For the 2014 Currie Cup-winning Western Province side, there were three big farewells – big in every sense of the word.
Three front row forwards have brought down the curtain on their stellar careers in the Western Cape – two are heading abroad (Pat Cilliers and Brok Harris), whilst one (Tiaan Liebenberg) has retired from the game of rugby.
However, whilst three warhorses depart Cape Town, WP had already announced the signing of powerful Bulls hooker Bongi Mbonambi earlier this year, with highly-rated SA Under-20 tighthead prop Wilco Louw also making the move down to the Cape from Pretoria ahead of next year.
On the new signings, WP Director of Rugby Gert Smal commented: “We’re excited at the prospect of Bongi playing his rugby in the Cape. We’ve tracked his progress and believe that he can reach his full potential here.
“Wilco Louw is also a big prospect and will bolster our tight five. He was a key member of the SA Under-20 team at tighthead prop this year and will be returning to the Cape to further his career and will add quality in a key position like tighthead (prop).”
Pat Cilliers spent two seasons in the Cape and his impact was huge – both on and off the field. He played in two Currie Cup Finals for WP and, this season especially, contributed hugely to the leadership group as vice-captain.
The 27-year-old, capped six times by the Springboks, will join French Top 14 club, Montpellier – having already left for France on Monday evening.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee paid tribute to Cilliers, telling the WP Rugby website: “Pat battled a bit with injury when he first joined (last year), but he contributed massively in last year’s Currie Cup and, of course, this year in what was a challenging season for the Stormers, but turned into a very successful year with our Currie Cup win.
“We will certainly miss him, but we wish him and his fiance, Megan, all the best as they embark on their new adventure together in France.”
Harris spent eight seasons at Western Province, having played his first provincial match in 2006 and his first Super Rugby game in 2007. Harris will be joining Welsh club, Newport Gwent Dragons, after over 200 appearances for both the Stormers and WP combined.
“Brok epitomises what a team man is all about – he is a true Stormer in every sense of the word,” commented Coetzee.
“He played over 200 matches for us – hardly missing a training session along the way. To play 213 matches in eight seasons is a remarkable achievement and his performances this season were some of his finest in a Province jersey.
“We wish Brok, his wife Madeleine and their son Divan all the best in Wales.”
Of the trio departing WP Rugby, Liebenberg is the only one who will not be furthering his career, having been forced to hang up his boots due to a long-standing back injury which saw him play his 62nd, and final, match for Western Province against the EP Kings on August 8 in Port Elizabeth.
“Tiaan represented the union with distinction, having played his first match for WP in 2006,” said Coetzee. “Just last year he was still captaining Western Province in the Currie Cup – he was part of our leadership team for many years.
“Tiaan made a tough decision (to hang up his boots), but with a young family at the top of his priority list,” he added, “he really left his mark here and we wish him well in the next phase of his life.”
Liebenberg and Harris joined Western Province at the same time, in 2006 (the duo playing 348 matches between them). Cilliers spent two (successful) seasons in the Cape, but coach Coetzee paid a collective tribute to the front row trio.
“All three players have left a mark one way or another and will all be missed – by the coaches, their team-mates and our wonderful supporters,” he said, “we wish them well, both on and off the field.
“Once you play for the Stormers or Western Province you will always be part of the family here.
“That’s why it’s always hard to say goodbye to a player… whether he chooses to leave to experience something new overseas, or, in Tiaan’s case, has had to retire.”
Christiaan (Tiaan) Liebenberg
Date of Birth: December 18, 1981
WP Rugby caps: Stormers – 73, Western Province – 62
Springbok career: Six matches (five Tests); Test debut v Argentina (August 25, 2012)
Juan (Brok) Harris
Date of Birth: February 22, 1985
WP Rugby caps: Stormers – 93, Western Province – 120
Patric (Pat) Cilliers
Date of Birth: March 3, 1987
WP Rugby caps: Stormers – 23, Western Province – 23
Springbok career: Six Tests; Test debut v Argentina (August 18, 2012)