Rudolph Jacobs
Rugby Journalist
4 minute read
29 Jul 2017
6:15 am

Ruan Combrinck: The modest Lion with the million-dollar boot

Rudolph Jacobs

The unassuming farm-grown star, who is very religious, attributes his success to the Lord.

Ruan Combrinck made a superb return to Super Rugby. Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images.

Ten million rand. That is what Ruan Combrinck’s monstrous last-gasp penalty goal from 58m was worth in the Lions’ tense 23- 21 Super Rugby quarterfinal win over the Sharks at Ellis Park last Saturday.

It is believed that the Lions will earn an eight-figure amount from hosting today’s semifinal against the Hurricanes and a possible home final next week.

But when you probe the 27-year-old to share his thoughts on that extraordinary effort, his answer sums up his focused demeanour.

“I just did my job,” Combrinck, widely known as “Commies”, says.

“I’m grateful for all the messages of support, but everything is only possible through Him,” he says with reference to his Christian beliefs.

Combrinck remembers his father Cobus telling him as he was growing up that if he wanted to become a Springbok one day, he had to kick like a Naas Botha – off the left and right foot and with good distance out of hand.

Although the tension made it hard to watch for many a Lions fan, his captain Jaco Kriel wasn’t surprised by the end result.

“If you know Ruan and his character, you will understand it better. He is always looking for opportunities and those big moments.

He is always the last oke walking off the field after 60m penalties, and how many he gets over we don’t know,” jokes Kriel.

“I had my doubts after he missed his first kick and we have a thing where we also look at the sidelines for advice, because the coach speaks to the guys on the field and they were pointing at the line.

But Commies already had the tee in his hand, so I said to him: ‘Commies, this is win or lose’”.

But Combrinck’s life story starts far away from 30 000-odd cheering fans and the bright lights of the big city.

He was born in Vryheid and his father and mother Debbie still farm sheep and cattle in Babanango in northern KwaZulu-Natal in a fifth-generation enterprise.

After boarding school, Combrinck attended the famous Michaelhouse where he played first team along with the Cronje twins, Ross and Guy, Pat Lambie and Sevens player Mark Richards.

Combrinck says it was Lambie who first taught him the lessons of camaraderie in sport, while in later years he describes former Springbok Butch James – who enjoyed a spell at the Lions in 2011 – as someone with great knowledge and expertise of the game.

He was the KwaZulu-Natal hurdles champion between the ages of 11 and 17, and also excelled in javelin, while he was an A-standard drama student and cracked the first teams for cricket, soccer and basketball.

On the rugby front, Combrinck turned out for the Sharks Under-19 team before he went to Stellenbosch where he played for Western Province Under-19s and had one game for the senior Vodacom Cup side.

It was in 2011 that he was lured to the Lions by former SA Under-21 coach Nico Serfontein. He trained for an entire season with the Currie Cup team under John Mitchell without getting game time before things started falling into place in 2012.

Despite his big breakthrough last year, which earned him seven Springbok caps after a storming Super Rugby season, he remains modest about his achievements.

He missed the end of last year’s action and the start of this season after a fractured leg and shoulder operation halted his progress.

“I’m just feeding off the rest of the guys, and obviously when the team does well the players excel, but I can’t take any credit for myself,” he says.

“It’s great when you have guys like Elton Janjies and Lionel Mapoe on your inside and the off-loading takes place just at the right moment.

“And with the forwards making metres, at the end of the day I’m going through a gap.

“I didn’t really create anything, but I’m getting the credit.”

After being single for a long time, Combrinck is now in a relationship with lady friend Dane Louis after she accompanied him to a “day out” function at Gold Reef City.

But despite earning a living in South Africa’s biggest city, you can’t take farming out of Combrinck, who openly declares he “just loves the smell of wet farm soil, horses and cattle”.

He stays on a plot outside Alberton that he shares with friends, surrounded by some cattle and his two dogs, Tanic and Milla.

He often shares his affection for his two beloved dogs on social media by referring to Milla the border collie as “Daddy’s pretty girl” and to Tanic the boerboel as “Daddy’s big boy”.

The Lions will need Combrinck’s lionheart again today in their quest to clear the penultimate hurdle in Doornfontein.

That will give their fans, and accountants, plenty of reason to celebrate for at least another week.