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'They're just freaks of nature, it was better being on their side'

By Liam Heagney
The three du Preez brothers pose after Sale's 2020 Premiership Rugby Cup title win (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Robert du Preez was full of breezy chat the other night when RugbyPass eventually managed to track the Sale talisman down over the phone. A misplaced digit on the originally provided number had caused a delay, a stranger texting: “It’s the wrong number, I’m not Rob” after the initial call had diverted to a voice message.


The miscommunication, caused by a bum steer from his club’s PR department, evoked a chuckle from du Preez. Light-hearted moments are worth their weight in gold in his fast-paced existence as a professional sportsman and he was on the ball with his numerous comebacks during a lively 25-minute midweek chat.

His speedy verbal reactions weren’t as quick last Sunday, however. The South African loves the banter of the game in England, enjoying how the earthy packed-out crowds can be so pithy at places like Kingsholm and so on.

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However, the mirth of a Joe Marler one-liner didn’t register with du Preez until after the final whistle at the AJ Bell. Sale were struggling, en route to losing their unbeaten start to the Gallager Premiership, when the Harlequins skipper left off a spray with a genial smile designed to wind up his opposition.

“Joe Marler last weekend actually told me to stop shagging my brothers,” explained the out-half with a booming laugh when asked what might have been the funniest sledging he had heard while on the pitch during his time playing in the English top flight.

du Preez Sale interview
Rob du Preez in action for Sale earlier this month at Leicester (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“He has always got good one-liners and I didn’t have a comeback. Obviously, we were a bit under the pump, which was unusual, so I didn’t really have much to go back to. Although I must say categorically I do not shag my brothers,” he added with a chortle.


The three du Preez siblings – the 29-year-old Rob and his 27-year twin brothers Dan and Jean-Luc – are now very much part of the fabric at Sale after an initial short loan stint in Manchester for Rob and JL in the winter of 2018 turned into something way more permanent once the 2019 Super Rugby season with the Durban-based Sharks had ended.

Canny Steve Diamond turned on the charm in convincing the du Preezs that Manchester would be a home away from home for them and so it has shown. All three of the brothers arrived for the 2019/20 Premiership season and they are still many more years yet to come.

The twins agreed to a contract extension earlier this month that will take them through to summer 2026 while Rob is extending his stay through to 2025. Sweet du Preez family bliss. “I took up the option to stay another two years, so I will be staying until the end of 2025,” he enthused. “It’s good to have my brothers stay and we can all be together for another couple of years which is quite special.

“Initially, myself and Jean-Luc came over on loan, three-month loans at the end of our season (in South Africa), and we played quite well and fell in love with the club and the people at the club. That is probably the most important thing, the people at the club, and Manchester is not a bad spot at all.


“It’s probably one of the better places in the UK to be fair. No, I wouldn’t have thought it would turn out the way it has but it has been pretty cool. I’d hope that most places are as accepting and as friendly as Manchester has been. The perception was never that it wasn’t friendly. That was never in the back of my mind, would I be accepted, would I be welcomed?

“Rugby circles are pretty great to be fair and it is always a good environment in most circles and they make you feel at home pretty quickly, which we all have. Myself and my brothers, we have all bought houses, we all started families here, we have all got married in the time that we were here, and we all have kids now. Dan has got an eight-month-old, I have got a six-month-old and Jean-Luc has a four-and-a-half-month-old – so it has all happened in Manchester.”

All so familiar and yet, just like people so often get confused over which Curry twin is which at Sale, even Rob has recently got himself tangled up identifying his own du Preez twin brothers. “I guess I have lived with them my whole life so it is second nature (knowing one from the other), although Dan now has had a haircut.

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“He has shaved his head as has JL and I actually did get confused a couple of times last week, which isn’t normal. Normally I can tell them apart quite easily but they look quite similar now. They have both got these really terrible mustaches that they are trying to grow and they have both shaved their heads, so they are very similar now and the confusion will be even worse than what it was for anyone else a couple of months back.”

In time, their speed dial relationship will include offering each other dig-outs on the babysitting front, similar to how they offer assistance looking after each other’s pets when needed. “None of us has actually used each other just yet but I’m sure the time will come when we use each other as babysitters.

“We have kind of had a test run as we all have dogs and leave them in each other’s houses and stuff like that. I have a cockapoo so it’s a poodle and a cocker spaniel mix. He is around two years old now and my brothers have Italian mastiffs. They have got massive dogs to suit them and then I have got a nice little handbag dog, as some of the players say.”

It is caring for dogs that du Preez mentions as probably the most English thing he has done since switching over from South Africa. “That is a great question,” he said when asked about his most English activity so far. “Oh, I don’t know. You have put me on the spot there. The most English thing? Nothing comes to mind really.

“I think probably it’s a European thing, it’s how social we are with our dogs here. You take your dog everywhere. In South Africa we all have big yards and you never really have to take your dogs out but here I take my dog on a walk twice a day – but that’s not an English thing though.”

There was a time when Sale regular du Preez doubted he would make it in professional rugby. Whereas his forwards-playing brothers were immediately in the thick of it in Super Rugby as 19/20-year-olds, the less physically imposing half-back was more of a later developer. “There must be something in the water, maybe they stole my food, I’m not sure. I always say I got the brains, they got the brawn,” he jested when asked about the family genetics.

“I signed in my last year at school to go to the Sharks, go into the academy there in Durban, and at the time there were some really good fly-halves, including Pat Lambie. I probably would have been fifth down the line and wasn’t really seeing an opportunity so I played Varsity Cup in my U21s year, which was a breakout, and then signed at Western Province/Stormers.

