How Du Preez twins will get their Bok mojo back
PREMIERSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Sale Sharks captain Jono Ross believes the club’s uncanny ability to revive seemingly stalled international careers will enable the newly arrived trio of Rob, Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez to return to the Springbok colours.
All three du Preez brothers are involved with Sale’s punishing pre-season training programme at a Premiership outfit that helped Faf de Klerk and James O’Connor earn Test recalls and put themselves in line for involvement at the World Cup in Japan.
Springbok scrum-half de Klerk and Wallaby centre O’Connor were, for various reasons, in the international wilderness when they arrived at Sale, but both are now pressing for World Cup action.
Previously, Sale worked their magic on England’s Danny Cipriani, although Eddie Jones has since halted his Test career by deeming him unworthy of a place in the 31-strong squad for the finals.
Besides the likely involvement of de Klerk and the now-departed O’Connor, Sale is set to be represented at the World Cup by Tom Curry (England), new recruit Lood de Jager (South Africa), AJ MacGinty (USA) and Byron McGuigan(Scotland).
With so many players away in the Far East, it offers the du Preez brothers the chance to enhance their reputations with Rob having impressed last season before having a rough time after returning to the Sharks for their Super Rugby campaign.
His father – also Rob – paid the price as head coach in Durban, prompting 24-year-old twins Jean-Luc and Dan to also make their loan moves to Sale permanent.
The arrival of the du Preez brothers gives Sale a unique back row contingent as it also includes the Curry twins Ben and Tom, England flanker Mark Wilson (on loan from Newcastle), with Ross also battling to get a start in what will be an incredibly combative line-up of talent in the Premiership and Europe.
The squad is also able to call on the running power of England wing Marland Yarde, who was offloaded by Harlequins and has now recovered from what Ross describes as the worst knee injury he has seen.
Ross said: “There is an outstanding record of guys who have lost their way, finding their way again at Sale. Steve Diamond has to take a lot of credit for helping players get back into Test rugby and is a better man-manager than people give him credit for.
“All three du Preez brothers are with us for the next three years, which is fantastic for the club. We all saw last year what Rob and JL were able to bring to the squad and Dan is a quality player.
“The twins are very abrasive players who are still young and add ballast and quality to the squad. They are also identical, like Tom and Ben Curry, and there cannot be another professional rugby team in the world with two sets of identical twins. It’s quite crazy.
“If you look at Faf, he was out of the Springbok mix when he came over and got himself back in there, and I believe the du Preez brothers are closer to recalls than Faf was when he arrived. Hopefully, they can put in some good performances for us and off back of that get some international recognition again.
“James O’Connor has been through some really hard times and faced a lot of criticism. He would be the first to admit he made some mistakes but fair play to him, he turned things around and was fantastic for us before heading back to Australia.
“He seems to be the link player the Wallabies have been missing. AJ is a quality player and we saw that when he came back from injury last season and has been going really well. I believe the USA is a sleeping giant and he is at the forefront of it.”
Ross, who had an outstanding last season as Sale captain, expects an even stronger challenge for a top-four Premiership finish in 2019/20 and believes the domination of football in Manchester helps keep everyone focussed on the job in hand.
He explained: “When I arrived at Sale I recognised there is a great group of guys, mainly northerners, who are very welcoming and it is a great environment. You don’t really have anybody who is difficult and that means when guys come in who have had some problems, they fit in really well and flourish in the set-up.
“Our intensity at training has been higher than last season and we have been working really hard and for a club like Sale to have the quality of players coming back and those who just missed out on international selection says a lot for where Steve Diamond and the board are taking the club.
“However, having good players do not necessarily make you a great team and we have been working on some team culture things. Because there is so much sport in Manchester, rugby, in comparison, is quite small.
“You quickly realise there isn’t any celebrity hype around anyone because of football, which is a good thing. We are trying to raise the profile of rugby and the club are doing a fantastic job.”