Former Maties scrumhalf Neil de Kock will return to Cape Town – and the Green Mile – this Friday night eager to resume hostilities against the Ikey Tigers; only this time in the colours of top English Premiership club, Saracens.
Thirty-year-old De Kock played 10 Tests for the Springboks between 2001 and 2003, but now earns his corn by plying his trade for England’s Men in Black who, of course, are coached by Brendan Venter.
And Sarries – as they are known – will be at the Green Mile on Friday evening as De Kock and co. begin ramping up their pre-season preparations; starting with a match against UCT (kick-off 9pm).
“The guys are really looking forward to getting out to Cape Town,” De Kock told varsitycup.co.za from London. “The last time we were here was in January – in the middle of the summer – so I think some of the guys are in for a bit of a shock in terms of the weather!”
Saracens will arrive in Cape Town on Thursday morning. They play against UCT on Friday evening, before returning to their Stellenbosch base and then taking on a Western Province Invitational next Friday (August 14). They will return to London on Sunday, the 16th.
“We’ve been working hard in our pre-season training,” explained De Kock, “so this trip is all about taking our rugby preparations to the next level after our first month (of training).
“There is only so much pre-season work one can do, nothing gets you fit like actually playing; so this is the next step for us ahead of our season-opener in early September.”
The seasons in England are long ones… Saracens, for instance, start their 2009/10 campaign with a Guinness Premiership clash against London Irish on September 5, with the various finals – in Europe and England – eventually culminating in May next year.
“You need a squad system to get through a season that could be up to 40 games long,” he explained.
“Luckily Brendan knows that, having played and coached here before, and that’s part of his planning and part of what we’re also trying to achieve on this trip – to build some depth and give everyone a chance.
“At the same time, however, we also have some new faces at the club and we have a week between our games, so hopefully we can get in a game of golf and have some fun away from the training pitch!”
Two full 22-man squads will make the trip out to South Africa and De Kock is relishing both contests.
“I imagine the WP Invitational squad will be made up of players not involved in the Currie Cup squad as WP are playing a match that weekend,” he said.
“But, having said that, we all know the talent in the area, so we’re expecting to come up against a very determined side.”
And when pressed on this week’s UCT fixture, the ex-Maties star added: “As a former Maties player I obviously know the rivalry between these two sides, but I’ve managed to catch some Varsity Cup highlights over here during the past two years and it’s great to see UCT doing so well and playing the brand of rugby that they do.
“When I was playing club rugby in Cape Town, and I really don’t mean to sound windgat, we (the Maties) tended to dominate, but now I see the likes of UCT, SK Walmers and Hamilton’s are all in the frame – and it can only be a good thing for Western Province rugby.
“UCT have always loved giving the ball some air and they’re bound to be a fit team at this stage of their season,” continued De Kock, “so I’m expecting plenty of running on Friday night.
“But the whole occasion (on Friday) promises to be a great one and we’ll also be having a few beers at the club afterwards, which is still an important part of the game.”