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'I never thought I would play in Thomond Park. It was just awesome'

21-year-old Evan Roos is a major prospect for South African rugby.

Evan Roos carries against Munster last weekend.
Evan Roos carries against Munster last weekend.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

TUCKED AWAY AT home back in South Africa, 21-year-old Evan Roos has one of Jack Conan’s Lions jerseys.

The Stormers number eight swapped shirts with the Irishman after their clash in July, a game the Lions won on a 46-point margin but also one in which Roos underlined his rich promise.

Roos is enjoying a brilliant 2021 and has continued his superb form for the Stormers in the opening two weekends of the URC, impressing with his relentless ball-carrying against Benetton and then versus Munster at Thomond Park last weekend.

His head coach, John Dobson, believes Roos has the potential to be a star on the very highest stage. The young back row is a major prospect for South African rugby and he is delighting in the new experiences this year is bringing.

“I never thought I would play in Thomond Park,” says Roos. “With all the fans, the sound, the noise – it was an experience.

“I’ve known about Munster for quite a while and with this new competition, playing against a few internationals, it was just an awesome opportunity.”

The touring experience has been enjoyable, even if the heat of Italy was tough to play in. The Stormers stayed in Ireland this week after the Munster clash, taking in the sights of Limerick before arriving in Dublin yesterday and going for dinner and a pint of Guinness in the capital. 

They fly out to Scotland tomorrow for Saturday’s clash with Edinburgh and then move onto Wales for a meeting with Dragons on the last leg of this demanding block in the new competition.

Given the impact he’s having for the Stormers, it’s remarkable that Roos considered quitting rugby just last year when he was struggling while with the Sharks.

scarra-ntubeni-and-evan-roos-comes-up-against-wiehahn-herbst Roos is an explosive ball-carrier. Source: Shaun Roy/INPHO

Originally hailing from Paarl, just north of Cape Town, Roos grew up in Pretoria and attended the prestigious Affies school that has produced Springboks like Fourie du Preez, RG Snyman, and Pierre Spies – one of Roos’ role models, along with Duane Vermeulen.

“I aspire to be an eighthman who is a mix of them,” says Roos, who represented the Bulls at U12 and U13 levels when he was at Affies.

There was no great rugby history in Roos’ family but his parents had athletics backgrounds and were supportive of him pursuing whichever sport he enjoyed.

“They were very cool from a young age and if I didn’t want to play a sport, they were so chill about it. But I loved it and whatever I did, they supported me in it. I love my parents, they’re the best.” 

When he was 15, his father’s work brought the family back to Paarl and Evan moved to another big rugby school, Paarl Boys’ High School, where he got a taste of high-profile and high-pressure rugby, particularly in the annual clashes with rivals Paarl Gimnasium. In a town of around 110,000 people, these games were a very big deal.

“The first Saturday of August every year, they call it the Interschools and it’s Paarl Boys versus Paarl Gym,” explains Roos.

“At the first team game, there can be around 25,000 people. They have to rent out a stadium for it. The whole town stands still for a week, the bakeries make cakes with the faces of the players on them, there are posters all over the windows. It’s ridiculous and it’s not just rugby, it’s all the sports that week. It’s massive.”

Roos scored a stunning try from inside his own half in the Interschools game in 2018, the same year he earned international honours for the first time. His excellence for Western Province at Craven Week – an inter-provincial competition where the best young stars often announce themselves – saw Roos selected to play for South Africa U18 Schools against France, Wales and England.

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The Sharks swooped for Roos’ signature when he finished school, meaning a move 1,500km across the country to Durban but it didn’t work out, with the explosive number eight making only two Currie Cup appearances in his two years there. 

Frustrated and homesick, Roos considered walking away from rugby.

“I didn’t play a lot of rugby last year,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of opportunity at the Sharks and I got to a place where I was thinking of stopping rugby and just going studying because things weren’t working.

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“I didn’t think I would have an opportunity back at Province because they had lots of players in my position. I had been away from home for two years, things weren’t working out, my friends were all back home studying and I was the only ‘oke’ who was away. Mentally, I wasn’t in the best place but my parents were very supportive.”

Roos counts himself lucky that Western Province and the Stormers found room for him, although a player of his talent was never likely to be overlooked, and his career has taken off since moving back. Last month, Roos signed a new four-year contract that runs through to 2025.

He praises head coach Dobson’s honesty and humour, while Roos has already exceeded all of his own expectations for this year.

“I started with the Stormers this year and didn’t think I’d be in the place I am now. I was really just hoping to find a place in the squad, maybe bench now and again. All of this has happened so unexpectedly, so I’m happy and blessed to be where I am now.”

morne-steyn-is-tackled-by-evan-roos Roos makes a big tackle in the Currie Cup. Source: Shaun Roy/INPHO

He relished the chance to play against the Lions, learning from the pace of the game, the physicality, and how clinically the tourists punished the Stormers’ mistakes.

Given that he doesn’t turn 22 until January, Roos may well feature against the Lions the next time they tour South Africa.

Right now, though, he is grabbing every opportunity to carry, offload, ruck, and tackle with newfound glee.

“I got this lifeline at Province and it’s just that desperation now – knowing that I was at a point where I thought I wouldn’t be able to play rugby anymore.

“I’m getting chances now and I’m not taking that for granted.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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