Bader Pretorius may only be a 21-year-old with only four Guinness PRO14 matches under his belt, but he has had his share of challenges which have often placed doubt on his future as a professional rugby player.
Just two years ago Pretorius was one of a group of young players whose contracts were culled by the Golden Lions Rugby Union, where he had been plying his trade for the Gauteng side’s junior teams. A further blow was his struggle with injuries, which included two serious ACL (knee) injuries that placed him out of action until he joined the Isuzu Southern Kings.
“There was always a little bit of doubt whether I would play professional rugby again after two ACL injuries, but I always had hope that I would play in one form or another,” the Johannesburg-born Pretorius confessed.
“I never really thought of quitting rugby. It has always been my dream to play at the highest level, and that is still my dream.”
After leaving the Lions, the flyhalf spent most of his time working hard at staying in shape at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport and had a brief stint in Germany where he hoped to revive his career, but was kept on the sideline by the ACL injury.
His hope of playing topflight rugby was reignited when, in January, he received an unexpected message from the Isuzu Southern Kings which would turn his fortunes around and reignite his deep passion for the game of rugby.
“I’m very excited and honoured about this opportunity,” he said.
“I was out injured the past year, and randomly received a text message from Coach Robbi (Kempson) to come for a trial. Training went very well and I got picked for that weekend and it all went well.
“I always prayed for such an opportunity, and I trained very hard when I was in Stellenbosch.
“Germany was a very good experience, but I did not get to do much as I had a knee injury.”
Pretorius made his debut off the bench in his first week of joining the Port Elizabeth-based side when they took on Edinburgh Rugby and won the match 25-21 at NMU Madibaz Stadium on January 26. He went on to score his first Guinness PRO14 try on debut to help the side to victory – a moment he treasures as one of the highlights of his budding career.
“My highlight was definitely my try, on debut, against Edinburgh. It definitely boosted my confidence. But I always try to keep my feet on the ground and take every game as it comes,” said Pretorius.
“PR014 Rugby is a very tough competition, but a highly enjoyable challenge. I still don’t feel that I am 100% sharp, there is room for improvement, but I am sure that the more I play, the better I will get.”
The flyhalf has blended in well in the Isuzu Southern Kings team, so much so that he was selected as the solitary pivot for the side’s three-week tour of Ireland and Wales, where he has started all the matches so far in the No10 jersey.
Pretorius will be hoping to put in a stellar performance in the Isuzu Southern Kings’ final match of the tour, against Cardiff Blues at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday night. Kick-off is at 21h35 (SA-time).
It is unsurprising that Pretorius looks up to and hopes to model fellow Michaelhouse pupil, the recently retired Springbok flyhalf Patrick Lambie.
“My rugby hero is Pat Lambie. Just the calmness he exudes on the field is something to look up to.”
With the obstacles Pretorius has faced right at the start of his career, many others would have given up the dream of playing professional rugby. However, the former South African Schools “A” player’s passion for the game, coupled with the support from loved ones, continues to keep him going.
“My motivation is the love I have for the game. There is nothing else I want to do, and my family is also a motivation – I want to make them proud.”
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