Sun 20 Jul 2014 | 12:59
Van Velze's English evolution
Sun 20 Jul 2014 | 12:59
Van Velze's English evolutionSHARE
Gerrit-Jan van Velze is on his way to Worcester Warriors for the new season but is still grateful for what he has learnt from his departing club, Northampton.
The former SA under-20 captain was part of the Bulls Super Rugby team from 2010 to 2012 but then left for England at then end of the season.
However, since making the trip up north, the versatile loose forward has been somewhat of a success in a successful team.
He has enjoyed many special occasions in his time at Franklin’s Gardens, but he departs the current Premiership Champions in search of more game time.
“I still speak to them [Saints team mates] every week because they helped a lot with my transition, from being this naive Afrikaans boy moving to England, they helped me a lot,” says van Velze, who went on to make 31 appearances for Saints, scoring five tries.
“There was an uncertainty about it [the start to his Saints career], which got to me, but as soon as you start playing rugby that all goes away and you have something to look forward to every weekend.
“I had a bit of a reality check in my first pre-season with [performance director] Nick [Johnston], which didn’t make it easy, but then we started playing rugby and every single moment I spent on the pitch was brilliant.”
Eventually, though, van Velze found himself having to get used to life outside of the first-team picture with the Saints.
The start of his second and final season at the club saw him more as a squad member rather than part of the first team as Sam Dickinson came back from the arm injury that ruled him out of the previous campaign.
Dickinson’s form, allied with the continual blockbusting brilliance of Samu Manoa, made the No.8 shirt hard to come by, leading Van Velze to look towards Worcester.
“Being a squad player is a difficult thing to be branded and it is possibly the last thing any rugby player wants to be called because we always want to challenge ourselves to the best of our ability,” said the 26-year-old.
“I came in to play rugby and things didn’t go my way at the start of last season.
“Credit to Sam, he played some great rugby whenever he had the opportunity and was rewarded with the England Saxons call up.
“He did really well and there just came a time where I had to make a decision on whether I would stay and wait longer for an opportunity or whether I go somewhere else where I get a different challenge and a fresh start.
“Speaking to [Worcester boss] Dean Ryan, I was really intrigued the first time I met him. He’s one of those people you like to impress.
“He makes a statement and he’s got a real presence. I enjoyed meeting up with him for the first time.”
Now van Velze will look to adapt to a different challenge, Warriors are on the other end of the scale to Saints – they will be looking to their new loose forward to help them remain in the English elite competition.
But he will still be keeping a close eye on his old club as they bid to back up a season which ended with Premiership glory.
“I’ll be watching them in the Premiership weekly, following the boys and cheering them on,” said van Velze.
“Hopefully they can do it back to back.”