By George Byron
RUGBY fans are hoping the try explosive Shane Gates scored on his Currie Cup debut for the EP Kings against the Cheetahs on October 19 proves to be the first of many for the 20-year-old centre.
After starring for the EP under-21 team this season, Gates was thrown into the national spotlight when he played for the senior team in their Currie Cup promotion/relegation showdown.
Though the Kings suffered a heavy 53-14 defeat, Gates can at least look back on his visit to the Free State Stadium with a measure of satisfaction.
“It was great playing against a Super Rugby franchise and an added bonus was to sneak over for my first Currie Cup try,” the former Muir College star said.
“My blood was pumping and the adrenalin going when I scored. I really hope it was the first of many. The crowd at the Free State Stadium was very energetic. They really get behind their boys, just like they do in Port Elizabeth.”
EP Academy manager and under-21 coach Robbi Kempson was full of praise for one of the region’s brightest young talents when he looked back on his team’s successful season.
“Our vice-captain Gates was a standout performer in every game this season. His energy on both defence and attack, and a very level head on young shoulders, have made an impressionable difference on the backline” Kempson, a former Springbok prop forward, said.
As a centre, speed is vital for Gates and it is an aspect of his game he works extra hard on.
“Our conditioning coach, Phil Mack, spends a lot of time working on my acceleration,” Gates said.
“He gets his toys out and we have a drill where they tie a sled behind your body and you have to pull it.
“It is all about a quick start and how fast you can get off the mark. They are not worried about your top speed but how fast you reach it.”
Gates first played rugby at the Preparatory School in Despatch at the age of seven. “I got lots of encouragement from my dad, Shaun, and at the age of 15 I was playing in the Muir College first team. My coaches then were Lyntin Gouws and Runeshon Moodley, who played a big part in my development.”
Now that he is totally devoted to rugby, Gates says he has had to make some adjustments to his lifestyle, including his diet.
“Coming out of school it took a little while to adjust. You realise your life revolves around rugby and that it is your job.
“Some people put on a tie and sit in the office, and I put on my boots and run around the field and get paid for it at the end of the month. It is the perfect lifestyle for me and I would not have it any other way.”
While it might sound like a “dream job”, Gates says there are some frustrations. “During a Vodacom Cup match in Durban this year against the Sharks, I contested a ball and broke two ribs.
“That put me out of action for nine weeks and it was my first big injury. I found it tough to be out for that long and watch other people playing and taking your position in the team.
“It taught me to be mature and patient, though it was not easy at the time.”
Unlike many players of his age, Gates has already had the chance of playing overseas against international teams. “It was wonderful to go to Romania last year to play for the Kings in an International Rugby Board tournament, and play against Portugal and Georgia.
“That was the first time I had ever been out of the country and it helped my career a lot. Our director of rugby, Alan Solomons, has a good eye for development and he wanted me to experience playing overseas at a young age. The tour left me feeling very enriched.”
Gates says the proudest moment of his career came at the start of the season when he played for the Southern Kings in a pre-season friendly against the Stormers.
“It was wonderful to be out on the field playing against Springboks who were also heroes of mine.”
Gates is known to be one of the liveliest players at Kings training sessions and he enjoys bringing extra energy to the pitch. “I enjoy training and always like to pick up the vibe by cracking a joke and getting involved with my teammates.”
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 27, 2012.