From retirement to half-ton for Klaasen
‘TEAM ANNOUNCEMENTS: A few years ago Berton Klaasen had given up the dream of playing professional rugby.
At the age of 23 he retired from the game.
Fast-forward six years, and the centre is set to make his 50th appearance for the Southern Kings this weekend when they take on Dragons in a Pro14 clash.
Klaasen, when he takes to the field at the Nelson Mandela University’s Madibaz Stadium on Sunday, will become only the second player – after stalwart prop, Schalk Ferreira – to have played half a century of matches for the Southern Kings.
The native of Grabouw in the Western Cape has played a total of 34 Pro14 matches, in addition to 15 Super Rugby appearances for the Port Elizabeth-based franchise.
“When I look back at my career and where I come from, I can’t help but feel emotional about it,” Klaasen said.
“It has been quite a journey, and I am proud that I have managed to reach this stage where I can join a list only a few have achieved – playing 50 matches for my team,” Klaasen said about his milestone.
After not having had the opportunity to play rugby at school due to his school not offering any sports, he was forced, at a young age to play club rugby in the farm region of Grabouw against men much older than him.
After a stint at Western Province and Stormers from 2011, Klaasen hung up his boots in 2013 following the death of his mother. He never thought he would play professional rugby again.
“I did not have it easy,” Klaasen reflected.
“Firstly, I did not have the development that most professional players have these days. I played no schools rugby, but played in a farm league. Then when I was starting off after getting an opportunity with the Stormers, my personal life took a big knock when my mom passed away and I was forced to retire from the game.
“I got an opportunity to come to PE to play Currie Cup for Eastern Province in 2016 and the following year coach Deon Davids gave me an opportunity of a lifetime when he included me in the Southern Kings’ Super Rugby team.
“All I wanted back then was to play 20 games and I would have been satisfied. Here I am now playing my 50th. I could not be prouder of having come this far.”
Klaasen suffered another scare ahead of the Southern Kings’ Pro14 debut season in 2017/18 when he was diagnosed with a heart condition that could have seen him being forced to once again retire from the game he loves.
“That was a challenging time for me. I had just tasted professional rugby again, and I was told that I may have to call it a day,” he remembered.
“Fortunately after numerous tests were done I was given a lifeline and was able to continue playing.
“That reminded me that one may have the talent, but the opportunity to play at this level could be taken at any moment. That thought is what has kept me going and continues to motivate me to do my best and to enjoy every moment.”
Klaasen will share his milestone with that of teammate, Dries van Schalkwyk, who will be playing in his 100th Pro14 match on Sunday.
“I have been fortunate to share the field and dressing room with players of Dries’ calibre. It is such a special occasion to be able to share the moment with a stalwart like him. He is a formidable player and individual. I wish him all the best,” said Klaasen.
* Continue reading below …
* Lock Andries van Schalkwyk will lead the Port Elizabeth-based side onto the field on Sunday.
The experienced 34-year-old will be playing in his 100th Pro14 match, joining nine other South African-born players to have done so in the championship – namely, Robbie Diack (167), Brett Wilkinson (134), Rob Herring (130), BJ Botha (122), Rhys M. Thomas (121), DTH van der Merwe (119), Richardt Strauss (113), George Earle (107) and Ruaan Pienaar (100).
* Meanwhile Full back Zane Kirchner returns to the starting line-up to face his countrymen as Dragons kick-off the tour of South Africa.
The Springbok, Kirchner, is one of four changes made by coach Ceri Jones – all in the back division.
A new-look centre partnership sees Adam Warren – fresh from signing a new long-term contract at Dragons – and Jack Dixon combine in midfield.
The final change to the team is a starting spot for flyhalf Josh Lewis.
Hooker Richard Hibbard will captain the team.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 John-Charles Astle (captain), 4 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Alandre Van Rooyen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Stephan De Wit, 21 Rudi Van Rooyen, 22 Berton Klaasen, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Max Williams, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Huw Taylor, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jordan Williams.
Date: Sunday, April 7
Venue: Madibaz Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 UK time; 13.00 GMT)
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Paul Mente (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)