HE MAY HAVE 11 Munster appearances under his belt already, but this pre-season has the feel of the real beginning for Gerhard van den Heever at the southern province.
The 25-year-old South African wing impressed in intermittent bursts during a 2013/14 campaign to which he arrived late, having helped Western Province all the way to the final of the 2013 Currie Cup competition in his native land.
Van den Heever admits it was “difficult” to start life at Munster with the season already well underway – his first cap came at the end of November, 2013 – and says he has enjoyed being part of the group from day one of this campaign.
I think it was a great to start the pre-season, to get to know the guys personally in that pre-season setting and be there all through it together,” van den Heever told TheScore.ie.
“We’re doing the Munster Race in a few days and it’s going to bring the guys even closer together and build that brothership of the team.”
His original bedding-in process was aided greatly by compatriots CJ Stander and BJ Botha, who provided a touch of home while van den Heever got his bearings in Limerick.
“Me and CJ are very close now. He’s helped me a lot since I arrived and we barbecue a lot at BJ’s house; we go there on Sundays and have a nice barbecue. We found a place in Cork that sells boerewors, so it’s a nice South African braai!”
Now feeling like a part of the Munster family, van den Heever is preparing to give the province’s fans a view of his true ability, the same searing pace and finishing prowess that saw him run in eight Super Rugby tries for the Bulls in 2010.
The former Affies student’s season starts with involvement in the inaugural Limerick World Club 7s at Thomond Park on the 9th and 10th of August, a competition he is “very much looking forward to” thanks to his sevens’ pedigree.
Van den Heever previously lined out for South Africa’s Student 7s side and also trained with the senior South Africa Sevens squad.
Trophy success in Limerick would allow the former Stormers wide man to begin to repay the faith Munster showed in him by handing him a long-term deal that blew away any offers in South Africa.
I thought [coming to Ireland] was a good choice in my career and Munster offered me a three-year contract, where South Africa was more short-term, one and two-year contracts,” said van den Heever.
“I wanted to settle and have a go. I just think it’s a big opportunity for me to become the best player I can and have a chance to qualify to play for Ireland one day.”
Aside from more security for himself and wife Elsje, that carrot of potentially playing international rugby is one that proved hard to resist for van den Heever in making his decision to leave South Africa last season.
“It would be a massive goal for me and a massive privilege for me to be able to play for Ireland one day,” says the 25-year-old.
There are a lot of players with massive talent and world-class players I’m playing with now, so I can learn from them and work on my experience, become a better player and sort myself out on the field to be able to wear that Ireland jersey one day. That would make me massively proud.”
That ambition lies somewhere in the future, but more immediately, van den Heever must work hard to impress new Munster head coach Anthony Foley.
“He’s trying to pull everybody together with that Munster culture. I think he’s got a lot of emotion involved in the games, a lot of tradition and he’s very proud of the Munster brand. It’s unacceptable to let that down.”