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'I loved coaching but I never thought it was going to bring me to the west of Ireland'

South Africa native Dewald Senekal has had an interesting journey in rugby before joining Connacht.

Dewald Senekal is the Connacht forwards coach.
Dewald Senekal is the Connacht forwards coach.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE LATEST GUEST on the The42 Rugby Weekly Extra podcast was Connacht forwards coach Dewald Senekal, who provided great insight into his work with the province and his own background before arriving in Ireland.

South African native Senekal joined Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella on today’s podcast – which is available exclusively to members of The42 every Monday and Wednesday.

The 41-year-old Connacht forwards specialist, who joined the province last summer, went in-depth on what makes a good maul, how Andy Friend has built a balanced coaching team, and how they can take the crucial next steps to become a consistent force.

Ex-Bayonne, Grenoble, and Stade Français coach Senekal also gave an intriguing insight into his own journey in rugby, which started much later than most who break into the professional game.

“My real background as a young guy growing up, I was actually a mad, mad cricket fan,” said Senekal.

“I was the apple that fell very far away from the tree because I had my dad and both my uncles who had played quite a bit of provincial rugby back in the day when it wasn’t professional.

“My one uncle actually ended up playing nearly 30 Tests for South Africa, a tighthead named Willie Meyer, he had a bit of a taste of the professional era.

“But I was a mad, mad cricket fan, I just loved it. I didn’t play any real rugby at high school and only started playing rugby at the age of 24. You won’t say it now if you look at my body type but I used to be a professional cricketer until the age of 23. That was my background.

“Then at 24, I started playing club rugby and I was very fortunate that things went my way. After 18 amateur games, I got offered a pro contract with the Pumas. I had just started a new job, but took two days of leave to trial with the Pumas and the other guy who was on trial with me at that time was a guy called Duane Vermeulen.

dewald-senekal-and-andy-friend Senekal with Connacht boss Andy Friend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Duane and I had a two-day trial and we tackled everything that moved and we got offered contracts. That was our start into professional rugby.

“Because I didn’t have any rugby pedigree behind me, I had to go to places like the Pumas, the Falcons, got picked up by Dick Muir at the Sharks, then got loaned out to Rassie Erasmus at the Cheetahs, and from there to the Lions. 

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“At the age of 28, I moved across to France with Toulon, where I was very fortunate to be part of a strong team, the years with Philippe Saint-Andre as the head coach, with players like Jonny Wilkinson, Felipe Contepomi, Joe van Niekerk, Sonny Bill Williams. I was very fortunate to be in that environment when Toulon was growing as a club.

“Two years there, two years in Agen, then ended up in the Basque country for four years as a player with Bayonne. I was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a coach in Bayonne and the whole coaching journey started there.

“I didn’t think I was going to end up in France for 13 years but I got there, fell in love with the culture, learned the language, fell in love with a Basque girl, and the rest is a little bit of history.

“I always loved coaching, so it was always in the back of my mind but I never thought it was going to bring me to the west of Ireland.”

Elsewhere on today’s edition of Rugby Weekly Extra, Eoin and Murray discussed the exciting second legs of the Champions Cup round of 16 ties, as Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster get set to go again this weekend.

To get access to The42 Rugby Weekly Extra, which also comes out every Monday with Gavan Casey, Bernard Jackman, and Murray Kinsella, become a member of The42 at members.the42.ie.

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