A born and raised Capetonian, hooker JJ Kotze is living his dream of playing for the DHL Stormers and is ready to give his all in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship South African derby at DHL Stadium on Saturday.
Kotze is fit and firing after recovering from the concussion suffered against Ulster which forced him to miss the SA derbies in Durban and Pretoria.
The 22-year-old’s first game back will be a big one, as the DHL Stormers host the Cell C Sharks in front of their faithful fans at DHL Stadium.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Kotze. “I think it’s always like that; when you miss a game, you feel pretty bleak and in the same breath, every time you get to play, it’s great to get out onto the field.”
Having grown up in the Western Cape and graduated from Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, Kotze is a DHL Stormers man through and through.
“Every time I have been able to play for the DHL Stormers has been special for me,” he said. “I have been a Cape Town boy my whole life and had season tickets to Newlands.”
Kotze knows it will be a big challenge for him and his teammates this weekend as they look to make it a clean sweep against the other South African teams this season.
“It’s going to be tough. Going unbeaten against the SA teams would be very good. We are a team that has big and ambitious goals. If we can secure the SA Shield and get in a grand slam, so to say, against the SA teams it would be a good stepping stone to reach those goals,” he said.
Kotze is part of a talented group of DHL Stormers hookers. The youngster has come through the DHL Western Province youth ranks with Andre-Hugo Venter, both of whom have been well guided by the experience of Joseph Dweba and Scarra Ntubeni.
The depth at No 2 presents a picture of health that is completely different to last season, when a spate of injuries saw Wilmar Arnoldi lend a hand on a short-term loan.
“There’s definitely a lot of competition in the squad, like with me and Vennas, and Scat and Joe as well,” Kotze explained. “It’s good.
“Last year around this time we had a bit of a crisis at hooker with injuries. We had to get some new guys to join the squad. Having that competition has been very good for all four of us, learning from each other and forcing each other to do better. Having Scat and Joe in the team really helps with experience, especially at the set piece. Getting pointers and tips from them helps you grow as a hooker in those areas where they are so good,” he added.
Part of what gets Kotze up in the morning is the opportunity to continue honing his set-piece skills, as well as the chance to put in a few big hits.
“I take a lot of pride in my set piece: scrums and lineouts. I want to make sure that my throws are pinpoint and that the scrum gives us a good base for good go-forward for the team.
“Defence is what I get excited about on game day. There’s that feeling of denying people the chance to get through the line. It’s a big team thing. If one guy stops working then the whole defensive system falls apart. It’s a good feeling when the system works because you know everyone is working for each other.”
On Saturday, the DHL Stormers will be back in Cape Town for the first time since January and can extend that incredible unbeaten streak that dates back to February 2022.
“We are pretty proud that people have been calling DHL Stadium a fortress with that winning streak,” Kotze said. “I never had the privilege to play at Newlands, but did experience being part of the fans and the faithful.
“The vibe and the people; that support just followed us across to the new stadium. The venue doesn’t matter as much as the people that support us. That’s a big driver for the team, seeing people taking time and money out of their pockets to come see us play. It’s a big motivator and helps on Saturdays.”