France bank on SA prop Kotze
France bank on SA prop KotzeSHARE
Daniel Kotze experienced a gruelling introduction to international rugby on Saturday when the South African-born prop came on against the All Blacks in the second half of the 13-23 first Test defeat.
However, much rests on the 26-year-old Clermont prop's shoulders as France are desperately in need of finding a long-term tighthead replacement for the 33-year-old veteran Nicolas Mas, while some hope he can go on and enjoy as successful a career in the same position as his compatriot Pieter de Villiers, who was capped 69 times between 1999 and 2007.
France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre admitted the cupboard was rather bare in that department with regards to French props – he did not seem to be overly impressed by the starting prop Luc Ducalcon replacing him after 51 minutes – and even Kotze is not first-choice for the position at Clermont where Georgian Davit Zirakashvili generally gets the nod ahead of him.
Kotze is not alone in being frozen out in the Top 14 by foreign players, but his position of tighthead prop and flyhalf are the two where France are lacking in choice.
"We know that it is vital we find solutions to who comes in after Nicolas Mas [capped 60 times but who has a knee injury], who has been the go-to man for the past 10 years," said Saint-Andre.
While Kotze had an uncomfortable time he has two years to the World Cup to establish himself and Saint-Andre made it clear that his next chance will come on Tuesday against the Auckland Blues.
"It is the first time that he has played at that level," said Saint-Andre.
"And we will have another look at him as he will be in the squad for Tuesday's game."
Kotze said that on arriving at Clermont in 2011 from Aurillac he felt then that he could reach the highest level.
"When I began to play with Vincent [Debaty] and Thomas [Domingo] at Clermont, I said to myself that anything was possible but that I had to really work hard to be selected for the French team," said Kotze.
The Bloemfontein-born Kotze – who jokingly refers to it as 'being like Clermont, the same style' – has always had a bohemian and inquisitive like nature, first evident when he learnt the Sotho dialect so he could converse with the workers on his family's farm.
However, aged just 17 and having finished school a year ahead of schedule his wanderlust took over and he made his way to England where aside from exploring the country he also hooked up with the rugby team at the Kent town of Sidcup.
"I love to travel, to discover new cultures," he said.
"That's why I left as I had time on my hands after finishing school early. I said to myself I must leave. I worked on a farm in England for six months and played rugby for Sidcup, of which I have good memories."
However, after that pleasant sojourn he returned to South Africa, played for the Cheetahs and at the same time got a degree in engineering.
"I heard talk about the scrums in France, where there is a lot of focus on that aspect," he said.
"I wanted to find an opportunity there and I alighted upon Aurillac."
Kotze said it was an extremely proud moment when he made his debut, reward for his efforts both on and off the pitch as he has made huge steps to learn to speak French fluently and especially the French national anthem 'La Marseillaise'.
He modestly says that he still makes mistakes in conjugating his phrases while adding his clubmates have tested his knowledge of the national anthem prior to his leaving for New Zealand.
"My French teacher explained the words to me and gave me the six verses on a piece of paper," he said.
"At a pre-tour barbecue with my Clermont teammates we all started singing the Marseillaise as an exercise but they regularly stopped singing so that they could test my knowledge of it," he said.
Saint-Andre and France supporters will be hoping that he develops enough as a player that he will be word perfect come the 2015 World Cup.