André Esterhuizen. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)
- Andre Esterhuizen’s various nicknames over the years actually testify to how he has grown into a great player.
- Back in the Springbok-23 after a hand injury, the imposing midfielder has developed a diverse array of skills, leading to a club coach calling him a “lock in the 12 jersey”.
- Esterhuizen admitted that despite his excellent club form, he was not frustrated with the lack of playing time.
Andre Esterhuizen has been mentioned a lot in his rugby life so far.
Jake White, in his brief stint as rugby director for the Sharks in 2014, believed his 20-year-old rookie from Klerksdorp was a flanker.
During a spirited senior-level introduction, he was labeled a proverbial crash baller.
When he and Lukhanyo Am found their groove under Robert du Preez, the then head coach of the Durbanites thought he was the best indoor center in the country.
His first season as a Harlequins star brought with him the nickname ‘Andre the Giant’, a tribute to the legendary professional wrestler at 2.24 m.
Last season, tearing up opponents en route to being nominated as England’s Premiership Player of the Season, Esterhuizen became the “Agent of Chaos”.
The 28-year-old has been able to embrace them all.
But when told that Jerry Flannery, his lineout and defense coach at Harlequins, called him a “tighthead lock playing in the 12 jersey” earlier this year, Esterhuizen can only chuckle heartily.
READ | Fly half Faf? Bok tough would be more than willing to help: ‘I’d be comfortable’
“Yes, I’m not exactly sure how to answer that. I’m not exactly sure what the thinking was,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship meeting with Argentina, where he will be part of the bench.
“Jerry and I have a really good relationship, we work together a lot on defensive matters.”
It turned out that Flannery simply thought that Esterhuizen – who admitted he is a mountain of a man at 1.92m and 110kg – had become a “complete player” who can “catch and pass as well as anyone else”.
With the World Cup in France just over a year away, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber couldn’t ignore the claims of a man who has truly reinvented himself for the better.
“I’ve played a few brands of rugby in recent years, especially at Harlequins where we like to attack, but we all know the difference between club and Test rugby,” said Esterhuizen. but that can only be on the back of momentum. To unload, you have to be in the foreground, because that frees up the space.”
Speaking of softer accents, the national lineup may also take some of the credit for Esterhuizen’s revival.
It was Bok assistant coach Felix Jones, who is considered one of the burgeoning great minds of world rugby, who suggested a small but essential tweak to his game.
“As usual during the season, he sent me clips about aspects of my game for me to watch and one of them was my placement of the ball after a carry,” said Esterhuizen.
“I made some good passes, but they didn’t help much if the ball fell out of the ruck, because I was careless with the placement.
“He also suggested some improved tackle fight on the ground to keep possession ‘clean’ and easier to recycle, which is something I’ve worked hard on. It’s just the little little things.”
Innocent tweaks or not, it all contributed to a midfielder who simply can no longer be classified as a one-trick pony.
In fact, if Esterhuizen starts producing the type of roadside assistance that lit up his Premiership season, he’ll drift off to Lukhanyo Am school with diverse skills.
That begs the question: could things have been different for him had he not suffered a hand injury in the second Test against Wales in July?
Unsurprisingly, he’s not overly concerned with the what-ifs, but focused only on leaving an indelible mark.
“I wouldn’t say [the lack of game-time] has been extremely frustrating,” said Esterhuizen.
“You can’t expect to be selected for the international side after a great season at your club. It’s always hard work and grafting to be here and once you’re here it’s even harder work.” play, but not everyone can play. When you get your chance, you have to prove yourself. My broken hand set me back a bit. So I’m grateful for this opportunity and I’m desperate to impress.”
Kick-off is at 9:10 PM.