Keegan Daniel Interview: His School Days & His Dreams!

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What schools did you attend Keegan?

I went to Dale Junior in 1992 and then moved to Gonubie Primary from 1993-1998 and then went back to Dale College from 1999-2003.

Dale is well known as a sporting school,  is that the reason you went there?

Ja, I was really fortunate in growing up my parents left the choice up to me, they just wanted me to be happy really. Ja, Dale has a good sporting tradition and my father and two uncles are old Dalians so from a family point of view there is a lot of history there. I suppose I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the way I was treated which made it easy to make the decision to go to Dale College.

What are your earliest sporting memories?

Jeez, I can just remember playing sport with my younger boet. We spent a lot of time on the farm and with all that space we played everything from squash, cricket, tennis and rugby we just entertained ourselves with sport. You know I still have a video of when I played under 9 rugby and when I watch it, it is amazing how you develop from a bunch of kids running all over the field running after the ball to playing at this high level of today.

Who were your sporting heroes as a youngster growing up?

Ja, you know I was an avid cricketer actually I was a far better at cricket than rugby at one stage and I really admired Daryl Cullinan I idolized him, and from a rugby perspective I really enjoyed the way Corne Krige played the game. He was like me not the biggest guy on the field but his attitude and work rate and he never gave up regardless of the situation out on the field. Also when Johnny Wilkinson came on the scene, he is probably the best fly half in the world and his professionalism really impressed me.

So you mentioned that you were a better cricketer in your school days?

Ja, actually I was a far better cricket player at school, if I am honest I was just a very average rugby player at school. Cricketing wise I had far more talent, but I had a passion for rugby, a love for the game I really enjoyed playing the game. So my love for rugby was greater than my skills at cricket.

And did you always play on the flank?

No no, I played full-back at primary school but when I was in Dale College, it’s an old story but I couldn’t get into the A team because I was a new guy at the school so I told a couple of lies to the coach and tuned him I could play flanker and I moved there. I have just stuck to the position from then. It is the way the game is going to have a quicker loose forward especially with the new laws in the game.

What was your greatest sporting achievement at school?

Funny enough there were not so many. Jeez, probably the greatest achievement was under 16 level we had a match against our big rivals Selborne College we were playing them in a final of a tournament and in extra time we were 12-12, we were staring down the barrel we had a scrum inside our own 22 and we won our only scrum of the game, somehow the ball came to me and I happened to score the winning try from 80 meters out. It is amazing how these school matches still stand out in my memory. You know that rivalry between schools is very healthy, funny enough at school you at each others throats but today I am really good mates with some of these guys.

Were you always a natural sportsman?

Ja I would say so. I enjoyed sports. I was into tennis, cross-country, rugby and cricket. Overall yes I was very sporty and I enjoyed playing sport with my mates.

When did you realise you a real talent?

I will be absolutely honest and say that I never realised that I had talent. I never sat down and said to myself that I was going to be a Sharks rugby player or play cricket for South Africa. I just really enjoyed the challenge of being this small guy and having to work that much harder to get somewhere. I just literally took each weekend as it came, especially when I came to KZN to play club rugby.

What are your favourite sporting memories at school?

I played SA u 21 in the World Cup, I hadn’t played SA u19 so I came from nowhere. So getting selected for Pieter de Villiers’ team was, shew incredible! I mean I don’t think I or my family will ever forget that SMS I got telling me that I was in the team to go to France. And of course the Currie Cup final win and the call up to the Springbok squad and my first test cap against Ireland.

What are your worst sporting memories?

Well that should be obvious. The 2007 Super 14 final! They say when a love of yours breaks up with you that is hard to handle but for me nothing can compare to that loss, yes that match was top of the list of disappoints so far. I was on the sideline and I thought we had the cup but the Bulls snatched it away from us in the last few seconds on the match.

What about at school and bad sporting memories?

Yes one game stands out. When I was in matric we lost to Selbourne by a record margin, by more than 40 points I think. The funny thing is that we didn’t play badly but Selborne were awesome that year and they gave us a proper hiding. But at school you play for the enjoyment of the game although losing to Selborne was always a disappointment.

What other sports did you play and to what standard?

No just rugby and cricket really I didn’t focus on other sports.

Who was your most inspirational sports teacher/coach?

Ja I have had quite a few influences in my sporting career. At high school my coach Carl Spillhouse drove me to be my best and do that extra work. Moving to KZN I struggled a little bit but a coach like Rudolf Kotze really gave me my break in 7’s and that is where things snowballed and I have always learnt a lot from him.

How important is it for you to be a role model for youngsters?

