Kurt-Lee Arendse enjoys nothing more than proving all those people who told him he was too small to play rugby wrong.
The diminutive 26-year-old, who is 5ft 9ins and 11st 13lbs, is one of the most talked about players in the world game right now, following his try-scoring exploits for the Springboks in the autumn internationals, culminating in his superb finish during last weekend’s victory over England at Twickenham.
Now he is back on Vodacom United Rugby Championship duty, having been named at full-back by the Vodacom Bulls for Saturday’s encounter with in-form Cardiff Rugby at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld.
Hailing from the Western Cape of South Africa, Arendse found his size was often held against him as he looked to make his way in the game.
Asked whether people told him he was too small to play the sport when he was younger, he said: “I’ve heard that a lot, but I don’t listen to negative comments. I just focus on what I want to achieve.
“We small players like to be underestimated, but at the same we like to prove people wrong. Whenever we get the opportunity, we look to do that.”
As for his mindset when he comes up against players who are much larger than him physically, he has the perfect riposte.
“Obviously guys are bigger, but they move really slow! They have their weaknesses, so you look to capitalise on those,” he says.
One concession he does make in terms of the size of opponents is wearing a scrum-cap, which is becoming something of a trademark of his.
“It’s just for safety because guys are bigger than me. It gives me more confidence in tackles,” he explains.
In terms of a role model when he was growing up, he name-checks former DHL Stormers back-three man Gio Aplon, who won 17 caps for the Springboks around a decade ago.
“He was also small and underestimated, but he kept on proving people wrong. He was one of the guys I looked up to and I was fortunate to play with him at the Vodacom Bulls towards the end of his career, which was nice.”
Starting out in age-grade rugby with Western Province and Boland, Arendse first made his mark in Sevens, initially for the University of Western Cape and then with the Blitzboks.
He was a regular fixture with the South African Sevens team for a couple of years, but with the World Series being put on hold due to Covid, he switched to the 15-a-side game by joining the Vodacom Bulls in 2020, going on to make an immediate impression with his speed and elusive running.
Last season, he made more clean breaks (24) than any other player in the Vodacom URC and was fourth in terms of defenders beaten (43), while he also showed his predatory prowess by scoring seven tries.
That fine form was rewarded this summer when he made his Test debut against Wales in Bloemfontein. He is now up to seven caps and seven tries, having lit up the international arena with his finishing over the past few months.
There were touchdowns against New Zealand and Argentina in the Rugby Championship and then this autumn he has crossed the whitewash versus Ireland, France, Italy (twice) and England, with the last of those seeing him scorch outside Marcus Smith.
On that Twickenham sizzler, he said: “It was a special moment for me to score that try for my team. All that really went through my mind was just to dot the ball down. That was it. It was nice to contribute to my team.
“It’s been my first season for the Springboks and there have been ups and downs, but I am grateful for the opportunity I have had. I am just happy.
“We enjoy each other’s company and we have a great leader in Siya Kolisi, who knows the game well. It’s just great to have the opportunity to play for your country. For me, it’s about focusing on each game, being in the moment and not thinking too far ahead.”
Now it’s back to the Vodacom Bulls, who lie third in the Vodacom URC and will be looking to go one better than last season, having lost to the DHL Stormers in the final during the inaugural year of the 16-team competition.
“We had a slow start in the Vodacom URC last year and took a few shots, but we analysed the games and did well after the first couple of rounds,” said Arendse.
He returns to the fold for a meeting with Cardiff, who pulled off a startling 35-0 bonus point victory over the Cell C Sharks in Durban last Sunday.
“It was tough for the Sharks. We will try not to lose against Cardiff,” declared Arendse.
Then it’s on to the Heineken Champions Cup, with the Vodacom Bulls facing Lyon and Exeter in the group stage as they embark on their first European campaign.
“It’s going to be a good competition and we are really looking forward to it. We can only learn from playing in the Champions Cup. It will be good for us in South Africa. We are definitely here to compete. I think people in Pretoria will come out in numbers for the games. It’s an exciting time for rugby.”
It’s certainly an exciting time for Arendse who is confirming the old adage that rugby really is a game for all sizes.
Squad Update | Munster Prepare For Bayonne At Thomond
The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup opener against Bayonne at Thomond Park (5.30pm).
Buy match tickets here.
Jean Kleyn will be unavailable until the New Year due to an eye injury suffered in the Leinster match. He attended for a specialist review last Tuesday and Wednesday and will have further follow-up before Christmas.
Jack Daly (ankle) and Liam Coombes (shoulder) both underwent surgery last week and will begin rehabilitation under the medical department.
There is good news for Patrick Campbell (ankle) as he has returned to team training.
Jack O’Donoghue (ankle) will also return to training this week.
Simon Zebo (knee) will continue to rehabilitate early this week.
The availability of Campbell, O’Donoghue and Zebo will be determined later in the week.
Peter O’Mahony (shoulder) is improving but will remain unavailable for the Bayonne clash.
