Not getting game time for English Premiership team Worcester Warriors turned out to be a blessing in disguise for new Southern Kings lock Wilhelm van der Sluys. The towering 25-year-old lock jumped at the opportunity to return home to South Africa in March and he quickly established himself in the Kings Super Rugby starting lineup.
Van der Sluys joined the Kings on a short-term deal from Worcester after the Port Elizabeth franchise experienced a crisis when several of their first-choice locks were sidelined by injury.
Such was the need for a top lock that Van der Sluys made his Super Rugby debut for the Southern Kings just five days after he arrived in Port Elizabeth.
That debut came against the Stormers at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and Van der Sluys has now cemented a berth in the starting lineup.
He has played a major part in the Kings’ unbeaten run of three matches against the Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels and Sharks.
There was very little time for Van der Sluys to settle in, but the towering 1.98m lock quickly learned all the game plays and lineout calls employed by his new team.
“I was not getting game time at Worcester so they loaned me out to championship clubs,” Van der Sluys said. “I arrived in Port Elizabeth on the Sunday and the next Saturday I played against the Stormers. It was a pretty exciting week.
“I know how it feels not to get game time so I was definitely ready for the opportunity. I am very grateful for the way things have worked out.
“My contract with Worcestershire is until the end of their season in June. I don’t know where I will be after Super Rugby and we will have to see what happens.
“I must say I enjoyed the experience at Worcester at lot. Being far away from home, you grow a lot as a person. It is good to be back and it was a no-brainer to come to the Kings.
“I am very fortunate how things worked out to rather play Super Rugby than championship rugby over there in England.”
Van der Sluys came through the Western Province youth system and played for them at various youth levels.
He played for Stellenbosch University’s Maties Rugby Club for seven years and represented them in the Varsity Cup and Western Province Super League.
The lock made his first team debut for Western Province during the 2012 Vodacom Cup, coming on as a substitute in their game against a Pampas XV. He made a total of six appearances in that campaign, including in the final win against Griquas.
He was then also included in the squad for the 2012 Currie Cup Premier Division.
Kings forwards coach Barend Pieterse said Van der Sluys had provided stability to the pack.
“I have known Wilhelm and how he plays since his Varsity Cup days,” Pieterse said.
“I have always known he is a good player. Last year we wanted him, but it just did not work out for us. Wilhelm brings a bit of calmness to the pack.
“That is something the team also had last year from Steven Sykes and JC Astle. Wilhelm really took over that role on our tour to Australia.”
Van der Sluys said getting the backing of a coach gave him confidence. “As player you just want coaches backing you and putting belief in you and that has given me confidence. I am just grateful for the coaches backing me as a player.” The lock says he has many tasks to fill in the Kings team.
“Key things are running the lineouts and bringing calmness. Then there is linking with the backs with the plays you want to do with a lineout. You must also make sure you get around the park, making contributions on either attack or defence.
“I was very fortunate to be in the WP Rugby Institute with guys like Jacques Hanekom and Steph Nel, who really did a great job there.
“Then I went to study at Stellenbosch, which is also a great place and I was fortunate enough to play for Maties Rugby.
“I found that rugby in England is very set-piece driven. They put a lot of emphasis on scrums, mauls and lineouts and everything is very professional.”
Though Van der Sluys is unclear what the future will hold after Super Rugby, he wants to have a full go at playing professionally.
“I have finished up with my studies at Stellenbosch. It will be great to get a contract after Super Rugby and give playing professionally a full go.
“In my junior days at Western Province a big role model was Schalk Burger. It was the way he was on and off the field and you could see he enjoyed his rugby. “He was a great example for me to look up to.” Van der Sluys is confident that the Kings will finish the Super Rugby season on a high note, even though they could be axed from the competition next year.
“We can definitely cause a few upsets. We take it game by game and week by week by week. I feel we can scare a few teams.”
Van der Sluys had been chosen to play for the Kings against the Brumbies at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium tonight, but was withdrawn at the last moment because of a stomach muscle injury.