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Back You are here: Home Sports Rugby Kwa Zulu Natal Jason Klaasen- Maritzburg College's Opensider
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 14:56

Jason Klaasen- Maritzburg College's Opensider

"This kid has got it", "This kid is going places", "He's the real deal". I had heard so much about young Jason Klaasen that it surely must have been pure hyperbole; exaggeration from excitable coaches and school Jason_-_Copyrugby pundits who tend to jump at the first sign of a standout talent. For once, it seems the rumors were true.

My first recollection of hearing his name was from a group of Maritzburg College Old Boys during the clash with Kearsney College on Goldstones earlier in the season. They spoke of his brute strength and admirable afterthought for his body with reverence usually reserved for players of days gone by, who went on to dominate the professional ranks. Whilst old boys inevitably speak highly of their school, there tends to be a 'young men were tougher in my day' approach to the current batch; undertones of distain of how rugby players today seem to be equally concerned with their hair as they are with the ferocity in which they hit a ruck. "That Klaasen is an animal" they say; shaking their heads with stern approval. "He has to be of farming stock". I nod in agreement.

Embarrassingly, our mutual preconceptions were completely off the mark. "No, I'm as Maritzburg as they come, hey" he says with a warm smile. "I went to Merchiston (Preparatory) and my family lives in Maritzburg."

Heinrich Brussow's size is similar to mine...I study his every move

With the eighteen year-old's 1,76m stature, he is never going to be a lineout option, but as Heinrich Brussow showed the world, this proves to be an incomparable advantage at the breakdown. "Brussow is definitely my favorite player and someone I try to mould my game around. We're in the same position and his size is similar to mine so I watch every game he plays and study his every move. Just watching him has helped my game a lot". Such a studious outlook on the finer points of the game is rarely found at the schoolboy level, where all too many players buy into their own hype and choose to play 'their own game', thus closing the door on any sort of development through outside influences.

Many are blessed with natural and genetically advantageous brute force and ability, but standout players know that what will set them apart is how much they are willing to give in the gym and on the training paddock. "There are so many sports here at College, but rugby is everything to me. During the off-season, I'm usually prepping for the next rugby season with Chonco (a College lock with oodles of talent and promise)". The two of them managed to break into a Craven Week pack that is dominated by Green Machinery.

Win against Glenwood was my most memorable match


With Glenwood players all around them, the recent result over the Durban power will be all the more special. "That win over Glenwood was by far my most memorable match playing for College. For a lot of us, it was our final game for College, it was Reunion Day and Glenwood were unbeaten in KZN at the time". It was surely all the more sweeter considering how many Glenwood boys he lists as friends after coming through the age-group ranks together as provincial teammates.

With Craven Week 2010 now locked in the memory bank,  it is clear that he is counting down the days to when he is able to pit himself against the best in the country. "Wow, I'm really looking forward to rugby after school hey!" he says with a smile reminiscent of Big Joe van Niekerk. "I played in the Academy Week last year and it was difficult to gel as well as you would normally do as a team because we all come from different schools with different ways of playing the game, but I really enjoyed the 2010 Craven Week.". Young Klaasen indirectly touches on a very apt point: The strongest Craven Week teams are traditionally those whose composition is dominated by a single school and thus possesses greater cohesion (think Free State, the Blue Bulls and even SWD). It goes without saying that he would have loved to be surrounded by more Maritzburg teammates; but the dominance of the KZN squad by thirteen Glenwood boys still wasn't enough for the KZN Craven Week side to have total success.

There was a time when College use to be among the top three schools...

But where did it all begin for young Jason Klaasen? "By grade six, I knew that I wanted to be a College boy. When I was at Merchiston, College had guys like Peter Grant, Cedric Mkhize, Craig Burden and Jannie Boschoff. I loved their style of rugby and loved the school in general". Maritzburg College holds 1140 boys and regularly field up to thirty teams on any given Saturday. The dominant force in KZN for decades, they fell off the pace slightly (by their lofty standards), only to remerge with even greater vigor that is hauntingly reassuring to traditionalists. Head of Rugby, Angus Macdonald explains: "There was a time when College used to be among the top three rugby schools in the country (along with Grey College and Affies); producing many Currie Cup players. Our aim now is to get back there and stay there".

College boys are made for rugby, not body-building

With reputed local feeder schools in KwaZulu-Natal, the talent was always there, but innovations such as a High Performance Centre (built in 2005 and employing a resident Physiotherapist and Biokenetisist) brought a professional edge to their rugby programme. "We like to think of ourselves as a city school with a country heart. Many of our boarders are from outlying areas and you tend to find the farm boys have greater natural strength; largely due to farm chores. We incorporate this in our centre, focusing on strength and core training, rather than specifically on weights" Macdonald explains. Activities such as flipping tires, wrestling and sledge-pulling ensure that College boys are made for rugby, not body-building. What further stands out is the lack of emphasis on the first team. "The HPC was built for all sports and we consider ourselves a good sporting schools; not simply a rugby school. There has also been this huge emphasis on school rankings over the past few years, but that all focuses on first team results. We played twenty-two fixtures last Saturday against Glenwood and won nineteen of those. The kid in the U14F team is as much a College representative as his counterpart in the first XV. That is far more important than simply the result of the first team game."

Over the last two years, Klaasen has allotted twenty-nine caps for the first team in all three positions of the back row. He has proven himself against the best in the business (College defied the naysayers by going down to Affies in an extremely competitive matchup), but there is still one school that proved to be the thorn in his side. Shaking his head with a smile, he reminisces over his most disappointing results. "Losing to Michaelhouse in both grade eleven and matric really hurt. They're such an unpredictable side to play against (as their results attest to) and you never know how they're going to play. Just when you think you have the better of them, they pull through with the result".

If there are no opportunities for me here, I would consider overseas

So where to next for the 85kg opensider? "I don't know to be honest. I've been so focused on giving everything for College that I haven't made a decision as of yet although there are offers. I will be going to the Sharks Academy but what  I know is that I want to be playing rugby though, that's for sure". When faced with the question of leaving these shores, he is pensive and responds: "I love South Africa and South African rugby, but if there were no opportunities for me here, then I would definitely consider a move overseas".

Despite his happy-go-lucky approach, he does have a path that he wishes to follow. "In ten years time, I want to be playing rugby with a qualification behind me and working in a job I love". As with most schoolboys, a future occupation hasn't stood out as a definitive choice, but he's leaning towards biokinetics, where he can be close to the game, even when he's not on the field.

Jason Klaasen is a pedigreed rugby player. It runs through him and influences him in everything he does. It is his passion. He loves the game and it seems to appreciate him in return. From the under sixteen Grant Khomo Week to selection for the SA u16 Elite Squad to Academy Week in grade eleven and Craven Week in matric, he's been through all the right channels. If this trend is anything to go by, his progression is unlikely to curtail any time soon. Not too long ago, this magazine profiled an evergreen young talent with a similarly impressive reputation. His name was Patrick Lambie. It would come as no surprise if Jason Klaasen follows suit.

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