DHL Stormers scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage has had a long career at DHL Newlands spanning many different teammates, coaches and styles of play, but one thing that has never changed is that he has always put the team first.
The experienced Duvenage will play his 88th match for the DHL Stormers when he runs out to face the Chiefs at DHL Newlands today, but he will certainly not be taking anything for granted and will soak up every moment out there as if it was his debut.
Having grown up in Paarl as a rugby-mad DHL Stormers fan who played for DHL Western Province at U16 and U18 level, every chance Duvenage gets to play in front of the DHL Newlands Faithful is special to him.
“To play at the foot of Table Mountain; DHL Newlands is iconic. To play when it is packed, that noise is unbelievable, you can’t put into words what it means every time I run out.
“In a few years when I am an old ‘toppie’, I will think about that noise of the crowd. I just want to soak it up and enjoy it with my teammates,” he says.
Duvenage made his DHL Stormers debut back in 2009 and the very next year played in the Vodacom Super Rugby Final against the Vodacom Bulls in Soweto, which sticks out as an incredible experience.
Looking back on those early days, the wily halfback says that he was privileged to learn from some DHL Stormers legends.
“I had good scrumhalves, experienced guys, around me like Bolla Conradie and Ricky Januarie. It was perfect for me to play underneath those guys and learn a lot.
“There were so many great players, from Tiaan Liebenberg who is a great character off the field with his leadership, then you had Andries Bekker and loose forwards like Schalk Burger, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen.
“Then the backs you had Peter Grant who got 100 caps for the DHL Stormers and guys like Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana.
“So for me those years were incredible and I have a lot of great memories playing next to legends of the game,” he says.
That DHL Stormers team boasted a formidable defence which produced some impressive results and although the young Duvenage was renowned for his ability with ball in hand, he adapted his game according to the needs of the team.
“When I started out I was known as a running nine who wanted to nip around the fringes and play. My game was always a ‘quick ball above all’ mentality, keeping the tempo up.
“But when I joined the DHL Stormers I wanted to play according to the mindset which was all about suffocate and strangle, which means getting in the corners and making the opposition make the mistake.
“Our win ratio in those early days was amazing, our game was built on our defence so my role was more to play a more tactical game and play in the opposition half. I wanted to play in a winning team so I bought into that and we did well,” he explains.
Duvenage then spent a few years playing for French side Perpignan and when he returned to Cape Town in 2016 the philosophy had changed, with the DHL Stormers playing a more attacking brand of rugby, which he has duly embraced.
“The games changes so quickly and the laws are now more in favour of the attacking team so you can keep the ball longer,” he says.
On his return former Backline Coach Robbie Fleck had taken over the Head Coach role, which Duvenage believes has had a major impact on the former DHL Stormers centre as a coach.
“Backline coaches are always renowned for being relaxed – a backline player mustn’t be tense if you are going to get the best out of him.
“To come back here with Fleckie as Head Coach, it has been good to see how he has changed, but he still has that aspect of giving the guys the freedom to play. So to see him as a coach evolve has been quite amazing.
“With the coaching staff of Fleckie, Paul Feeney, Paul Treu and Russell Winter they don’t get enough credit for how hard they work and how much effort they put in on the players’ skillset,” he says.
While the coach and the playing style are different these days, Duvenage’s role in the squad has also changed in that he plays a vital mentorship role for some of the younger players, which is something he can see himself taking beyond his playing days as a coach.
“When I was younger I had guys like Bolla, Ricky, Peter Grant and Willem de Waal around me.
“With guys like Damian Willemse and Jean-Luc du Plessis, they are amazingly talented but there are going to be tough times.
“To have all the noise around you when you are trying to focus on your game and your development, I reckon you need some older okes around you.
“I would like to stay in rugby, because I reckon I have a rugby brain and I would like to give back as well,” he says.