Jean-Luc du Preez is learning to choose his moments to “smoke” opponents while remaining a serious physical threat as Sale Sharks consolidate their Gallagher Premiership play-off place.
The burly No8 delivered a typically robust performance as Sale defeated London Irish 41-13 at the AJ Bell Stadium with 11 carries, 10 tackles, seven passes and two turnovers which should earn him plenty of plaudits from Springbok assistant coach Felix Jones who is based in Dublin and keeps a close eye on all the English based players hoping to face the British and Irish Lions this summer.
Du Preez has not always found the right balance between hammering opponents and legally imposing yourself and was sent off in December 2019 and again in the same month in 2020 – both times for using his shoulder illegally in contact – and picked up a yellow card for a dangerous clear-out against Harlequins in February.
He told RugbyPass: “After my red card in December I was banned for four weeks and then got a yellow against Harlequins and I have looked at my game. I try to stay in the moment and not chase something. What I mean is if the ruck is set I don’t have to go into it or if a ball carrier is going down I don’t have to smash him. I don’t have to chase things unnescessarily and there is a balance to be found because things happen so quickly on the field and you have a split second to make a decision.
“I need to work on the “next job” mentality and if you make a mistake you then give 100 per cent effort in the next thing and we have spoken as a group about not thinking about what has happened because you are not going to change the referee’s decision. It is in the past.
“We are fortunate with the depth in our squad and for example, Lood (De Jager) never stops working and all the big guys we have are mobile and are putting in 15-20 tackles a game and you cannot ask for any better. “
Du Preez, one of three brothers at Sale who are all Springbok internationals (Dad Rob was also capped by the Boks), won the last of his 13 caps – 10 as a replacement – in 2018 against England in Cape Town and faces a tough battle to break into the World Cup-winning Springbok back row unit made of up Duane Vermeulen, captain Siya Kolisi and World Player of the Year Pieter Steph du Toit for the summer series with the Lions. The same scenario faces twin brother Dan who specialises in playing No8 while Jean-Luc can move around the back row and also fill in at lock.
Alex Sanderson, the Sale director of rugby, acknowledges that Jean-Luc is a force of nature but needs to concentrate that effort in the right areas. He said: “It’s scary isn’t it! Because he wants to hit everything – everything – it is trying to identify which rucks are there for him to whack and which hits are on for him to smoke someone. If a ruck is dead and someone is there doesn’t mean you have to hit them. It’s about things that he likes to do and what is right for the team. He is still very young and can become and even better player.
“He has been so overwhelmed with this desire to dominate people that it masks some of his better qualities. He is on a stiff learning curve like the rest of us and he is at the sharp end and needs attention in that area.
“As a group we are changing our mentality and it comes down to individual motivation and not being on an emotional roller coaster. We have to find a consistency of emotion for the squad by growing and Jean-Luc is on the furthest end of that spectrum with his physicality. I have sat down with everyone and talked to Jean-Luc about what he loves and motivates him to try and make some of his decisions a process of thought rather than the actions of emotion.”
Du Preez puts his off-loading skills and link work with twin brother Dan down to the sport they played at school together and like fellow identical twins Tom and Ben Curry, there is a special bond. “We played water polo and that is where the offload aspect of our games comes into play:” he added. “It is crazy to think Tom and Ben are only 22 and they both have a very high work ethic, setting high standards and you see that every week with Tom at England. He is one of the top flankers in the world.
“I would like to think there is some kind of twins telepathy and Dan and I seem to find each other on the field and I don’t like playing without him because it gives me more motivation.”
'I came over last March and weighed 108kgs. I’m now 115kgs… I’m 100 per cent a different man than when I walked in'@Highlanders lock @JackRegan16 left Ireland with just 1 PRO14 sub appearance. Now he's playing with @AllBlacks , writes @heagneyl ???https://t.co/2s4YhHCYov
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 21, 2021
The combative du Preez was in the Junior Springbok side captained by Handre Pollard that was beaten 21-20 in the 2014 Junior World Cup final by an England side led by Maro Itoje and has been joined in the Premiership by the Harlequins pair of Andre Esterhuizen and Wilco Louw and Leicester’s Cyle Brink who also featured in that final. With du Preez one of 11 South African players at Sale and Brink to be part of an eight-strong contingent at Leicester, the Premiership is ensuring South African players have plenty of support away from home.
There is also the feed back from Springbok assistant coach Jones who sends the players videos of their matches with comments about areas where they need to improve. Du Preez said: “Felix does a great job and touches base once a month and sends clips of my games with stuff to work on and what I am doing well.
“I would hope my case for selection is stronger playing in the Premiership and I know breaking into the Springbok back row will be very difficult but getting back into the set up is always in the back of my mind. It is something I am working towards.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now