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Joe van Niekerk is barely recognisable after years in Costa Rican jungle

By Ian Cameron
Joe van Niekerk in 2010 (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Once he was he rampaging through opposition defensive lines for a living, but now the only thing former Springbok back row Joe van Niekerk crashes throw is the dense foliage of the Costa Rican jungle.

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Van Niekerk has taken the road less travelled in retirement and now calls an organic farm in the central American country his home.

The 6’4 41-year-old has shed 15kgs of bodyweight and looks a world away from the 108kg forward that starred as a captain of Toulon in the south of France just eight years ago. He runs the organic farm and a spiritual retreat and says he has found peace after questioning his identity after retiring.

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Rugby fans could easily take a glance at the pictures posted on the Rama Organica on Instagram and not recognize ‘Big Joe’ as he was once known. His transformation is quite dramatic.

 

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Guardian journalist Jonathan Drennan caught up with the former Springbok star, who seems to have found his true calling after years on the road in a campervan after retiring from professional rugby in 2014.

His physical change has caused a stir back in South Africa.

“South Africa is crazy about their rugby and, even though I’d been out of the game for a while, someone popped up with this image of me where I looked a lot different and had lost around 15kg of weight,” told The Guardian. “During those two years, I had experienced so many shifts and really was very happy about where I was. People could say whatever they wanted. I didn’t take any of it to heart. I just understood that they were curious. Even if they said unkind things, I didn’t mind. It was a big shock to some of my closest friends, and even my mum to see me so different physically, but the change has led to me building even closer bonds with them.”

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A star of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Van Niekerk revealed that he spent 2 years in France after retirement where he reinvented himself away from the sport, which was followed by a global campervan trip that would eventually lead him to Costa Rica.

 

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“Ultimately this idea led me to Costa Rica, where we purchased a 25-hectare organic farm. We organise different transformational journeys for people and, honestly, I can’t tell you the joy it brings. When you see someone arrive here tired mentally and physically and then leave revitalised, I realise I am in the right place.”

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He looks very much the spiritual guru and a man who has found his true calling. More power to him.

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3 Comments
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Andrew 906 days ago

Cool!

K
Kevin 906 days ago

That's pretty cool. He seems really happy

S
Shaune 906 days ago

Legend legend legend

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Nickers 1 hours ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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Thomas 1 hours ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

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