Port Elizabeth – To do the same thing a hundred times over can be exhausting, to say the least, but not for Southern Kings lock, Dries van Schalkwyk, who this week will run out for the 100th time in the PRO14 when the Port Elizabeth-based side takes on Welsh outfit, the Dragons.
Coincidentally, the 34-year-old Van Schalkwyk will be facing the very same opposition he squared up against when he made his PRO14 debut seven seasons ago.
The Bloemfontein-born utility forward got his first taste of the competitive European competition shortly after joining Italian side, Zebre, in 2012.
“When I started off I had no idea of what the picture would end up looking like – I just wanted to play rugby,” Van Schalkwyk remembered.
“Seasons come and one grows as a player and as a person and you start appreciating the privilege of doing what you love each week. I never thought that one day I would get to a stage where I will celebrate 100 matches.
“My best friend is rugby! The game has given me so much. I just want to keep getting involved and to give back to a game that has given me so much.
Despite a defeat in his first match to the Dragons, the hard-working loose-forward-cum-lock never looked back.
“My first PRO14 match was against the Dragons when I played for Zebre in Italy,” Van Schalkwyk reminisced.
“I remember how I did not understand anybody at the time because they all spoke Italian, and here I was – an Afrikaans boy from South Africa. In that match, whenever they passed the ball to me, I just took it and ran. Then after the game the coach came to me and said ‘you play like that, you stay’ – that is all the English he could speak.
“Here I am all those seasons later about to play my 100th game.”
Van Schalkwyk went on to play 76 matches for Zebre, and in the process earned himself a spot in the Italian national team where he featured 15 times between 2016 and 2017.
In 2017, the hard-working forward made the trek back home to South Africa when he joined the Southern Kings in their first season when they joined the expanded PRO14 championship.
His experience and work ethic proved invaluable for the South African side that was one of two to make the historic move as the first to play in a cross-hemisphere competition.
“For Dries to play 100 games in PRO14 Rugby is a huge achievement,” Southern Kings coach Deon Davids said.
“We have seen how Dries applies himself and shares information, and he gets involved in our reviews and previews of matches.
“In my view Dries has knowledge that can be of value to any PRO14 team in the future.”
Playing his 100th match is something Van Schalkwyk holds dear to his heart.
“I’m very grateful that coach Deon brought me back to South Africa,” the soon-to-be centurion said.
“In the beginning it was a bit of a rollercoaster, new and unchartered territory for a South African team to play in a European competition and most of the guys did not know what to expect. It was tough.
“But we saw the improvements with each passing week, and of course after playing in our first season in PRO14 rugby.
“This team has grown to be a special one. I am proud to be playing my 100th match for this team, and I am glad to be playing it back home in South Africa where I can share the moment with my family and those close to me. To wear this Southern Kings jersey is quite special.”
Van Schalkwyk finds the occasion even extra special as he gets to share it with another workhorse in Berton Klaasen, who will be making his 50th appearance for the Southern Kings after amassing half a century of matches in both the PRO14 and Super Rugby competitions for the Port Elizabeth-based side.
“Berton is such a special player and deserves this milestone. I’m proud for him and I am proud to be sharing this special moment with him,” said Van Schalkwyk.