CAPE TOWN – Marco van Staden is renowned as an openside flank who swarms over the ball on the ground, and is a machine on defence.
It actually saw him get the nickname ‘Eskom’, because he “tackled your lights out”.
But the 25-year-old Bulls No 6 has definitely evolved his game over the last year, so much so that it resulted in a recall to the Springbok squad for upcoming Tests against Georgia, as well as the British and Irish Lions.
Van Staden, when doing the dirty work previously, was often caught with his hands in the ruck, and he tended to give away too many penalties.
That is part of the reason why he has played only three Tests, and missed out on the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
But now, his timing is much better at the breakdowns, where he has been a huge presence in the Bulls’ success in Super Rugby Unlocked, Currie Cup and now the Rainbow Cup SA.
In addition, he has emerged as a useful, hard-working ball-carrier who breaches the advantage line, which has added a new dimension to his game.
“I have grown a lot as a player since I made my debut. The game changes all the time, so you can’t just stand still and stick to one style of play. Any skills that you can add to your game will make you so much better,” Van Staden said from Loftus Versfeld yesterday ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Sharks in Durban.
“It’s not just me – the way we play and work with each other at the Bulls, it brings the best out of every player. We put in the hard work before the Super Rugby Unlocked even started, and the hard work has paid off.”
He is obviously delighted to be back in the Bok mix – “it’s a once-ina-lifetime opportunity” to face the Lions – but he knows performance is all that counts. On Saturday at Kings Park, he is likely to come against national captain Siya Kolisi, so it is an ideal chance for him to impress Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus.
Van Staden is unlikely to have his two usual loose-forward buddies, Duane Vermeulen (ankle) and Elrigh Louw (knee), alongside him due to injury, though.
“We don’t know anything for certain, but it is a bit disappointing (that they’re likely to be out). We have played quite a few games together, and have gelled well as a loose trio.
“On the other hand, we have an excellent flank and leader coming back in Marcell Coetzee, and it is an honour to play with him. He gives his all on the field,” he said.
“You should give 100% in every game, and I am not going to focus specifically on playing against Siya. Our team has a plan and we will carry it out, so I am not going to do things out of my position to prove a point – that is not what it is about.
“We have been finishing well in all the games, but I think what we need to focus on this week is to start well too – so, to not just come from behind every time.
“We must start well, and we must focus on our set pieces and do the basic things well, and not make simple mistakes.”