While the Southern Kings have endured a difficult start to life in the Pro14, lock Bobby de Wee said the players remain motivated about the unique challenge ahead.
Having emerged as a talented prospect at schoolboy and U19 level at the Bulls in Pretoria, Bobby de Wee started making a name for himself after a move to the Lions in 2014. The Southdowns College old boy worked his way through the ranks, going on to make the Lions Super Rugby and the Currie Cup squads in recent seasons.
With height and power, he provides versatility on attack, defence and the lineouts, which allows him to play at lock or flank.
So it was no surprise when he was given the opportunity to join the Southern Kings midway during the 2016 season as the Port Elizabeth-based franchise restocked their arsenal for the Pro14.
De Wee said he was excited to play in the European competition.
“I really enjoyed my time at the Lions. As a union, they were really good to me and they made me feel a part of a family. My team-mates became my brothers and that’s why the Lions have been so successful… we played for one another on the field,” De Wee told MyPlayers.
“However, I saw the Kings as an exciting new challenge for my career. I’m very grateful that the Lions granted an early release from my contract, which allowed me to join the Kings in time for the Pro14.
“I never thought I’d have an opportunity to play in a European competition at this stage of my life. For the first time in history, two South African teams were going to play in Europe [along with the Cheetahs]. It was a challenge that I was excited to join.”
It has been a disappointing start to life in the Pro14 for the Kings, who have suffered seven straight defeats during the opening rounds of the competition.
While De Wee admits that their campaign hasn’t gone to plan so far, he stressed that the players are working hard to improve week in and week out.
“The Kings had limited time to rebuild their squad and to prepare for the Pro14. However, we are noticing improvements after every game. We are motivating ourselves to improve as a team every week,” said De Wee. “For most of us, this is our first time playing in Europe and against European opposition, so we are learning to adapt to various conditions and scenarios.
“For example, I played on an artificial pitch for the first time in my career last weekend. That takes some getting used to!
“There is definitely a brotherhood forming among the Kings players. We want to do better as a unit, so the intent in the squad is there. We want to become a team that the people of Port Elizabeth can be proud of, so we’re aiming to get that first win under the belt and do what’s necessary to be successful in the Pro14, especially when we go into our second season.
“We saw the Kings grow from strength to strength in Super Rugby, so hopefully we can replicate that in the Pro14. Personally, I just want to do what I can to contribute to our growth and success – as a starter or an impact player off the bench.”
Off the field, De Wee is adapting to life in Port Elizabeth and he’s making the most of his travels to new territories.
“Life is different in Port Elizabeth, especially when it comes to the wind! But as a team, we’re enjoying it as we become familiar with the locals in town,” said De Wee. “The players are also enjoying the travel to Europe. Rugby is obviously our main priority, but we make the most of our free time in cities in Italy, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. You can follow all the selfies on social media [laughs]!
“I’m also planning to further my studies in the near future, especially considering that MyPlayers are now offering bursaries to rugby players. I want to study something in the entrepreneurship field as I hope to start my own business one day.”
By Gareth Duncan