Although there is always the fear that players who spend the latter part of the year and into the new year playing rugby in Japan have not had a good break between seasons, Philip van der Walt admits that he’s dead keen to get stuck into Vodacom Super Rugby.
“Arriving in Tokyo last year was just as hot and humid as in Durban, but I left there [recently] in winter to return to the Cell C Sharks and I had to adapt back to the heat and humidity,” he explains.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t complete the pre-season with the boys though, they worked really hard and I could see it in the intensity of training. But I have enjoyed the last two weeks here.”
Not having played over the last month in Japan due to a concussion has mixed meaning for the big loose forward. “On the unfortunate side, I don’t like having suffered a concussion, but on the fortunate side, I had a decent amount of rest, so I feel good, refreshed and hungry to play again. I’m in a good space.”
He explains that the rugby played in Japan is quick but not as physical as Vodacom Super Rugby, but there is a lot to learn. “Because they try to chop you down [in the tackle], you need to use your feet more, running good lines, looking for space. It’s a different style of rugby, but very competitive.”
Looking around himself at the youngsters in the team, he admits to being very happy with the company he finds himself in.
“What’s really nice here at The Sharks is that we have so many players putting up their hands, trying to lock down that spot in the team. Even though we have Boks in the side, there are plenty of players pushing them.
“That’s the great thing about having the youngsters we have in our squad; they’re energetic and want to play. That competition pushes everyone and it’s fantastic for the team dynamic.”
With the thought of a new season ahead, there’s no shortage of motivation and intention to do well.
“I’m just as excited as each year, probably more even,” he admits. “It’s a new opportunity to improve, we reached the quarter-finals but didn’t go any further. We owe the fans a good season, we all want to play in finals, we want to win and it’s been a long time coming.
“From a personal perspective, it’s rewarding contributing to a team that goes all the way and that excites me, especially as I feel we have the team to achieve that.”
Looking from the general to the specific, his attention shifts to the opening match of the tournament, against the Lions this weekend.
“I’m not expecting much different from them that we’ve become accustomed to. They‘ll probably be even sharper, they’ll have tweaked things in the pre-season and will then try to build on the successes they’ve had in their attacking play. They’ve been in two finals and will probably be as motivated as us to go all the way. In their case, to make it third time lucky.”