I definitely think any professional sportsman is a role model. You are on TV, in the media so how you carry yourself on and off the field can influence a youngster’s life. It’s important to be influential in the young sports people’s life.

What’s the best advice about sport you were given when you were young?

Definitely to keep having fun, once you stop having fun you are doing it for the wrong reasons. I just view each game and training session as another moment to spend time with very close friends and try to achieve something together that has been planned. I can honestly say that even if I wasn’t being paid to play rugby I would still be playing because I really enjoy the camaraderie that goes with it.

What advise would you give to any young aspiring sports stars today?

Ja, something for me that always stood out was, you know there are so many clichés which say “never give up” and all that kind of stuff but it’s true though, if you set your mind to a goal that you want to achieve in life don’t let anything that anyone says put you down. Because no matter what you do you will have people who are negative and those that are positive, those you like what you do and those who don’t and you just have got to keep doing what makes you the best. I find if I focus on what made me a good rugby player in the beginning week in and week out then I will be successful. Also just to enjoy the game, don’t view it as a chore.

Were you ever told you weren’t going to be a success and how did you cope with that?

Oh ja, jeez I was told when I was an under 14 rugby player that I would never make it in rugby, I was told that by my coach. He told me that I was useless and well I would love to see him today and have a chat with him. He is probably claiming he moulded me at the moment. I’ve also been told that I am too small or too light and a lot of people are negative purely because in their minds I am not heavy enough. I’ve just blown those people off and as I said before some people are negative, some are fickle but if you keep focused you can prove them so wrong.

How much did you enjoy the rest of your schooldays?

I had a real blast at school! I was at hostel from day one. 5 years of boarding school and many good memories, good laughs and when I look back had many great times there.

What would you have been if you hadn’t been a sportsperson?

That is the best question ever! I have absolutely no clue! I would probably be a personal trainer that was a passion of mine. Possibly I would have been a vet, I love animals and that kind of thing, that for me would have been the next best thing to being a rugby player. It was a close second.

What sacrifices have you made to get to the top?

There have been a lot. Firstly relationships, a lot of girls my age don’t really understand the demands of professional sports. Personally, you can’t go out with your mates and you must stay in because you have a match or training the next day, disciple in your drinking habits, eating habits, and training times and being punctual these are all sacrifices that need to be made. If you can install these values before you enter the professional area your road to success will be that much easier. You need to remember you only play rugby for X amount of time so you much stay focused and disciplined.

How important are schools in the development of sport and what can be done to improve sport in school?

I think schools are the foundation to developing young sports people. Not just for the developing of your A stream sports but all sports and if you just look at our schoolboy rugby it is at a very high level it’s competitive and this will filter through to provincial level and finally to the ‘bok’s. I think school’s can improve by improving the level of coaching at the schools this is vital, the players abilities can be indentified by coaches who know what they are doing. It is no longer your old Geography teacher who fills in and runs a team, school have turned the corner and looking at getting the players into gym and a more professional approach. I never touched a gym throughout my high school playing day.

What is a typical day for you?

Ja the good old day of a rugby player. Wake up at six o’clock, have a light breakfast. A gym session from 7 to 8, then a forwards session from 8-9 probably lineouts in the morning. Also we will fit in a few extra things like a Pilates session and a session with the team psychologist and then we are back at 4 in the afternoon for training and we do a lot of reviews and previews of the teams we are playing that weekend and at 5 we hit the training field and train for an hour or so and in between we fit in the physio and the massages and that sort of thing. That is pretty much a typical day in my life.

What do you still hope to achieve in sport?

Ja you know there is still a lot left out there. Obviously with the Sharks and the Super Rugby we want to win it and also the Currie Cup. As for me, well I have broken into the scene and so I just want to cement my position in the team. I want to be one of those guys who the coach has penned in on the team sheet without doubting or questioning my ability. Ja people talk about making the Springbok team and playing regulary for them, it is every schoolboys dream but for me if it happens it happens I would be very grateful, right now though my sole focus is just on Sharks rugby and hopefully play well enough to get another opportunity for the Boks.

Now back in 2008 you made history by scoring the quickest try in Super rugby, something like 16 seconds into the match!  At school did you ever score a try within the first 16 seconds of a match?

I don’t think I ever scored a try in the first half of a school match! Ja, 16 seconds that was absolutely crazy and a phenomenal thing to happen. Especially against the Blues and in front of thirty thousand people at home it was an incredible experience and I am just so fortunate that Bismark passed me the ball. But you see there again I had the pace if I was slightly heavier I would have been caught and would never have made it, but in rugby I have always had this philosophy: “why run into a player when you can run into space.”