Stormers centre Juan de Jongh says it’s imperative that they right the wrongs of last season and get this year’s Super Rugby tournament off to a winning start.
The Cape side are aiming to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 in which they failed to reach the Super Rugby play-offs and lost the Currie Cup Final against the Sharks at Newlands after Western Province had powered into the decider with an undefeated record.
De Jongh insists they learned valuable lessons and grew as a squad and are focused on getting the season off on the right foot.
“There are a lot of lessons we can take from last year,” said De Jongh.
“We had a very bad start in which we lost two games and had to play catch up and we had a poor tour, which is something we have to work on.
“We didn’t make the semis for the first time in years and to go through the semifinals and Final of the Currie Cup and to fall at the final hurdle in front of our own people was heartbreaking, but that’s something we’ve learned from.
“For us it comes down to getting off to a good start, coming together as a squad and taking it game by game.”
De Jongh made his Springbok debut in the No.12 jersey and scored a try to help his team to a 34-31 win Wales in Cardiff in June 2010.
However, he fell down the national pecking order as veterans Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie returned to prominence and young stars JJ Engelbrecht and Jaco Taute entered the Test arena.
Although he was part of the South African squad last year, De Jongh didn’t get any game time and last featured for the Springboks at outside centre in the 16-15 win over England at Twickenham in November 2012.
The 25-year-old admits he want to add to his 14 Test caps this season but insists his immediate goals are to help the Stormers back to the upper echelons of Super Rugby.
“Every player has his own individual goals but it’s important that those goals go hand in hand with that of the team,” he said.
“I’m just focused on working hard during the pre-season, playing well in the warm-up games to build some confidence and take it from there.
“I have goals of playing for the Springboks again but they’re in the back of my mind. My focus is on the Stormers and playing well for the Stormers in the months to come.”
The Stormers have solid depth in midfield with Du Jongh set to start outside Springbok captain De Villiers and Damian de Allende providing cover on the bench. Add a host of exciting up-and-coming centres and you have the sort of depth De Jongh feels will stand them in good stead as the season progresses.
“Besides the three of us there are a lot of youngsters coming through like Pat Howard, Kobus [van Wyk] and Michael van der Spuy. They have some Currie Cup experience and hopefully they’ll be able to take the confidence they gained into Super Rugby. It’s a long season, so we’ll need that depth if someone gets injured.”
De Jongh added that the squad enjoyed their annual pre-season camp in Hermanus and are working hard to ensure they hit the ground running when they kick-off their Super Rugby campaign against the Lions at Ellis Park on February 22.
“We love going to Hermanus because the people there are fantastic and it was great going to Gio’s [Aplon] people in Hawston and having a change of scenery. We worked hard on our fitness and the finer aspects of our game and grew closer as a squad thanks to a couple of fun team social events like paintball.”
“[Strength and conditioning coach] Steve du Toit is working very hard to get us ready and has made some changes to make sure we’re in top shape come the opening game of the season. We have three warm-up games starting next weekend and hopefully we can use them to shake off the rust.”