Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Raging ex-Bull with style the Ockers love

Jacques Potgieter of the Waratahs celebrates scoring a try. Photo / Getty Images
Jacques Potgieter of the Waratahs celebrates scoring a try. Photo / Getty Images

You can't miss him. Jacques Potgieter is the bloke with the lank black hair and a disregard for his own safety.

He has become a cult hero in a Waratahs side which has coveted recognition and sought players who have "team" and "selfless" engraved in their playing manuals.

It's been a remarkable public acceptance; then again Australians do have a strong record for embracing new talent.

In his native South Africa, the 28-year-old loose forward ran around with the Bulls and while he managed three caps on the end-of-year tour in 2012, injury stopped him playing much Super rugby.

The Bulls did not object to his release. He was happy to get a solid contract and Tahs coach Michael Cheika had a forward who would bring some of the mongrel he wanted.

It was a close thing. Potgieter was thinking about going to the English premiership when he was quizzed about a shift to another Super rugby franchise. He liked that idea but fancied only a move to the Waratahs.

Soon after a call came from Cheika and the deal was done. It was a gamble for both men especially as the franchise's experience with several other imports from South Africa had not been rewarding.

It helped that several of Potgieter's mates had played for Cheika when he coached Leinster and they had admired his methods.

An ambition to be part of a squad which played a rugby style so different to the Bulls' strict approach was the lure for Potgieter.

He'd seen the Tahs' improvement in their first year with Cheika and wanted to be part of that evolution.

Potgieter might lack a little finesse, but his abrasive style and unflinching combat have helped draw results which have encouraged crowds to support the Tahs.

His energy has been infectious and though there is a lack of subtlety about his play, it gets spectators' juices flowing.

In rugby terms he is an older version of Malakai Fekitoa, a player who was in the Blues squad but did not get a run and then burst from his chrysalis with demonic intent this season at the Highlanders.

When they get their mitts on the ball there is a lift in spectator connection.

"I just go hard at whatever I do," was Potgieter's answer to inquiries about his plans. "I'm just an ugly guy running around enjoying the game."

Potgieter stands 1.94m and weighs in at 115kg, which has enabled him to shift into lock and add to the mobility of the Tahs pack before they shuffle the resources and bring the massive Will Skelton into the action.

A fascinating part of the Tahs' duel tonight will be the response of their tight five. Questions about their competence have come with increasing frequency as the tournament tapers to its conclusion.

Individually they bring the athletic substance needed from modern tight forwards yet there are misgivings about their collective technical unity for set-piece combat.

Potgieter has an inbuilt combative approach to his work which has rubbed off on his colleagues - now it's a question of whether they have the unity to deal with the Crusaders.

- NZ Herald

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