Gerrit-Jan van Velze admits his start to life at Northampton Saints has been far from ideal but he’s vowed to put things right against a few familiar faces in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday.
Back row van Velze, 24, arrived from the Bulls in the summer as one of South Africa’s brightest prospects, having skippered the national schools team, but things have not go to plan upon arrival at Franklin’s Gardens.
After making his Aviva Premiership debut against Gloucester Rugby on the opening day of the season, van Velze was sin-binned in his second appearance for Saints against Exeter Chiefs for a tip tackle on Will Chudley.
A subsequent four-week ban ensured van Velze has yet to feature in the Premiership since, despite being an unused replacement in the Heineken Cup win over Glasgow Warriors before coming off the bench in last weekend’s narrow defeat to Castres.
In his absence, Welshman Rhys Oakley has filled the void at No.8 manfully but van Velze is in line for a start against Saracens on Saturday where he will lock horns with a number of fellow South Africans, including John Smit and Schalk Brits.
“It has been frustrating and it has not been an ideal start,” said van Velze. “But I put the incident and the ban behind me straight away.
“The one word that keeps springing to mind is desperate – desperate to get out there and prove a point and prove myself in this team.
“During the ban I was working hard with the coaching staff and I went back home for half a week which broke things up nicely, I’m just eager to get going again.
“The rivalry with Saracens and Northampton is huge and then on a personal level I know quite a few of the Sarries boys – Schalk Brits, Jacques Burger, although he won’t be playing, and John Smit is someone I always looked up to as a youngster.
“But it’s not about me, it’s about the team playing well and producing a performance together.”
Saints return to domestic action, following a Heineken Cup double header, top of the league but itching to get back to winning ways in the Premiership after a disappointing 39-17 defeat to London Irish prior to the European break.
And van Velze believes Saints must prove that match to be the exception to the rule.
“That match was a disappointing one for the team, it was not up to the standards that we set ourselves but it’s not something that we want to dwell on, it’s in the past now.
“We want to get ourselves a home semi-final in the play-offs at the end of the season and to do that you need to win your home games, starting on Saturday.
“We were pleased with our Heineken Cup performances – one win and one defeat but an away bonus point which keeps us very much still in the competition.
“We’ve got two more very big games in Europe in December (against Ulster) and they will go a long way to deciding how we fare but we remain confident.”
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