JOHANNESBURG – When Rebels stars Will Genia and Quade Cooper hit the big time a few years ago, Franco Naude was still in primary school in Pretoria.
On Saturday, the 22-year-old centre will line up against them in a Round 5 Super Rugby match at Ellis Park.
“I watched them when I was in primary school,” said an almost unbelieving Naude, who is on loan from the Bulls.
“What a privilege to get a chance to play against them, to test my skills against them,” added the man who made his first run-on start for the Lions against the equally dangerous Jaguares backs last weekend.
“Obviously I’m going to see if I can expose them, like they will seek to do against us. The Rebels are a good side. They’re three from three, so it’s going to be a big challenge, but I’m just really focused on what I have to do.”
Naude grabbed his chance to join the Lions after his path at the Bulls was blocked by several players who stood ahead of him in the centre queue.
Here one thinks of Jan Serfontein, who has now left the union, Burger Odendaal, Jesse Kriel and others.
“I played one game and sat on the bench in two others without playing,” he said about his time at the Bulls.
“There are so many good centres at the Bulls, so just the other day my agent said there was an opportunity to play at the Lions, which I grabbed.
“Sure, there are good centres here too (like Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe), so it’s still a bit of a gamble, but competition is always healthy; it brings out the best in one. I’ve got a chance here, and I plan to grab it with both hands.”
Naude did just that last week in his first start, alongside Wandisile Simelane, who also made his first run-on start.
He said it was comforting having a guy like Simelane on his outside and Elton Jantjies on his inside.
“It was my first time playing next to Wandisile, but what a great player and what a privilege to play with him.
“And with Elton at 10, a player with so much experience, who takes charge and talks all the time, I was able to just focus on just my job.”
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) March 14, 2019
Lions boss Swys de Bruin has likened Naude, who stands 1.88m tall and weighs 102kg, to former burly Lions centre powerhouse Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
But Naude himself is a fan of the late Bulls star Ettienne Botha, who died in a car crash in September 2005, at the age of just 26.
“I suppose I play similarly to Rohan, which is on the gain-line, but everyone has their own style,” said Naude.
“I prefer the way (Botha) played and I would love to play like he did. He was a great role model… If I could play like he did, I’d be very satisfied.