Words: Simon Borchardt
When Bolla Conradie rejected an offer to play for the Cheetahs in the Vodacom Super 14, he went with his heart. ‘I love Cape Town,’ he says. ‘I went to school in Belville and have spent my entire life in the Western Cape. When it comes to the Super 14, my blood is black and I know this is where I belong. I was flattered by Rassie Erasmus’s approach, but the Stormers are such a special brand and I want to be a part of it.’
Conradie admits he had a difficult 2005 season, with Neil de Kock preferred at scrumhalf for the majority of Western Province’s Currie Cup campaign. However, when Ricky Januarie and Fourie du Preez both picked up injuries during the competition, Conradie found himself back in the Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour, where he made a single appearance against Argentina.
Conradie aims to have a big Vodacom Super 14 to ensure he’s part of the Bok squad again in June. ‘It was great to tour with the Boks last year, and even though I didn’t play against Wales and France, at least I knew I was part of Jake White’s plans. This year’s Super 14 is going to be important for me, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to show what I can do. Super 14 rugby is only just below Test rugby in terms of skills and intensity, so if you do well in the tournament, there’s a good chance you’ll do well for the Boks too.’
Vodacom Stormers coach Kobus van der Merwe is in the fortunate position of having three quality scrumhalves to choose from: Conradie, De Kock and South African U21 captain Paul Delport. With every Vodacom Super 14 franchise now having to play 13 round-robin matches, with the possibility of a semi-final and final, coaches have no choice but to rotate their key players in order to keep them fresh for the duration of the competition.
Conradie has adapted to the Vodacom Stormers successful rotation policy, even if it means he can’t start every match. ‘Rotation is good if it gives a player a chance to rest every now and then, but obviously no-one wants to spend every Saturday sitting on the bench,’ he says. ‘Professional sport is all about competition and we have it at both provincial and international level. Everyone wants to be the best in their position, and that’s what I aim to be, that’s what I want to work towards.’
Conradie started last Saturday’s Vodacom Super 14 match against the Cats at Ellis Park, and he knows De Kock and Delport will get their chance in the No 9 jersey at some stage during the competition. ‘Neil and I played against each other at school and we competed for a place in the Western Province Craven Week squad,’ he says. ‘Even though we’re rivals, we’re actually great friends and respect each other for what we’ve achieved on the rugby field. Paul is also a great prospect and did well with the SA U21 side last year. In the end, competition is healthy, because it brings out of the best in people.’
Having played against first-choice Bok scrumhalf Ricky Januarie in the opening round, Conradie has now focused his attention on Waratahs No 9 Chris Whitaker, who will head for Europe after the Vodacom Super 14.
‘I would play until I was 50 if I could, but I knew I couldn’t hang around forever,’ an emotional Whitaker said earlier this year. ‘I wanted to leave on my terms and I feel that I’m doing that. I didn’t want to be pushed out the back door. I’m still playing my best rugby and I wanted to leave on that note.’
Conradie was surprised to hear of Whitaker’s decision. ‘He’s a great scrumhalf and was unlucky to play in the same era as George Gregan, or else he’d have over 80 Test caps for the Wallabies by now. Chris will no doubt want to end his career with the Waratahs on a high by winning the Super 14, and I know he’ll give us a tough time at Newlands today. He’s the type of scrumhalf who’s always in your face and you can’t take your eye off him for a second.
‘That’s the great thing about playing in the Super 14: there are so many quality players that your abilities are tested every weekend.’
The above article was originally printed the “Don’t Blink” the official match magazine of the Vodacom Stormers (Vodacom Stormers vs Waratahs). Don’t Blink is on sale at Newlands Rugby Stadium on match day for only R10.