Andre, the agent of chaos: 'I'd rather run over you than past you'
When it comes to the eventful roller coaster that is Harlequins, the story of Marcus Smith is the one that immediately trips off the tongue – Premiership title, England debut, Lions call-up and now some more magic back with his club last Friday. However, the ebb and flow regarding Andre Esterhuizen these past six months is just as invigorating, the ex-Springboks midfielder getting sent off and banned, returning for the Premiership final, signing a whopping contract extension and now readying himself to shackle fellow giant Manu Tuilagi when Harlequins visit Sale this Friday.
The London club had him up for media coverage this week and you’d think the pickings would be slim to none after 23 or so minutes of questions from a variety of inquisitors before RugbyPass got its clock-in-the-red look in, except they weren’t. There was still plenty of insight to be mined in a fast-trot five minutes to bring the session to a close.
Andre The Giant knows he has a fearsome reputation. It is what he has carved out his stellar career from. However, Esterhuizen was in the dark when a description of him by Tabai Matson, the new Harlequins head of rugby, was put to him. It was September 23, on the occasion of Esterhuizen’s contract renewal, that the New Zealander described his 6ft 4in, 113kg midfielder as “probably what you could call an agent of chaos on the pitch for our opposition“.
An agent of chaos? It’s quite the compliment by Harlequins, except Esterhuizen hadn’t heard it and was in the dark until mentioned by RugbyPass. “That’s nice to know. I didn’t hear that to be honest but it is nice to hear something like that from your coaches. It’s good,” he said.
But c’mon, Andre, what exactly does an agent of chaos do? “I don’t know to be honest. It’s quite tough to talk about myself like that. I am just doing my job right at the moment and I am enjoying my rugby.
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“It’s like playing Manu (Tuilagi) this weekend. He probably does exactly the same. You never know when he is going to put the ball out the back or carry, what he is going to do. You are always thinking about two or three things instead of just knowing this guy is coming hard and straight. Then it is easy, you can just man up and tackle him. But as soon as a player has that skill set and ability to do more than one thing, that is when it gets tough. Obviously physicality for me is the big thing. I’d rather run over you than past you.”
That last line was delivered with a booming laugh and the frightening thing for Premiership opponents is that Esterhuizen will be around at Harlequins for quite some time yet. There was no length of agreement given when the club announced the extension last month of a deal initially inked in 2020, but he has now come clean. “I think the extension ends at 2025,” revealed the Potchefstroom-born 27-year-old who has had stints in Japan and at the Durban-based Sharks.
“I have never enjoyed my rugby as much. At the moment everything is going very well. It’s a long haul for the family as well. I came to the UK to get a better future for our kids and stuff. It is tough times in South Africa and you never know what is going to happen in the future. Mostly my rugby is going well and I’m enjoying the guys around me and we are still a young squad. We worked out last season the average age – without Danny (Care) obviously – is 21 in the backline. We have got a young squad and if we can just keep on building it can be something amazing.”
Amazing was the apt description for the performance from Esterhuizen in the Premiership final last June. He hadn’t played in two months due to an April red card versus London Irish for striking with an elbow. It resulted in a six-game ban, but he wasn’t found wanting when thrown in at the deep end in his first game back – the Twickenham showpiece versus Exeter.
“It was a very dark time for me,” he recalled. “It was very strange, a red card and a ban. It was six weeks I was out. Mentally it was quite tough. It was the business end of the season and where we were standing on the log I knew it would be playoffs and finals. It was quite tough. I had faith in the team to make the playoffs so I had to keep on training.
“That first half of the Bristol game I was sitting there going, ‘Okay, maybe not’. And then in the second half, they came back and I came in on Monday and thought, ‘Okay, there might be a chance that I am playing, maybe on the bench. I haven’t played for six weeks so it will be quite tough, especially playing Exeter in a final’.
“They said, ‘No, listen, we want you to start’. I took it on. I thought it was going to be a tough ask but I took it on. I thought I would put in a good 60 minutes and crawl off but the energy in that game and the way we played and the enjoyment and how it all played out just kept me going. I think I only came off at 78 minutes.
“I don’t know how I did it but I did it and it is all credit to the guys who were playing next to me, lifting me and lifting the energy. It was just amazing and the crowd played their part, a big part of it. To be honest, I had to do a few sessions on my own. I could train with the team and train against the team so that is probably what kept me fit and more or less in the game for that six weeks.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 12, 2021
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