Continuing to rehab: Jack Daly (ankle), Peter O’Mahony (shoulder), Liam Coombes (shoulder), RG Snyman (chest/shoulder), Joey Carbery (wrist), Roman Salanoa (knee), Mike Haley (hip), Cian Hurley (ankle/achilles), Niall Scannell (groin).
There were 11 Munster players in AIL action for their clubs at the weekend.
In Division 1A, Fionn Gibbons, Chris Moore and Keynan Knox helped Young Munster to a win over City of Armagh with Gibbons among the tries.
Ethan Coughlan and Daniel Okeke were in action for Shannon as they were beaten away to Terenure College.
In Division 1B, Jack Oliver, George Hadden and Colm Hogan helped Garryowen beat Blackrock College with Hogan scoring a try on his debut for the club. Oliver also kicked three conversions and two penalties.
Jack O’Sullivan and Ben O’Connor featured for UCC as they were narrowly beaten by Old Wesley.
In Evan O’Connell helped UL Bohemians to a draw against MU Barnhall.
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Peter O’Mahony Steps Down After Over 10 Years As Munster Captain
Munster Rugby can confirm that Peter O’Mahony has made the decision to step down as squad captain after over 10 years leading the province.
O’Mahony first captained Munster in a competitive game on September 3, 2011 at the age of 21. It was just his 12th appearance for the province and he led the side for the opening five games of that season.
He took over the Munster captaincy on a permanent basis ahead of the 2013/14 season following the departure of Doug Howlett.
The 2022/23 season was O’Mahony’s 10th year as squad captain and ended with glory in Cape Town as he lifted the URC title with Keith Earls after a thrilling win over the Stormers.
Along with captaining Munster, he has also led Ireland and the British & Irish Lions.
Head Coach Graham Rowntree and the coaching team will select a new squad captain in due course.
Peter O’Mahony said: “Captaining Munster has been a dream come true for me.
“I grew up watching and idolising the Munster team and in particular the people who were leading the team.
“People like Mick Galwey, Jim Williams then on to the likes of ROG and Paul, who I had the privilege of playing with at the start of my career.
“I can remember the day I was asked to be captain like it was yesterday and discussing it with Paul to get his approval.
“From that day to this it’s been an utter privilege and has never been something I’ve taken for granted.
“However, having given a huge amount of thought to it, I think it is the right time to step back from the role to share my experiences and give the same guidance that I received when I took on the role.
“What an unbelievable honour it has been…and will always continue to be.”
Paying tribute to O’Mahony’s over 10 years as captain, Rowntree said: “You couldn’t pick a better leader than Pete and he has been a fantastic captain for this club.
“To lead Munster from such a young age and for so many years speaks volumes of his ability as a player on the pitch and a person off it.
“He commands huge respect and will still be a massive leader within the group. To have someone of Pete’s experience on hand to help us with the succession process is invaluable.
“We have a strong leadership group within the squad and will confirm a new squad captain in due course.”
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Squad Update | Munster Prepare For Leinster In Dublin
The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Saturday’s URC round 6 clash against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium (6.30pm, live on TG4).
Our next home game is against Glasgow Warriors at Musgrave Park on Friday, December 1 (7.35pm). Buy match tickets here.
Following Saturday’s win over Stormers, Peter O’Mahony (shoulder) and Jack O’Donoghue (ankle) will both go for scans on their respective injuries.
Diarmuid Barron has progressed through the return to play protocols and will be available for selection.
Continuing to rehab: Liam Coombes (shoulder), RG Snyman (chest/shoulder), Joey Carbery (wrist), Patrick Campbell (ankle), Roman Salanoa (knee), Mike Haley (hip), Cian Hurley (ankle/achilles), Niall Scannell (groin).
On the AIL front, there were nine Munster players in action for their clubs at the weekend.
In Division 1A, Keynan Knox and Fionn Gibbons helped Young Munster to a win over Terenure College at Tom Clifford Park.
Ethan Coughlan and Daniel Okeke were in action for Shannon as they were beaten by Lansdowne in Dublin.
In Division 1B, Jack Oliver and George Hadden lined out for Garryowen as they were beaten by St Mary’s College with Oliver kicking a conversion and a penalty.
Jack O’Sullivan was a try-scorer for UCC with Ben O’Connor also starting as they beat Queen’s University at the Mardyke.
In Division 1B, Evan O’Connell helped UL Bohemian to a 16-12 victory over Ballymena at Annacotty.
URC Round 7: Friday, December 1
Munster v Glasgow Warriors, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Champions Cup Round 1: Saturday, December 9
Munster Rugby v Bayonne, Thomond Park, 5.30pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 8: Tuesday, December 26
Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Champions Cup Round 4: Saturday, January 20
Munster Rugby v Northampton Saints, Thomond Park, 5.30pm; Buy tickets here
Saturday, February 3
Munster Rugby v Crusaders, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 5pm; Buy final tickets here
URC Round 11: Friday, March 1
Munster v Zebre Parma, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 13: Saturday, March 30
Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 16: Saturday, May 11
Munster v Connacht, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 18: Saturday, June 1
Munster v Ulster, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here
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