Western Province utility back SP Marais is a pragmatic fighter who believes he could play for the Springboks eventually‚ but doesn’t waste time thinking about it too much.
He is a doer on field and relishes every chance he has to play professional rugby after nearly quitting in frustration when he was almost penniless as one of the many unpaid players at the Southern Kings three years ago.
Players’ salaries were unpaid and Marais was lucky enough to find piecemeal work at other unions. It led to stints at the Sharks and the Bulls before arriving back in the Western Cape‚ from where he originally hails.
“Technically I was retired and then a random call from [director of rugby] Gert Smal changed everything‚” the 29-year-old Marais said.
Western Province offered him a lifeline and he plays like a man who refuses to waste a moment on the field. It has led to flashes of brilliance – genius even – and some moments of mirth and anguish. But he will always try to compete and create because it’s in his nature.
The Golden Lions loom next for Western Province at the Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg‚ in a potential precursor to the final as both teams have been impressive in the shortened competition.
Marais has been a key figure for Western Province in their two big wins over Free State Cheetahs and the Pumas and he will again have to provide the spark for his team’s attack.
“This game has taught me a few valuable lessons and it can humble you‚” Marais said.
"I never play for me‚ but for the team and what it needs. Everybody brings his own element to the game that got them here. It’s about empowering them to show the skills.
“Rugby is a confidence game and you can get broken down sometimes‚ and it can get to you‚ but the people with you 24/7 help build you up.
“I wouldn’t say I have found a home here‚ because I am back home. I learned a lot of lessons through my experiences such as the saga at the Kings. I had nothing and grabbed a lifeline here.
“I’ve matured as a player and a human being and life is all about timing. The timing to be back here was perfect.
"I am grateful and I enjoy it because you might never have the opportunity to work with the players and coaches I am with now. You have to embrace every moment.”
Marais is comfortable at both wing and fullback and regularly slots in at first receiver as well. He is also the teams’ goalkicker‚ a job he enjoys.
“I’m here to do a specific job and I will do what the coaches want‚” Marais said.
“I started my professional career as a wing under Alan Solomons at the Kings so it’s a job I’m comfortable doing here.
“Goal-kicking is something I work hard on. I feel I’ve been up to the task and I enjoy it thoroughly and it shows another strength in my game that perhaps people weren’t aware of‚ or took for granted.”