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LONG TIME COMING

‘Lean as a lettuce’ RG Snyman set for rugby return

‘Lean as a lettuce’ RG Snyman set for rugby return
RG Snyman takes a lineout ball during the Springboks' World Cup 2019 semifinal against Wales at International Stadium Yokohama in Japan. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

It’s unlikely that 2.06m giant RG Snyman has ever been compared to a lettuce in any way, but this week Munster assistant coach Denis Leamy used the analogy to praise the lock’s physical condition before a long-awaited return.

Lock RG Snyman is set for his first game in nearly a year when Munster meet the Scarlets in a United Rugby Championship match on Friday.

Normally, the return of a player after a long injury is a footnote in a story, but few players have had such a rough time as the Rugby World Cup 2019 winner.

Also, few players are as freakishly good as Snyman, who was a colossus in most of the 23 Tests he played in 2018 and 2019 before two serious knee injuries cut him down.

For such a huge man, he is wonderfully athletic, with speed and ball skills that would not be out of place in the National Basketball Association.

He signed for Irish club Munster after RWC 2019 and managed only 54 minutes of rugby in the famous red jersey in three-and-a-half years. It’s been frustrating for the club and career-threatening for Snyman.

But over the past month the news out of Cork has been positive as Snyman’s return to action has been revealed through some video clips and news.

RG Snyman

RG Snyman with his medal and the trophy after the World Cup 2019 final. (Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

The Springbok management too have been closely monitoring his comeback. Coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus make no secret that if Snyman is fit, then he will make the squad. He is quite simply a generational player.

“He is a remarkable person in that he’s 6ft 10in (2.06m) and he’s lean as lettuce,” Leamy told the media this week. “He can run like the wind and he’s got the ball-handling ability of a basketballer. So, he is a remarkable rugby player.

“We don’t see these guys very often but I think he has inspired everyone in the building, just the way he has applied himself.

RG Snyman

RG Snyman during the World Cup 2019 Champions Tour in Gqeberha on 10 November 2019. (Photo: Michael Sheehan / Gallo Images)

“Getting cruciate ligament injuries is so difficult. To get another one straight away after coming back, after putting a body of work behind him only to get another one straight away, that’s incredibly difficult.

“You can’t understand how difficult that is and to go about his business day-to-day, get a couple of setbacks within that and still go trucking on, I think that’s really testament to what the person is. He’s a great example to everyone in the building.” 

Boks watching

Snyman’s comeback will have the Bok management on the edge of their seats too in the coming days and weeks. In an ideal world Snyman would be a global superstar in the sport by now. But his world has not been ideal.

“I saw him when I was in Ireland,” Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick said this week. “He is desperate to get back onto the field.

“I don’t think there is a coach who will complain when he has got RG Snyman in the team.

“If you look at his stature, he is massive. He is more than 2m tall and he has the skills as well. The only thing for him is to get back into good shape and we know he is a very special player.”


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Snyman was a crucial element to the Boks’ famed “bomb squad” at RWC 2019, coming off the bench to make a huge impact. Although the Boks don’t rigidly stick to a six/two split between forwards and backs every game, if Snyman stays fit, it makes the tactic even more appealing because he is such a fine athlete.

“Just imagine you are a lock and you are playing against Lood (De Jager) and Eben (Etzebeth) and all of a sudden, when you think you can have a break, then RG Snyman comes onto the field. I don’t think there is a player who wants to face that in 80 minutes.

“If we can get him back onto the field at his best, it will be good for our team and good for our squad depth.”

RG Snyman

RG Snyman of Munster, supported by Jack O’Donoghue, dives over to score his side’s fifth try, despite the efforts of Leon Lyons of the Stormers at Thomond Park in Limerick, Ireland, on 2 October 2021. (Photo: Brendan Moran / Gallo Images)

RG Snyman

RG Snyman during the World Cup 2019 Pool B match between South Africa and Italy in Fukuroi, Japan. (Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen / Gallo Images)

Setbacks

Snyman suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear minutes into his debut for Munster against arch-rivals Leinster in mid-2020. That cost him nearly a year on the sidelines. 

When he was almost ready to play again, a year on, he was a victim of a bizarre fire pit incident, the exact details of which remain shrouded in the code of omerta – silence.

That incident led to some serious burns on his face. And when he returned to action a year after his first ACL injury, he managed to play for a few minutes in three matches before the ligament went again.

Read in Daily Maverick:Boks think creatively about player welfare as they set out on road to RWC 2023

But the worst was, also around then, that his mother, Annelie, died suddenly. He was incredibly close to her and it cut him deeply.

“It feels as if someone’s Jack Russell is running around with a voodoo doll of me,” Snyman told Rapport last October.

RG Snyman

RG Snyman wins a lineout agaimst England during the World Cup 2019 final at International Stadium Yokohama in Japan. (Photo: Michael Steele / Getty Images)

“It’s been a roller coaster in terms of emotion and disappointment. Every time I have something going for me, there’s a setback.

“This year, I’ve had to deal with injuries, disappointment, flames, death and heartbreak. Fortunately, I’m a positive person. I won’t let this get me down. I’ll come back stronger and better.

“Losing my mother was the biggest heartbreak I’ve suffered. She was my shoulder to cry on and the person, with a smile, who would tell me everything will work itself out.

“It’s been really difficult to go through these setbacks without my mother’s wise advice and comfort.

“But I’m glad I got to live in her light for a short time. And I’m glad she was there to share in some of the highlights of my life, such as winning the World Cup in 2019 and seeing me marry Saskia.” DM

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