Former Gauteng Jaguars captain Marlize de Bruin is fired up to be a vital cog in rugby Sevens
Few people reach the pinnacle of sport, and even fewer reach it in two different sports. Marlize de Bruin is one of those rare people.
This year’s Netball World Cup is fast approaching. Held in July and August in Cape Town, it will be the first time the event comes to Africa.
For years, Marlize de Bruin had dreamt of wearing the green and gold Proteas uniform at the prestigious event.
And, up until the start of last year, that dream was very much within reach for De Bruin. She had played a leading role in the Gauteng Jaguars’ run of five successive Telkom Netball League (TNL) victories between 2017 and 2022.
Instead, De Bruin – who has already purchased tickets to the event – will watch from the stands as her former teammates look to claim the country’s first gold medal.
Though De Bruin had not made the leap up to the national team – experienced skipper Bongiwe Msomi was ahead of her – she was always on the cusp, being a domestic netball stalwart.
But, at the start of 2022, De Bruin, then aged 26, decided to take her fancy footwork off the court and to the luscious grass of the Sevens rugby field.
“January 2022 I was at netball [practise] and I decided to just go and train Sevens at Tuks [University of Pretoria] and it was very nice,” De Bruin told Daily Maverick.
“Then coach Riaan van der Merwe said to me, ‘We’re flying to France in a week to play a tournament there.’
“And I was like, ‘Listen, I can’t even pass, I don’t know how to tackle’ and he just said they’ll teach me.
“I played that tournament, then I needed to go back to netball to play in the TNL. At that stage I had a netball contract with Netball South Africa.
“We were in camp at Stellenbosch Academy of Sport for netball and you see the Sevens girls there. And I was still deciding whether to play netball or Sevens; but I enjoyed the Sevens.
“I finished the TNL season with the Jaguars and during that season I just felt more attracted to Sevens.”
Fire burned bigger
“Sevens makes me happy and my fire burned bigger at rugby at that stage, despite only playing [in] one tournament before, and I played netball for 10 years.
“After finishing the TNL season on a Sunday, the next Wednesday I went to [another tournament] in Belgium with Tuks,” added the University of Pretoria graduate.
“After that tournament, Paul Delport phoned me and invited me to a [national] Sevens camp.”
It didn’t take long to convince De Bruin, who had the prospect of a Challenger Series and a Rugby World Cup Sevens ahead of her in the next few months of 2022.
“After the first Springbok camp, I said I’m done with netball,” she said, as she shifted from centre of the netball court to centre on the Sevens field.
Despite her infancy in the sport, De Bruin has become a vital cog in the Springbok Women’s Sevens system.
Her explosive pace and bone-crunching tackles are her most impressive attributes. Surprisingly, De Bruin admitted that her physicality on the rugby field stems from her time playing netball.
“The contact part was a little bit difficult – to go into a tackle – but netball is a physical sport,” said De Bruin, who still coaches netball at Pretoria High School for girls and served as assistant coach for Tuks during the Varsity Cup.
“People always say it’s not a contact sport but you really need to be physically strong to play netball, especially if you’re one of the shortest.
“Playing in the mid-court we were the shortest. Me and my wing attack and my wing defence, we were the shortest on the court.
“So, we always needed to be physical, we needed to be strong, you needed to be fast.”
De Bruin also has her genetics to thank for her strength. Her father is a former rugby player and her brother, Luan de Bruin, plays tighthead prop for Edinburgh in the United Rugby Championship.
The national Women’s Sevens team claimed first place in the Challenger Series with a 17-10 victory over Belgium in the final on 22 April. De Bruin scored the side’s final try, diving over in the left corner, having been put into space by Libbie Janse van Rensburg.
De Bruin looked down at her ankle after dotting down and noticed it was swollen. She saw out the rest of the game and the team lifted the trophy after a gruelling three days of rugby in Stellenbosch.
But after the match, scans revealed that De Bruin had ruptured ligaments in her left ankle after contesting the second-half restart in the air.
De Bruin will therefore not take part in the Challenger Series in Stellenbosch from 28 to 30 April, when the Springbok Women’s Sevens team has to at least make the final again to be assured of a place on the World Sevens Series circuit next season.
Last year, South Africa finished ninth at the Challenger Series and struggled to compete when they were invited as an invitational side in the World Series.
“For myself, there’s been massive growth in these past three months, spending time together and getting more comfortable with each other on the field as well as the small skills, the effort, the things that you don’t notice,” said De Bruin.
“Last year, I was still brand new; that was my first time that I played for South Africa so it was very stressful, but in general, as individuals, I think as a team we grew over these few months and since last year in the World Cup and the Dubai and Cape Town Sevens [to which South Africa were invited as an invitational side].”
Although fully committed to SA Sevens, De Bruin has her sights set on playing 15s rugby, having signed with the Bulls Daisies – the first professional domestic women’s side in the country.
“I don’t have a position yet, but I think I will play wing or centre,” she said.
With De Bruin’s seismic rise as a Sevens starlet over the past year, for her to compete at the highest level of rugby in a different format, which is practically a different sport, would not be out of the realm of possibility – she’s done it before. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.