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-Brenden Nel

It took a simple gesture after a game in France to turn Springbok Uzair Cassiem from just another PRO14 Rugby import player into a fan favourite.

And now, in his second year with the Welsh club Scarlets Cassiem has become a firm fan favourite, and is approaching cult player status at the club, something unheard of for a South African player in Wales.

But it is easy to see why. While his game has excelled, his moments off the field have endeared him to the Scarlet fans, and they have embraced him in a situation which has only been positive for both the club and player.
It is a far cry from what Cassiem expected when, like so many other South African players, he left his home for European rugby and the chance to experience something different from the game.

The moment came while the team were in France, and after playing Toulon Cassiem did something almost unthinkable in professional rugby. He joined the fans in their post-match deliberations of the game.

“The hotel is literally next to the stadium. So when we walked from the hotel to the stadium we came outside to find a tunnel of travelling supporters – over 200 of them – had waited for us to wish us luck for the game. It was something amazing for me, it was really special.
“It is not normal for someone from South Africa to see this sort of thing. There were so many of them. We lost the game in the last minute. While we were gutted to lose, you could only hear those fans chanting and singing in the stadium. It was amazing in such a big stadium that they made so much noise. People won’t understand what a difference it made to us and what energy it brought us on the night.
“So afterwards I went over to them just to say thank you. I thought it was the least I could do.”

The fans welcomed Cassiem into their group and he spent a few hours chatting and talking to the fans.

And so the story started spreading. And sure enough when Scarlets returned home, Cassiem was back in the crowd and thanking the fans again. It is a moment that has carried on throughout the season, win or lose, and the South African loose forward has become a popular figure with the faithful.

“Every game it happens. I realised they really enjoyed it and the feedback was amazing. They told me they weren’t used to a player getting so close to them and talking to them. They were genuinely surprised,” he laughs.
“I told them that is how it works with us South Africans, we are sociable people. We love laughing and we love meeting people. Every weekend I head after the game to the fans, and I love it.
“Their passion is infectious. I’ve heard stories that made me laugh, they are wonderful people, and I’m richer for the experience. They get a bit more from me, and I love giving a bit back to them.”

Cassiem has been a hit on the field as well. After a first season where injuries hampered his progress, he is now the leading ball-carrier in PRO14 Rugby, and is a massive part of his side’s onslaught week after week. Just this weekend his try in the 62nd minute was the turning point for Scarlets as they pulled away from the Isuzu Southern Kings.

“Last season was one of those seasons where I had a lot of niggles. It was three weeks here, four weeks there and I couldn’t build any momentum. The supporters couldn’t see the real Cassiem. Luckily this year I’ve been injury free and they can see what they bought.
“You need to always give some appreciation back to the fans that come out every weekend, sunshine or rain.”

Cassiem still dreams of adding to his eight caps he has for the Springboks, but knows all he can do to make that a reality again is keep on grinding on and doing his job.

“The fire to be a Bok again still burns bright. It is still a dream. But I just need to keep working hard, keep on doing my job and trying to get better, that’s all I can do.”

And if the Boks are ever needing a big ball carrier again, the Llanelli fans will have a good suggestion where to look. And where to find him after another Scarlets game.

Brenden Nel-Johannesburg

Guinness PRO14: Scarlets vs Connacht
Scarlets’ Uzair Cassiem
©INPHO/James Crombie

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