momentum in both as we go along," says Cloete.

"I am really enjoying it here. I have settled in well. It has probably been one of the best decisions of my career coming over here to play.

"It is definitely good to have a few fellow countrymen here. But the Irish guys have been really friendly and I settled in well from the beginning. I have really enjoyed myself.

"I followed overseas rugby a little bit before I came. I played with Jean Kleyn and Jaco Taute. When they came over here I followed it a bit more. I knew quite a bit about it before I came. And it's great now I'm here."

Cloete has formerly played for South Africa at schools level and for their 'A' side. But he couldn't resist when the opportunity arose to come to Ireland and experience something new.

He began rugby when he was just seven and it was always going to be his main sport growing up in a country obsessed with the game.

Cloete's favourite player was former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar and the seismic influence of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and that winning South Africa team, no doubt influenced many youngsters around at that time.

"I started playing when I was seven. It is the sport in every school in South Africa. I really enjoyed it since then. I have always played back-row since I was eight as well. Nothing has changed over the years for me," he says.

Cloete went to the esteemed Selborne College and it was in his final years in school when he finally began to get really serious about a potential career in the game.

"It was probably in my second last year of school. We went to a rugby tournament and I was approached by Sharks. I signed in the middle of my last year at school. Then I went straight to Sharks.

"In the middle of my final year at school I played for Sharks U-19. Then in my first year in the squad I played U-19, second year U-21 and then Vodacom Cup, the senior competition in South Africa."

Cloete was 18 when he signed for Sharks in 2009, and he played for Western Province, Kings and Pumas before Munster looked to acquire his services.

And since his debut for Munster, when he played 65 minutes against Dragons on November 3, Cloete has thrived on the field.

He scored tries in the victories over Ospreys and Leicester Tigers, and also dotted down in Munster's 25-18 defeat at Cardiff Arms Park on February 17.

All ten of his appearances have also been as a starter but injury caught up with him in the second-half of a 21-10 win over Glasgow.

It deprived Cloete of the chance to play in Munster's huge Champions Cup quarter-final, but he is determined to return and play again this term.

Cloete is just delighted he made the right move and came to Munster in the first place.

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