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Ken Borland



No oriental climes for Gelant as he wants to become a better player 0

Posted on September 19, 2022 by Ken

For current members of the Springbok squad, the decision to join an overseas club provides a couple of options: They can either earn a big pay packet but play less demanding rugby in oriental climes, or they can go to Europe, still earn plenty and compete in arguably the most competitive leagues in the world.

Warrick Gelant is forthright about his decision to join Racing 92 in France being all about becoming a better player; he is adamant playing for the Springboks is his ultimate and he wants a regular starting berth.

Last season was so special for him at the Stormers, being a key figure as they claimed a sensational United Rugby Championship crown, but Gelant is not one to stay in a comfort zone.

“Anytime you go to a top club it is an opportunity, and I believe the Top 14 is the best competition in the world. It’s really tough because there are 14 different teams in it, compared to just four franchises in South Africa,” Gelant says.

“You also play in such different conditions: You play indoors in a closed stadium at Racing, but then you’ll be in the rain and maybe even snow in your away matches.

“Every part of my game will be tested. I certainly don’t know it all yet, and it will be a great test to measure myself. And Racing have amazing management and they are a great club,” Gelant says.

“I feel I can still take my game up a notch, I can still get better now that my body has no issues. And I haven’t given up on the Springboks either.

“Being exposed to quality, world-class players in France every week will give me the best chance of getting back into the Springbok starting XV. If they do select me, they will be getting a better player than I was,” Gelant states.

There were times in last season’s United Rugby Championship that Gelant reminded one of South Africa’s Rolls Royce of fullbacks, 1995 World Cup hero Andre Joubert.

This year has been a triumph for the man known as “Boogie” – probably for both his threat as the boogie-man for defences and also his fast feet.

Gelant dazzled in counter-attack for the Stormers and was arguably the best fullback in the URC as the team that started the competition in disarray due to off-field problems ended up winning the trophy.

Gelant loved the season, not only because of the success, but also because of the style of rugby the Stormers played under coach John Dobson.

“We had to get accustomed to a new style of rugby and rules are blown differently in the UK. So we struggled initially, but at least we were together all the time overseas and we could sort things out,” Gelant says.

“Belief started to creep in when we saved the game against Edinburgh and then we beat the Dragons. Things started to work for us and we really started to believe we were getting somewhere.

“There was buy-in from everyone in terms of how we wanted to play and we really played for each other. So we ended up winning our last 11 games on the trot.

“The Irish and Welsh teams really stick to their systems, they are very tight and very driven by that, they rarely go out of their system. And that can really break you down.

“So we needed to disrupt their structure and we did that by not making our play too structured. We needed to find a way to handle chaos better than they did.

“We needed to understand what sort of game we wanted to play and if we wanted to kick. It was about how to handle territory and space and understand the opportunities that are there when play gets loose and making sure you can capitalise. It’s about the way everyone reacts and plays off each other,” Gelant said.

The Knysna-born player returned to the Cape in 2020, having made his name at the Bulls. But before this year, for much of Gelant’s time with the Stormers he seemed like a broken-down car languishing in the garage, rather than a Rolls Royce.

After the frustrations of Covid causing all rugby to be shelved, Gelant then suffered an ACL knee injury when play resumed. But that is when he really showed his mettle.

Gelant has fought back from double knee surgery at the end of 2020, which speaks volumes for his motivation and professionalism.

In order to ensure he would return to being the player he was, Gelant sacrificed playing against the British and Irish Lions last year in order to have both knees sorted out at the same time.

“I already had a hole in my one cartilage when I tore my ACL and I had been playing in severe pain. I had the opportunity to get the other knee fixed too, but that meant turning my back on the Lions tour,” Gelant explains.

“But I made a really mature decision to sacrifice in the short-term and fix both knees at the same time. It was not easy, but I believe I have a lot of rugby still in me. There were tough times in rehab, but I imagined myself coming back as a better player, moving better and being more mature.

“When I did come back for the Stormers, it felt amazing and I know I made the right decision. I quickly refound my old form. I was so grateful just to be playing again after double knee surgery. It can be taken away from you so easily,” the 27-year-old says.

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