De Klerk, who will likely run out in the No 9 jersey for the Springboks in the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour, was dropped from the Lions Super Rugby side early on his career, seemingly because he didn’t have the stature to compete with some of the bigger men plying their trade in South Africa.
He wears his size like a badge of honour, however, and is confident that he can compete with any players on the park, no matter how big they are.
Speaking to The XV, de Klerk revealed that early struggles have motivated him throughout his career.
“It definitely did push me,” he said. “From school level, it was always guys thinking that I won’t be able to make this tackle, or that I’ll just be good on attack. I’ve always loved to take that on. In a sense, it’s also been a blessing in disguise to bring that side out of me.
“That side comes out, showing that I’m not going to back down to anyone. I’m here to confront you and if you want to have a go, let’s go. It might be a size thing for me – no matter what you think of me, I’m still going to try and dominate you and be in your face.
“If guys do get rattled, that’s one way of getting to them. If a guy has a lot to say and he does something wrong, you can get under his skin to make him a bit more uncomfortable or second-guess himself.
“I sort of feel like if I get stuck in, I enjoy it more and I play better. Now, the big boys can’t really do anything – if they do, they are going to get a card, so trying to wind them up is more effective.”
While de Klerk eventually earned a new contract with the Lions and was a member of the squad that competed in their first-ever Super Rugby grand final in 2016, the scrum-half sought new horizons a year later, relocating to England and signing with Sale Sharks.
It was a move that ultimately paved the way for de Klerk to instate himself as the Springboks’ first-choice No 9.
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 3, 2021
De Klerk earned his first test cap in 2016 but struggled for minutes. It didn’t help that the South African side were in the midst of one of their worst-ever season.
Transferring to Sale, however, allowed de Klerk to focus on improving some aspects of his game that hadn’t received as much attention when representing the attack-minded Lions.
“I had this aura around me that I’m just a great attacking player but tactically not very good,” he told The XV.
“I wanted to prove myself overseas and see if I could play a different type of game. The way we were playing at the Lions, we ran from everywhere, we didn’t do the tactical part, but I always knew I could bring that side maybe not as well as I’m doing now.
“I’ve obviously upped that side of my game. Now, I’m getting criticised for kicking too much, so it goes both ways.”
The Springboks scrumhalf is unsure who he’ll line up against when the Lions tour eventually gets underway, suggesting that England’s Ben Youngs and Ireland’s Conor Murray would suit very different strategies.
One way or another, de Klerk will be ready. Whether he’s locking horns with opposition scrumhalves or having a go at the biggest men on the park, the Springbok won’t shy away from the challenge.
– original story by Jamie Lyall
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