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Andre Esterhuizen exclusive: I'm ready for Harlequins challenge after 'unbelievable' World Cup triumph

World Cup winner: Andre Esterhuizen was part of the South Africa team that won the tournament in France (Getty Images)
World Cup winner: Andre Esterhuizen was part of the South Africa team that won the tournament in France (Getty Images)

The family milestones missed at a World Cup can weigh heavily on players and staff chasing their biggest sporting dreams.

South Africa decided to remove that burden entirely, and perhaps that just tipped the scales as the Springboks claimed back-to-back titles in France.

The champions think they were the only team at the Rugby World Cup in France to have their families staying at the team hotels.

Across an eight-week tournament that came after four months of gruelling preparation, the Boks were regularly buoyed up by the family events they could all celebrate together on tour.

Harlequins star Andre Esterhuizen was particularly grateful to be able to have his wife and two children with him for an unforgettable triumph. A toddler’s birthday party can be every bit as important as a World Cup knockout match.

“The thing for us that probably sticks out the most, I think we were the only team that were allowed to have everyone’s family in the same hotels,” Esterhuizen tells Standard Sport.

“After every game, everyone comes back to their families, everyone celebrates together. You’d be having kids’ birthday parties in the team hotel.

"The bus tour was unreal, I couldn’t believe the people hanging out of windows, climbing buildings, standing on top of cars and hanging off traffic lights"

Andre Esterhuizen

“A lot of rugby tours can feel extremely long by the time you get to week four. But we all had people with us for support.

“I had my wife and my two children there basically the whole tournament, to share in it all.”

Harlequins’ powerhouse centre Esterhuizen narrowly missed out on selection for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, where South Africa thumped England 32-12 in the final to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

The 29-year-old clung to the hope that maybe, just maybe, the Boks could go the distance again in his playing lifespan, and that he could be involved.

No matter how compelling a team’s case however, no player would ever put an expectation on lightning striking twice.

Reflecting on South Africa defending their title by edging out New Zealand 12-11 in the final in Paris on October 28, Esterhuizen admits to a feeling of warm satisfaction.

“Making the squad this time, obviously I was hoping we could do it again,” says Esterhuizen. “For me it’s massive satisfaction. It’s of course not nice missing out in 2019.

“You always wonder if they will win it again while you’re still playing. It is unbelievable that it happened.”

Esterhuizen is convinced that Harlequins can push for silverware this season (Getty Images)
Esterhuizen is convinced that Harlequins can push for silverware this season (Getty Images)

Esterhuizen grew up surrounded by rugby despite playing all sports in his home town of Klerksdorp.

Always favouring centre, he signed for the Sharks aged 17 – after just missing out on playing alongside his dad and namesake at Klerksdorp Rugby Club.

“My dad was a tighthead prop, and he played until he was 42, so my whole school career I was always next to a rugby field,” says Esterhuizen.

“The year we wanted to play together, he broke his ankle and that’s when he retired. It would have been cool to do that.

“When I was 17 I signed my first contract with the Sharks. I got there and the first year, I thought ‘this is not for me, these people are too good’.

“My dad just said, ‘stick at it, work hard’. I think anyone going straight from school into the pro set-up feels a bit of that.”

Esterhuizen jumped from South Africa’s seven-day World Cup victory bus tour back into an English winter, where Harlequins will again chase Premiership glory.

The 2021 winners finished sixth last term but hopes are now high for another shot at silverware, with another big acid test on Friday night as leaders Sale come to The Stoop.

“The bus tour was unreal, I couldn’t believe the people hanging out of windows, climbing buildings, standing on top of cars and hanging off traffic lights,” says Esterhuizen.

"We believe at Harlequins that we can challenge this year... it's exciting to be right in that"

Andre Esterhuizen

“It can also be tough coming back from such a big high, but it’s great to be back at Quins.

“We believe our maul and scrum can be right back to where we want this year and that we can challenge. It’s exciting to be right in that.”

Tickets for Harlequins’ Big Game 15 men’s and women’s Twickenham double header against Gloucester on Saturday, December 30 are on sale now at: https://www.eticketing.co.uk/harlequins