Cape Town – Salmaan Moerat has been destined for greatness from a young age, but has had to be patient to get right to the very top of South African rugby.
Having captained all his school, provincial and national age-group teams, the Paarl Boys’ High product may have thought that he would have more than two Springbok Test caps at the age of 24.
In fact, he has been mooted as a possible Bok captain one day too. A couple of major injuries have stalled his progress somewhat, but now he is on the brink of making his first Test start, against Italy in Genoa on Saturday (3pm SA time kickoff).
It will be a proud moment for the much heralded Moerat family from Paarl as well to see the young man don the No 4 jersey, as his father Nazeem and some of his uncles represented the non-racial Saru national team during the bad old days of apartheid.
Their sacrifices will all be worth it when they see Salmaan run out at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, and for the Stormers star himself, he would want to repay the faith shown in him by Bok coach Jacques Nienaber.
“I am obviously very excited. It’s been a while now since I’ve been part of a match-day 23, so really excited. A bit nervous, but I think that’s normal,” Moerat told SuperSport in a TV interview.
“I am really excited about this opportunity, and hopefully I can make the most out of it and contribute to the team, and do my job well. There’s not really anything flashy expected of me… I just need to execute my basics, and do what I do well.”
Moerat will fill the considerable boots of Eben Etzebeth as the Bok enforcer on Saturday, with the 31-year-old taking a breather from the bench.
They have come a long way together from their Cape Town days, and it will also help him to have current Stormers No 5 Marvin Orie alongside him on Saturday.
Moerat’s strengths are cleaning out the rucks and carrying the ball strongly up the middle, while he will also aim to put in some big hits in defence.
“When I started off at the Stormers, he (Etzebeth) was still there for a bit – and I think that’s where our relationship basically started. I actually met him before that, during high school, where we were on some sort of mentorship and apprenticeship (programme). That is where it all started, and it was quite nice to make my debut while he was there, while he was around,” Moerat said.
“He is the best lock in the world at the moment, and for me to be able to rub shoulders with him is really fantastic.
“The (Bok) environment is really great. There’s no real hierarchy… Everyone feels welcome, everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Obviously you know when to speak and when not to speak – you don’t really want to create white noise.
“But it’s been really good, really comfortable. I feel that the coaches have set the platform for all the players, and if you want to contribute, you are more than welcome. So, in that sense, it’s been really easy.”