MyPlayers chats to former Sharks and Southern King fullback Jaco van Tonder about his new chapter at Italian club Valpolicella.
Which club do you play for in Italy?
I’m currently playing at Valpolicella. They’re playing in Italy’s Serie A, but we are fully focused on promotion this season. I play fullback for the club, but feature at flyhalf when needed.
Any other foreigners in your squad?
Surprisingly, no South Africans, but there is one guy from Canada. But I have come across many South Africans playing their rugby in Italy.
Why the move to Italy?
I just felt that I needed a new start and also wanted to come over to Europe before I got too old.
How have you settled in?
In the beginning, it was quite tough, especially with the language barriers. But I was lucky to have a lot of assistance from my Canadian team-mate, who helped me and showed me around. Driving in Italy is also very weird! The town I live in is very small town… it’s situated just outside Verona, which is very popular for their good wines. The locals are very friendly and will help whenever possible.
What do you like to do when not playing rugby?
I like to play golf and go fishing. So far, I’ve visited Venice, Florence and Parma, which are all beautiful cities. I would really like to visit other countries during my time in Europe, like France, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Why should players consider Italy in their move to Europe?
If you are ready for a new challenge, I think Italy or France would be a good move. There are many South Africans playing in these countries, so it’s easy to seek advice or to turn to familiar faces or voices.
Do you still hope to return to SA one day?
Definitely. We just need to see what opportunities present itself.
You played for the Southern Kings before you left. What do you make of them this season?
They’ve picked up one good win early on, so things are definitely looking better for them. They are showing good signs of improvement every season and they have some talented players in their squad, so hopefully they prove themselves during Super Rugby this season.
You moved to the Sharks after school. How did you enjoy your time there?
Looking back, it was the best time of my life as I enjoyed every moment. I made some good friends and memories, which I’ll never forget. It was difficult leaving after six years as Durban became my new home. But I’m looking forward to making the most of my opportunities in Italy.
What are your future goals for your rugby career?
For now, it’s to help my team get promotion. I also hope to attract interest from a bigger club in Italy or France. I wouldn’t rule out a move back to South Africa one day either.
Any plans for life after rugby?
I definitely want to be involved in sport. I want to get involved in coaching and I want to give back where possible too. I have other career ideas, but that I’ll explore towards the end of my career.
By Gareth Duncan