Rohan Janse van Rensburg wants to power Sale into the Gallagher Premiership play-offs and relaunch his Springbok career with the aim of facing the British and Irish Lions on their 2021 tour of South Africa.
Van Rensburgh, 6ft and 17st, has become one of the most destructive ball carrying centre’s in Europe and will have a key role to play as Sale attempt to inflict more pain on Saracens when the teams meet in the Premiership at Allianz Park on Saturday. The 25-year-old goes into that game having beaten 47 defenders – more than any other player in the Premiership.
Saracens are already resigned to relegation after breaking the salary cap while Sale are in third place just four points behind leaders Exeter, the team they beat 22-19 at Sandy Park in their last league fixture. Van Rensburg was cited for a big tackle on Exeter’s Gareth Steenson and despite being cleared he had to wait for the verdict after an appeal against the ruling by the Rugby Football Union. He was again found not guilty and lines up against Saracens, the team that showed Sale the value of a strong South African influence.
Besides van Rensburgh, the Sale squad now features the South African rugby talents of skipper Jono Ross, the three du Preez brothers Rob, Dan and Jean Luc, prop Coenie Oosthuizen, lock Lood de Jager, hooker Akker van der Merwe and mercurial scrum half Faf de Klerk who is expected back from his knee ligament injury in two weeks.
If that wasn’t enough to make van Rensburg feel at home, his brother Tiaan has joined the Manchester police force after transferring from Glasgow.
Van Rensburg, whose only cap came against Wales in 2016, is acutely aware of the role Sale played in reviving de Klerk’s test career with the scrum half and de Jager having helped the Springboks win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan by defeating England, featuring team mate Tom Curry, in the final.
Now, he wants to follow de Klerk’s lead and put together a current CV that warrants a Springbok recall and the looming test series between the World Cup winners and the Lions is a major motivating factor. He told RugbyPass: “My motivation is to try and play for the Springboks and I am going to push hard to get back into the mix even if it’s just to train with them.
“I am going to be just keep pushing hard and hopefully my opportunity (to play for the Boks) will come again and I can take it with both hands. After the World Cup they are on such a high and what Rassie (Erasmus) has built is fantastic and you want to be part of that. Talk about joining the Six Nations is interesting and whatever they do will be good for South African rugby.
“We have a lot of South Africans playing here and we are very respectful of everything and with Lood coming in maybe there will be a few different line outs. You hear the guys talking about Lood and saying “ that is a big human being” and when he walks into the room there is then a big presence and everyone is excited to see him back.
“There are a bunch of things that help me perform well and this season things have progressed in the right direction and we have had continuity which helps gel with the guys around you. Our win at Exeter was big and gave us that confidence that when we go away from home that anything can happen. It proved we can go to somewhere like Exeter and get a win and now we have Saracens and I haven’t played there before and after what has happened in the last few months to them they will come out with lots of passion.
“If we stay humble we can reach a top four finish to make the play-offs and the crazy thing is that because of injury and test call ups we haven’t put out our full strength side yet. It’s been a roller coaster so far but we have a really strong foundation.”
Van Rensburg has battled against serious injury and personal tragedy during his career and in 2017 his mother, Renthia, died of cancer, he suffered a knee injury a month later which ruled him out for 12 weeks then armed robbers broke into his home, threatened his girlfriend and pointed a gun to his head.
The burly centre used rugby to help him over those incidents and opted to join Sale on a three year deal in June 2018 after a successful loan spell in Manchester, although his former Lions coach Johan Ackermann was interested in taking him to Gloucester. Instead, van Rensburg chose to join Sale and credits Steve Diamond, the club’s director of rugby, for helping him settle in and make the most of his rugby talents with his physique down to genes rather than weight training.
“I have always been the more bulkier guy in the team and there hasn’t been any weight training or power training – it is just the way I am built: “ he added. ”I have to thank my parents for that. Sale want us to grow as a unit with a good foundation in your game like kick chase which maybe you don’t think about and they also make sure you play to your strengths. Everyone who has come from abroad can just concentrate on their game and it’s a very empowering atmosphere.
“Dimes has an open door policy which is great and my brother has been living here for seven years and was with the police in Glasgow and has now moved down to Manchester. It’s nice to have him close by.”
Van Rensburg is part of a squad containing three sets of brothers – two identical Ben and Tom Curry plus Jean Luc and Dan du Preez – which can cause some confusion as he admitted: “ I can tell the difference off the pitch but there have been times in a match when they both played Ben has done something and I have said “well done Ben” and I got the reply “ no it’s Tom!”