Eloquence and lock forwards seldom belong in the same sentence but Ruben van Heerden is a rare case where a rugged engine room man can deliver erudite answers to media queries.
Van Heerden, who divides rugby players into those who play pianos and those who shift them, has been a glimmer of light in the dark cloud that has hovered over the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship campaign.
The Cape team’s line-out functioned perfectly well at times during the Stormers’ winless tour of Europe and Van Heerden’s partnership with youngster Adre Smith was one of the few reasons for coach John Dobson to smile.
“Adre and I are forming a nice combination,” said Van Heerden.
“He told me in the gym that I was the head boy and he was the bad boy. That’s the kind of combination we have now.
“It’s nice when you have two locks who can both shoulder open the door and play with ‘soft’ hands,
guys who can move the piano, but can also play it. It’s rare that you have two such locks in your team at the same time.”
Van Heerden’s career is enjoying a renaissance since he joined the Cape team last year after a season in England with the Exeter Chiefs.
Before that, he played for the Sharks for five years in a tenure that did not deliver on its promise.
At 2m tall and 118kg, he was a schoolboy star with Affies. He played for the SA Schools team in 2017 and SA Under-20s two years later, and after a brief stint with the Bulls, the Sharks pulled off a coup by capturing one of the brightest prospects in the country.
Van Heerden is still just 26 and after experiencing frustration in Durban, he is at last looking like he can fulfil his potential under Dobson’s guidance.
“The line-outs are a real team effort,” he continued.
“It’s a unique facet. You have a guy who has to pick up the jumper correctly, a guy who has to throw in right, and me who has to decide on the right target. All those things must go smoothly.
“I don’t think I can take all the credit for the good performance in the line-outs. It’s a team effort by the forwards.”
The Stormers returned home in an unfamiliar 12th position and they must begin their climb up the ladder with a win over Zebre in Stellenbosch tomorrow. Kick-off is at 7.15pm.
“Currently, we cannot underestimate anyone,” Van Heerden said of a Zebre team that was smashed by the Lions last week.
“We have landed ourselves in a place where we will be driving dirt roads for the rest of the season. However, we accept the challenge and now need to achieve a string of victories.”
Dobson, meanwhile has acknowledged the progress made by Van Heerden and Smith as a combination.
“Ruben won an internal honour and I mentioned to the team how hard he competes,” Dobson said.
“You rarely get No 5 locks who can get in so physically and maintain a high performance. Adre has a lot of potential and we are now starting to see it.
“Against Munster, he made 20 tackles after being sent on in Gary Porter’s place. This pair is a silver lining around the dark cloud of our tour.”