One of the most striking sculptures outside Twickenham Stadium in London, the one in Rugby Road where a couple of players lift another high in the air, could easily have been crafted from a photo in the mind of Branco du Preez, the most experienced Blitzbok ever.
When the Blitzboks take on Japan in Pool A of the HSBC London Sevens on Saturday, the 29-year-old Du Preez will represent the Springbok Sevens team in his 70th tournament in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, more than any other player has done, and the diminutive scrumhalf would feel like he is high up in the air, lifted to greater heights, as per the statue outside Twickenham.
Du Preez credited this feat to the Blitzboks over many seasons, who have lifted him to these record-breaking heights.
“Without this team, I would not have achieved anything,” said Du Preez, who became known for his trusted left boot and deadly defence.
“I cannot lie to you, I feel immensely proud of this. And immensely grateful. Not only because I am still able to do what I love, but to be able to do it with players who symbolize what the Blitzboks stand for. When we landed in London on Monday morning, I felt so blessed.”
Du Preez debuted in Wellington, New Zealand in 2010 and scored a try against Fiji, the first of 91 so far. And 350 matches later, he has scored no less than 1253 points.
“I remember that try very well, especially as I had to beat William Ryder, at the time one of the great steppers of the game, with a step in order to score in the corner. I was so tired lying there, but the smile on my face was the biggest ever,” he said.
Du Preez, who hails from George but finished his schooling at the Harmony Sports Academy and Hentie Cilliers High School in Virginia in the Free State, has great memories of so many matches and tournaments, but he singles out Las Vegas, where they won on the occasion of his 50th tournament for the Blitzboks.
“And winning the World Series twice in a row, which is something no one can take away from us and something I will remember forever. Especially as we had to rely on each other in so many of those battles, where we had to support each other, as in that statue,” he said.
For the sweeper in the team, required to move from one side of the field to the other at blistering speed and frequency, talking about the past is quickly superceded by talking about the future, starting this weekend in London.
“We want to go out and play, no doubt,” said Du Preez.
“My own achievement does not overshadow what the team want to achieve, so the focus will be pretty much on what we need to do out there. We are all super keen to have a good weekend.”
It was not always bright lights for Du Preez, who also represented the Junior Springboks in 2010 and played for the Vodacom Blue Bulls and Xerox Golden Lions in a short fifteens career.
“I missed out on selection for the Olympic Games in 2016. I struggled with an injury and form and did not make the final squad,” he said.
“There is another chance come Tokyo 2020 and I have my mind set on making that squad. To do that though, we need to do well here in London to start with, in order to qualify as a top four finisher. That is where we want to be at the end of the weekend. To get there, we need to trust each other and play as a team and be in sync.”
Just like that statue, four lifting one to greater heights.