Hometown hero Faf de Klerk is back where it all started when the Springboks take on the All Blacks in a Rugby Championship match at Mbambela Stadium on Saturday.

Born and raised in Mbambela (formerly Nelspruit), De Klerk attended Bergland Primary School and then Nelspruit High School before completing his last three years at Hoerskool Waterkloof in Pretoria.

It was at Waterkloof where he was first coached by Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse, who was in charge of Waterkloof’s first team at that stage, before he selected De Klerk for the Blue Bulls Craven side.

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It was then that Stonehouse again gave De Klerk his big break into senior rugby, bringing him to the Pumas in 2012, where De Klerk played 56 times for them over four seasons, making a name for himself before moving on to much more.

Faf de Klerk first caught the eye while playing for the Pumas, as seen here in 2013. Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images

“I think we last played here in 2016. So it’s nice to remember a little bit everything you’ve been through,” De Klerk admitted.

“Me and Vince (Koch) had a bit of a laugh with the other guys, saying they don’t know what it’s like to go that route and some of the things we had to do in our time with Jimmy.

“But there are a lot of guys in this group who really had to fight to get here. You were written off as a child and should not have been here. So I think we rely on that a lot and we take a lot of energy into the game because of that.”

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De Klerk is happy to be back home and is looking forward to putting in a massive effort against the All Blacks in front of his home crowd.

“This (match) will be massive. We were going to the signing session on Saturday morning and there was a line of I don’t even know how many people and we saw what it meant to them,” De Klerk said.

“Obviously the Pumas are doing so well, I think there’s a great rugby atmosphere at the moment and I think it’s hard for people to find somewhere to stay for a Test match.

“It means there’s a lot of upside to this game and people really support us in Nelspruit, while I also think a lot of people travel from further afield to come and watch. So the support is tremendous.”

Exciting rivalry

De Klerk is also excited to renew his rivalry with All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith, who he has come to know well over the years since his Boca debut.

“Aaron and I have become friends off the field, but we both know that once we get on the field, it’s going to come back. He is one of their key players. He has played more than a hundred Tests, which makes him incredibly successful in what he did there,” De Klerk said.

“I still have a lot to learn from him, but it’s always good to play against one of the best players in the world.”

Faf de Klerk plays for the Lions.
Faf de Klerk plays for the Lions in 2015. Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images

De Klerk is currently in a tight battle for the Bok number nine jersey, after young winner Jayden Hendricks was preferred over him in the crucial third Test against Wales and he swapped places with him for the All Blacks Test, De Klerk will be keen to put down a marker.

“I think there was always that pressure from all the other nines. Now there are five of us back in camp and I think personally the coaches can pick whoever they want on the day to start and although I don’t think we all play the same game, they will do the job,” said De Klerk. .

“So I think the pressure is always there and if you make one mistake, maybe you get another chance. If you do it again, maybe you’ll leave because the next guy is ready to go, and I think that’s really good, and if you look across our squad, it’s pretty much the same.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are experienced or a young person. You have to show it on the field. I really like the big games and the pressure. I think that’s where most of our guys play really well. So it’s good to feel like you know you have to perform.”

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