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By Athenkosi Tsotsi

Sports Reporter

Big interview: Neethling Fouche edges closer to realising Bok dream

'It has been a very tough, beautiful ride that I have been on to get to where I am today.'

Stormers tighthead prop Neethling Fouche, having gone through seasons in the desert and dark places in his career, wants his story, when he eventually becomes a Springbok, to be one of perseverance.

The 31-year-old went through a lot of adversity in the formative years of his career and now is within touching distance of achieving his lifelong dream of playing for the Springboks.

In the recently announced 43-man squad for the Springboks’ first alignment camp of the year, Fouche is part of 16 players that are uncapped, much to the surprise of many.

Although being part of the alignment camp squad doesn’t guarantee one will play for the Springboks, for Fouche it is a reward for all the hard times.

‘Tough times made me’

From the age of 19 to 24, Fouche was injury-prone and had gone through four operations as he had broken his knee, neck, hand and ankle within that period which resulted in him spending most of his time in rehab instead of on the field.

“It has been a very tough, beautiful ride that I have been on to get to where I am today. The tough times didn’t only develop me as a player but also as a man, a husband and father,” said Fouche when speaking to The Citizen as part of BrightRock’s Between the Poles series.

“Throughout that desert period in my life, I kept on having this voice in my head, which I knew was from my heavenly father telling me to keep going, there’s something special waiting for me.

“I kept on believing and listening to that voice. My last serious injury was in 2018; I tore the ligaments in my big toe, a common injury for props. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to not be injured,” he said.

Neethling Fouche
Neethling Fouche in action for Maties during the Varsity Cup competition in 2018. Picture: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Fouche recalls when he missed out on selection for a U20 Rugby World Cup because of an injury. Looking back on that setback, he says it took him to a dark place.

“One incident that stands out was just before an SA U20 competition, I was in the squad and everything was looking positive for me to go to the World Cup,” said Fouche.

“I believe I would have been selected and then I hurt my knee and I could not go. I got a call from Dawie Theron telling me the doctor hadn’t cleared me. I remember that feeling, just feeling so isolated and lonely.

“I definitely went into a dark place at that moment. I mean as a young man, you see all your friends going on this tour and you’re not. I don’t think life prepares you for a disappointment like that, but then again I went through those hardships to develop not only as a rugby player but as a man,” he said.

Influence of Kitshoff and Malherbe

There have been many influences in Fouche’s career with the biggest being two-time Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.

When the duo was heading towards world-class levels, Fouche was still finding his feet. Training with them and seeing how they operated allowed Fouche to mould himself as a prop.

“At the end of 2017, I started training with Kitsy a lot, scrumming against him a lot, which at the start of it, I saw it as a big obstacle, and with time I saw it as a massive privilege,” he said.

“I regard him and Ox Nche as the two best looseheads in the world, and scrumming against him was very special. He would humble me in most of the scrums, but he then slowly after the sessions would help me.

“Then I would go to Frans, and he would say try this and that, he’s the best tighthead in the world. Then you almost start to get a grip of who you are as a player and how you want to scrum, what is your thing, and how will you focus on your technique” Fouche said.

Closer to Springboks glory

The Grey College old boy is approaching 70 caps for the Stormers and has captained the team. He has been an integral figure in the team’s success in the United Rugby Championship. Next for Fouche in his career is becoming a Springbok, something that’s close to his heart.

“I’m getting a bit closer, it’s the ultimate, I’ve always wanted to reach my potential and see where it takes me and if that means I can have the privilege to put on that jersey … I’m getting goosebumps talking about it,” he said.

The likes of Springboks captain Siya Kolisi, Makazole Mapimpi and Deon Fourie have had inspiring stories in recent years. With the many plights that people are facing in the country, Fouche hopes his Springboks story can inspire people to not give up when life gets hard.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, it’s a story of perseverance for me, and there have been times I have been close to giving up. I’m still standing hopefully something is around the corner. A lot of hard work still has to be done, I’m conscious about that but it is the ultimate dream,” Fouche said.

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Springboks (Bokke/Boks) Stormers rugby team

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