— Cape Town Ruan Nortje was not just the best South African No. 5 lock in the 2012 United Rugby Championship (URC), but probably the best player in the entire competition.
The 24-year-old Bulls stalwart is a master of the line-out and won the URC Ironman title for the most minutes played in the league stage of the season – an astonishing 1,394 minutes in 18 matches, which meant that he only missed 46 minutes of action in total.
Nortje was also selected for the tournament team and made his Springbok debut in July against Wales in Bloemfontein.
Nortje came off the bench at the Free State Stadium, and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has stuck with Lood de Jager throughout the international season, denying Nortje a second appearance.
Now, however, he is focused on returning to the national team, and he intends to continue his pursuit of higher honors in Saturday’s match against Edinburgh at Loftus Versfeld (2.30pm kick-off).
“It is a fantasy for every young South African guy… It was a tremendous honor and joy to have worn that jersey only once. This week, a graduate of Horskole Wonderboom stated, “I’m certainly driven to work as hard as possible to achieve that feeling again.”
“I am extremely humbled and appreciative for the chance; now I must work well to earn the privilege to be there again.”
Nortje is aware that he will not have an easy time against Edinburgh. Last October, the Scots defeated the Bulls 17-10 at DAM Heath Stadium. The URC ranked the Scots as the best overall line-out team in the league, with the Pretoria side coming in second.
Last weekend, Edinburgh opened their season with a 44-6 home victory over the Dragons, and they will be confident of defeating Jake White’s squad again.
“Edinburgh have a year’s advantage over us. They are a large, talented team with several international players. It is an enormous challenge to compete against foreign talent. “They are well-organized and had the highest line-out percentage last season (92 compared to the Bulls’ 91), so it will be a tremendous task for us,” Nortje said.
“However, the lads are ecstatic to be back on Loftus, and we hope to have a few fans in attendance and do them proud.”
To accomplish this, the Bulls will attempt to increase the game’s speed and make Edinburgh feel the affects of playing at altitude. Nortje stated that his squad also suffered a bit in last week’s 31-15 victory over the Lions at Ellis Park, but says that they intend to take the battle to the opposition on Saturday.
“The first one of the season is always difficult on the lungs, but I’m delighted to have it under my belt. “South African derbies are always the most physical games you can play in a year, and it set the benchmark for the competition — our physicality can only increase from here on out,” said the two-meter second-rower.
The body has been sore for the past two or three days due to the absence of game contact throughout the past two or three months. As the season progresses, though, the body will acclimate and recuperation will become quicker.
“We have had a lot of continuity in our pack over the past few seasons, which gives us a great deal of confidence. There is a great deal of camaraderie inside the pack, and as we play more games, it can only improve.
“As the coach usually says, you must score tries in order to win the URC. The URC is unquestionably a very quick game, and you must move around the park a lot, play continuity rugby and offload rugby to put ourselves in the correct positions, and apply tempo pressure to the opposition.
This has been the goal during preseason and all the running: to get lean.