Cape Town – He's a man of few words, but as he has already proved over the last few years, Ruan Nortje will let his actions do the talking on the field after being named as the new Bulls captain on Thursday.
The No 5 lock follows in the footsteps of a Loftus Versfeld legend in Victor Matfield to take over the leadership role from flank Marcell Coetzee, who is on a lengthy sabbatical with Kobe Steelers in Japan until about May next year.
Nortje will be supported by vice-captains Johan Goosen and Harold Vorster, while the rest of the leadership group includes Cornal Hendricks, Nizaam Carr, Elrigh Louw, Johan Grobbelaar and Chris Smith.
“I think he is the future of the club. He is still young, and he is surrounded by players who respect him as a player and has continually justified his selection as a player with what he offers us,” Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said.
“It is great for us to have a player who makes it easier to select, and I have every bit of confidence that he will thrive in his new role.”
The 24-year-old Nortje has established himself as a real stalwart in the Bulls set-up over the last few seasons, and was chosen in the United Rugby Championship Dream Team of the season after helping the Pretoria side to reach the final, which they lost to the Stormers in Cape Town.
He also received the URC Ironman Award for playing the most minutes in last year’s tournament with 1 394, and it is that kind of work ethic that will inform his leadership style.
“An unbelievably big privilege. It’s been a blessed year for me, and I am very thankful for all the opportunities. I am very excited for the new challenge and the new journey,” Nortje said from Loftus Versfeld on Thursday, where he will be the Bulls skipper for the first time in Saturday’s clash against the Ospreys (3pm kick-off).
“I’ve never really been in a captaincy role … probably in high school once or twice, but never after school or as a professional.
“But as a line-out leader, you also have a lot of pressure on you, and that definitely helped me over the last two or three years – to gain confidence and learn a lot in that aspect. Marcell also asked me a lot of advice on the field, and always asked my opinion.
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel on the field, being the captain for the first time, but it’s an opportunity I will take hands-on.
“I definitely see myself as a guy who wants to lead by example. I won’t say I talk little, but I am not someone who is now going to talk an unbelievable amount.
“We have enough leaders in our group who can fulfil that role, and it’s exciting to know I have good leaders around me who can help.”
Nortje made his Springbok debut this year as well, and will hope to impress the national coaches over the coming weeks and months in the URC and the Champions Cup in order to be in the Rugby World Cup selection mix next year.
But having come so close to the URC title last season, Nortje will have to box smartly to help his team secure some silverware this time around.
“It’s all about adapting every week. The game changes and teams catch up, so we need to be ready for what the teams bring,” he said.
“The depth in our squad will also be tested, so it is important to keep up the spirits of the guys who don’t play that often, as they will become crucial later in the season.
“Me and Marcell are really good mates. We’ve been roommates since last year, so we get along very well. On the field, we always speak to each other and ask advice, and there are a lot of things that I’ve learned from him.
“But the one message that stands out is just to be myself – not try to be too much and try too hard. I’ve just got to be myself and lead by example, and that’s one thing I took to heart from him.”