Veteran Hurricanes prop Ross Geldenhuys’ never-ending rugby career seems to have taken its cue from the incredible story of how he and his wife Madelein got their four children, Jetley, Viggo and twins Kenzi and Roxy.
For years, the couple battled to conceive, going through two heartbreaking miscarriages until Jetley came along and ushered the way for the rest of his siblings. Jetley is now six years old and apparently a menace who convinces his four-year-old brother, Viggo, to help him steal the neighbours’ mail in Papakai Marae in Turangi, New Zealand.
Geldenhuys’ rugby career has been a similar combination of blind faith, persistence and slow burn.
He spent the majority of his 14 years as a professional touring the backwaters of the South African rugby scene. That journey entailed playing for the Border Bulldogs, the Pumas, the Lions, the Boland Cavaliers, the Free State Cheetahs, the Griffons and the Eastern Province Kings, before he was rewarded with the 2015 Super Rugby title with New Zealand side the Highlanders for the voyager miles collected.
Having barely made a ripple in local rugby, the 37-year-old’s bold move to New Zealand had his wife’s “don’t take no for an answer” fingerprints all over it: “When I was 31, I was about to retire when my missus said: ‘Let’s go try in New Zealand.’
“I said: ‘New Zealand has got the best props in the world; maybe we should try Australia?’
“In the end, I went over there, played club rugby, picked up a Mitre 10 contract with the Tasman Makos, played in the final that year, played for the Highlanders and won Super Rugby. A lot of the credit must go to my wife, but rugby is hard work – playing on the Saturday is the glamorous part.”
A CHEETAH Ross Geldenhuys in action against the Sharks
Winning Super Rugby should have been it for someone who left the country on the verge of retirement. But, if anything, it gave his rugby impetus, securing him better contracts at the Southern Kings, and the Sharks thereafter, in South Africa.
The deal with the Kings – which was during the time they went on that mazy run of wins that included beating the Sharks and the Bulls in 2017 – was, surprisingly, Geldenhuys’ favourite because, for once, he was an integral part of the team.
“I’ve had some good seasons here,” he said. “Back in the day at the Lions, I did well, at the Sharks I did well in the Currie Cup and at the Kings I had an awesome season. Probably besides winning Super Rugby, the Kings was a really big success for me.
“I had a bigger role there than I did elsewhere. There were a lot of people who looked up to me and I had to back it up. We worked hard on our team culture and it was really up there. We tried to bring in a lot of things from a lot of unions and there was a big Kiwi element to the culture.”
A LION Carrying the ball for the Lions against Platinum Leopards, a squad he has also played for
But, again, he returned to New Zealand and signed a two-year deal with the Bay of Plenty Steamers – meaning he was in the system for the Hurricanes, even if it was as “player 95” who was not meant to end up playing Super Rugby.
“My deal with the Steamers ends at the end of this year, so I knew I’d be playing,” he said.
“But I was with the Hurricanes a few weeks ago covering an injury. And they had another one. Then Plum [Hurricanes coach John Plumtree] gave me a call and asked if I wanted to play.
“You don’t really turn somebody with that knowledge down.”
While he admits that keeping up with the youngsters takes a lot of watching what he eats, doing more ice baths and stretching, the motivational side for doing it hasn’t changed: “I still love it. I love going to the team room or the team meeting on a Monday. When it all ends, I’ll wish I still had a day or two more, so the opportunity to play for the Hurricanes has been unreal, something I’ve grabbed with both hands. Hopefully, I don’t let anyone down.”
So happy is he with his Super Rugby lifeline, he has asked Plumtree for another crack at it next year.
To which the answer has been: “Let’s see how you go in the Mitre 10 Cup.”
Should that not work, he has plans to stay on a bit longer in New Zealand, which has “been good” to him, to begin his coaching and help his friend, former All Black flanker Tanerau Latimer, with his kiwi fruit farming business.
Having played in South Africa and New Zealand, Geldenhuys says the main difference is that the New Zealanders work hard on their skills at training and, as a result, are less afraid of throwing 50-50 or 30-70 passes because they’ve worked on them.