Cape Town - Not too long ago, Stedman Gans was spoken about as a contender for the Springbok squad.
He was at his scintillating best in the 2020 Currie Cup – which was concluded in January 2021 – where he had formed an outstanding centre pairing with Cornal Hendricks.
The latter, who has 12 Test caps to his name, was also receiving rave reviews for his performances, and was backed by many for a Bok recall as well.
But Hendricks was adamant that it was Gans who was the best outside centre in South Africa, and that he should be selected for his country when the Boks returned to action after sitting out the 2020 international season due to Covid-19.
In late January last year, though, Gans picked up a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the Currie Cup semi-final and final.
After getting back on to the pitch, he sustained a serious ankle injury against the Stormers in March that initially ruled him out for about three months. He wasn’t able to return to the Bulls once he had recovered, as he was committed to the Springbok Sevens side for the Tokyo Olympics.
It was a disastrous time for the Blitzboks in Japan, as Covid-19 robbed them of coach Neil Powell for the tournament, and they were knocked out in the quarter-finals.
When he got back to the Bulls in Pretoria, in what seemed to be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, Gans had gone from being a Springbok contender to losing his No 13 jersey.
Coach Jake White had tried the likes of Marco Jansen van Vuren, Marnus Potgieter and more recently Lionel Mapoe and Hendricks at outside centre, with varying degrees of success, but none of those midfielders reached Gans’ level.
The 24-year-old, who hails from Vredenburg on the Cape West Coast, had to bide his time on the sidelines during the United Rugby Championship tour to Europe, but hopes that 2022 will see the injury bogey stay away and that he’ll get more game time.
“I obviously had frustrating times at times during the year. I am glad to be right again and up for selection, and to be able to feel like myself again,” Gans said ahead of the resumption of rugby this year, which starts with the Currie Cup clash against the Pumas next weekend.
“Yes, I really hope so (that all the injuries are behind him). I prayed about that, and I hope the injuries are now finished. I am sure I will come out of this year as a better person and a better rugby player.”
It will be difficult for Gans to impress White if he is not on the pitch, but he feels that he must grab any opportunity that comes his way to become a regular in the Bulls side again.
“For me personally, it’s just about showing consistency. The last thing I want is to be seen as a X-factor player – someone who can come on for you and do something, but who also makes a lot of mistakes,” he said.
“So, I just have to prove to coach Jake that I am a consistent player who can get the job done weekly. It’s not easy, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy. The system has been created so that there are enough guys who can do the job, and that is how we make each other better.”
As for the Blitzboks and sevens rugby, Gans is putting that on the backburner for now, although he didn’t entirely rule out participating in the
Sevens World Cup that will take place in Cape Town later this year.
“For me in my situation, it was my personal decision. It was a long-term plan that we had, to take me to sevens first, as my body only developed later in my career,” Gans said.
“I knew I needed other skills such as contact, agility and things like that, so the plan was always to go into sevens and get all of that, make the best of that opportunity and then return to the 15-man game. The time for that return is now, so now my focus is just on 15-man rugby, and that is a decision I made a long time ago.
“Contractually, I am at the Bulls, so they would have to release me for that – if coach Neil Powell wants it like that. At this stage, it is a conversation that we haven’t had, and at this stage, I am busy fighting for my position in this team.
“So, I cannot see how it would be a clever decision for me to go to the sevens, and then I will have to come back again and fight again for a position here.
“But, having said that, Sevens World Cup is obviously a huge honour, and we will make that decision when we get there.”