“I guess it was just the way it happened. There was no real reason it [first-team emergence] was late. It was probably a bit blocked initially at the Sharks but I have got no ill feeling, I was very young at the time and not everyone can play, and not everyone can play at a young age like the Currys, or Jean-Luc, or Handre (Pollard), all these kind of guys. I just guess when the time did come I was ready.”

It was 2018 when he was reunited with his brothers at the Sharks. “Going back to Durban would have always been in the back of my mind, being with my family and being with my brothers and not having to play against them which is not easy as you can imagine.

“They are just freaks, aren’t they? Freaks of nature and they are really physical. If you look at what they do in the league now, can you imagine playing against it? That is what it would have been like, playing against them being these real big bruisers, great ball carriers, good tacklers obviously. It was better being on their side than against them.

The time was just right to go back. Pat Lambie had left so there was myself and Curwin Bosch really, so the time was right. A lot of people will think it is quite special to play with your brothers but what is more important to me is I get to see them every day. That’s probably the bigger thing. Playing is the cherry on top. You’re playing with them and that is quite cool but being able to see them every day, that’s the one thing that I will miss once we do go our separate ways.”

The Durban highlight was winning the Currie Cup in a team coached by Robert senior, Rob’s dad who was the Springboks scrum-half in the two early 1990s seasons when South Africa were initially allowed back onto the international rugby scene.

“That is probably one of my greatest rugby memories. The year before we had won the Currie Cup, I was at Western Province and won it with Western Province against the Sharks, against my dad and my brothers, and then the next year I won it with them which was super special, getting to share the moment with them and having the cup between us. That photo is great.”

Having bailed out the Sharks in mid-2019 at the same time as his sons, Robert Snr these days is only a short flight away from Manchester as he is now coaching at Rugby Parma in the Italian Serie A and dad will surely take a keen interest in how things evolve at Sale in the new year when star signing George Ford becomes fit and available and looks for the No10 shirt that Rob Jnr is currently wearing with great effect in guiding Sale to second in the Premiership table ahead of Sunday’s visit to leaders Saracens.

“I kind of how do I say it, I don’t cherish it, what would the word be? I welcome it, I welcome the competition,” he said. “George is a world-class player and I have always said and been quite open about this, I don’t mind where I play as long as I can contribute to the team whether that be at ten or at 13.

“As a player, you just want to be involved really and so if that means I play 13 or if I carry on playing ten or whatever the case may be, I’ll welcome it and I’ll take that head-on like I did last year (when competing with AJ MacGinty). I quite enjoy 13. It’s nice getting the ball in the wider channels.

George has been really good since coming in. He has not been training or playing but just his mindset and when he speaks, people listen. He has been a little bit of a catalyst in the way of thinking and you can see by the way we play, we have got a lot more balance in our play and he has kind of lit that fire. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and we will cross that bridge when it comes.

“He lives in Saddleworth, which is quite a while away, I think it’s about an hour, but at the club, I have always been very good mates with the other tens. Myself and AJ got along really well (before he joined Bristol), so I’m sure myself and George will get along really well. We sit down and preview and review stuff, so I’m looking forward to working with him. It has been good so far and long may that continue.”

The evolution of Sale under Alex Sanderson – who succeeded Diamond in January 2021 – as a team that enjoys a better balance between run, kick and pass with their physicality still underpinning everything they do is no fluke insisted du Preez, given the holistic approach that now feeds into their preparation.

“Al has brought that in, which is also very important. It’s not all about rugby, rugby, rugby, it’s also about relationships and getting along and being social with each other… Once you have got that social capital built up, because you are tighter you will probably do better in the field.

We have the mind gym which is a little thing in the parking lot, like a building where a lot of breathing work gets done, a lot of yoga work, stretching, all that kind of stuff. We have a room where people can just sit and journal should they want to.

du Preez Springboks debut
Rob du Preez carries during his 2018 Springboks debut (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

“We do a bit of breathing, that is one thing I do a bit of. A lot of it was in the pre-season when we had a lot more time. When you get into games it is quite tough to do as much but we still have our R’n’R blocks after training where we do ice bath or sauna or steam room and all that kind of stuff and have some time.”

All three du Preez brothers are in the starting Sale XV to tackle Saracens. “I’m not a huge fan of 4G pitches, I don’t think many people are,” Rob suggested. “It wouldn’t be high on the list. Bristol is quite a nice place to play, Bath is a great place and Kingsholm, is that Gloucester’s stadium? That is always very lively and buzzing and the crowd really gets involved.

“Even though they get stuck into you it is still quite cool to see a full, packed-out stadium. But yeah, going to Sarries is always a challenge. They are a great team, we all know how they have been going this season – as have we – so it will be a great game this Sunday.”

Perform well and who knows, the word might filter across the Irish Sea to where Rassie Erasmus and his Springboks are now hunkering down in Dublin for the November 5 start to their November tour. One cap is all Rob ever won, coming off the bench in Washington in June 2018 in Erasmus’ first game in charge. He’d love a second cap.

“Playing for the Boks is always in the back of your mind, I’d love to add to the tally of one but my focus is at Sale, to do as well as I can here and if I do well hopefully I can get a look in but they obviously do have great fly-halves. They have got Handre and Elton (Jantjies)… but it will always be in the back of my mind, will always be something that I want to do again.

“There was a brief moment pre-pandemic, post-pandemic that I was in a WhatsApp group and could chat to Felix (Jones), he’d do little reviews on your game and send you clips and stuff like that. But that would have been the last time that I had contact.”


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