Stormers fullback SP Marais takes the road less travelled to return to his roots
Eyebrows were raised last week when Stormers coach Robbie Fleck preferred SP Marais at fullback over Newlands darling Cheslin Kolbe for their Super Rugby opener against the Bulls.
After the match the coach’s decision was vindicated as Marais returned an assured performance of composure and incisiveness to silence a small band of critics.
Marais is only 26 but he is already playing for his fourth Super Rugby franchise.
Because of his nomadic professional existence he has been labelled a ‘journeyman’.
While the moniker might be correct‚ it's a word that makes Marais bristle because circumstances have forced his hand to a large extent.
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He was part of the Southern Kings’ first foray into Super Rugby in 2013 where he showed his potential under hawkish coach Alan Solomons.
But when the Eastern Province rugby’s coffers ran dry due to the incompetence of its leadership at the time‚ Marais was one of many players who were victims of circumstance.
Players’ salaries were unpaid and Marais was lucky enough to find piecemeal work at other unions.
But it was hardly the stuff of dreams for a young man with a desire to play top level professional rugby.
It led to stints at the Sharks and Bulls before arriving back in the Western Cape‚ from where he originally hails.
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“I’ve been around the block‚ but not through my own choice most of the time‚” Marais said.
“People forget that. Decisions have been made that were out of my hands‚ forcing me to move on.
“So I played at places that gave me the opportunity. Last year was the hardest of my life.
"I went from Durban to Port Elizabeth‚ stayed there for two months‚ moved back to Durban for seven weeks‚ then went to Pretoria for 12 weeks and then back to PE for another two months before coming to Cape Town.
“Things were out of my control and those were very difficult times.
"So I’m happy and grateful to have the opportunity to be part of the set up at the Stormers.
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"If I play that’s great and if I don’t I’ll keep working hard. I learned a lot of rough lessons in the past year.
“I played for the Kings for two and a half years before going to Durban for two years‚ but I wanted to go back to PE because I have some interests outside of the game.
"But that didn’t work out for well-documented reasons.”
As circuitous as his career has been‚ he’s anything but on the rugby field.
"Marais injects a direct attacking approach to the Stormers backline while his educated left boot is both a defensive shield and an attacking weapon."
He scored a try on his Stormers debut after a great break by centre Damian de Allende.
But receiving the ball 40-metres from the Bulls line‚ Marais still had lots of work to do.
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He turned Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo inside out on his way to the line.
“In terms of my game‚ I wouldn’t say I’ve added a lot to it since being here at the Stormers‚ but there has been a greater emphasis on skills and running rugby‚” Marais said.
“It’s more about attacking the space and playing what you see.”
And being at the Stormers is in some ways a career that has come full circle for the Paarl Boys High old boy.
“I’m from Cape Town originally and always wanted to play here‚” Marais said.
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“Last Saturday was exceptionally special for me because I went to Newlands from the age of four with my dad.
“It holds special memories off the field‚ and now it has a good memory for me on the field.
“I always had a dream to play for the Stormers because this is where I grew up‚ but I had to walk the longer route to get here.”
- TMG Digital/TMG Sport