Marnus Potgieter. (Photo by Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images)
- Rising Bulls centre Marnus Potgieter still considers his stint with the Baby Boks as the pinnacle of his short career to date.
- It’s a sentiment that becomes significant when one takes into account the Covid-19 pandemic – SA will miss out on two vintages of Under-20s not being able to play at the World Junior Champs to date.
- The former Affies star is keen to make a name for himself at his “home” union, especially since Jake White has prioritised tradition at Loftus.
Marnus Potgieter might be steadily making a name for himself at senior provincial level, but the upcoming Bulls midfielder’s crowning achievement – for now – remains being the Junior Springboks’ first-choice No 13 at 2019’s World Junior Championship.
While that may seem a tad innocuous, it’s actually an honour that becomes quite significant considering Covid-19’s massive influence on the game.
The 22-year-old centre, who’s expected to play a prominent role in the Bulls’ Rainbow Cup SA campaign, is currently a member of the last group of youngsters to have represented South Africa at Under-20 level.
World Rugby announced in January that this year’s edition has once again been cancelled, meaning local rugby will have to deal with a “lost generation” never to have appeared for the Springboks’ former “next senior” team.
That reality cuts deep for the “privileged” Potgieter.
“I still get goosebumps when I think about the Championship,” he said.
“It was an unbelievable experience, from the moment we started preparing until the team was selected and the campaign was completed. It was the first time I went overseas and it was great to be exposed to the leading younger players in the world.
“To this day I believe that exposure laid the foundation for me to make the step up to senior rugby. Some of my best mates were cruelly denied the opportunity to do that last year. I really sympathise with them, hopefully there’s a way for them to experience something similar down the line.”
The former Affies star, however, can’t dwell too much on the misfortunes of others as the influential Stedman Gans’ injury has opened the door for him to exploit the potential gap in selection.
“It’s difficult to say whether I’d be a contender to fill that position,” said Potgieter humbly.
“It’s obviously very disappointing that Stedman is sidelined, but I’m working hard so that I can capitalise on any opportunity that may arise. It’s important to grab it when it comes.”
Interestingly, Jake White, the Bulls’ director of rugby, initially wanted to exploit the 1.87m, 86kg exponent’s substantial pace on the wing before settling him in his favoured position.
Despite the franchise’s premium on versatility, Potgieter – rather refreshingly – makes no secret of the fact that he wants to focus on becoming an accomplished outside centre.
“Versatility is something that our coaching staff treasures, so it’s going to be important for any back in this group to show that he can offer different skillsets,” he said.
“I learnt a lot playing on the wing last season and conversely again at 13. It’s always nice to apply those lessons wherever you play. Personally, I prefer playing at outside centre because you’re a bit closer to the action.”
A rookie like Potgieter might not exactly need much motivation to give his all for the jersey, but it undoubtedly helps that White has placed a premium on rekindling tradition at Loftus.
“From a young age, I wanted to become a Bull,” he said.
“There was a stage when I was at high school that the team went through a bit of a dip, but that didn’t deter me. The environment that’s been created here makes me yearn for the day that we can have fans at Loftus again.
“I can’t wait for that atmosphere. At least we have the consolation of working on that from a performance perspective. I hope when fans are allowed back that we’ve created a brand of rugby that people want to watch.
“All credit to coach Jake, he’s really put the team’s brand first.”