A few years ago Berton Klaasen had given up the dream of playing professional rugby when, at the age of 23, he retired from the game.
Fast-forward six years, and the workhorse centre is set to make his 50th appearance for the Isuzu Southern Kings this weekend when they take on Dragons in a Guinness 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 Isuzu Southern Kings.
The native of Grabouw in the Western Cape has played a total of 34 Guinness 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. 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 Isuzu 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 Isuzuu Southern Kings’ Guinness 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 Guinness 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.
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