JOHANNESBURG – After a successful 15-year career, Gio Aplon doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. But he’s got a message for all the youngsters who’ll be watching him in a Bulls jersey when rugby in this country starts up again: age and size are only numbers, and one should never let them determine whether you’re good enough to play at the highest level.
No-one knows when Aplon will pull on the famous Bulls jersey for the first time, but he’s hopeful it will be a successful stint for the Pretoria-based team, a union he admitted this week he never thought he’d ever represent.
Having been born in the Cape and played for Western Province and the Stormers between 2005 and 2014, Aplon is a born-and-bred Province-man. But, after four years at Grenoble in France and three at Toyota Verblitz in Japan, Aplon is back in South Africa – and signed up to play for the Bulls when rugby resumes following the break due to the spread of the coronavirus.
“Playing for the Bulls never crossed my mind, ever,” said Aplon yesterday. “When Jake (White, the Bulls’ new director of rugby) phoned me a while back to ask about my future plans, I never thought it may involve my joining the Bulls. But, I didn’t say ‘No’ to him; I was unsure about my plans for next year so later on gave it some thought.
“I considered the fact I’d always been a Province guy, and thought about the big rivalry between them and the Bulls. But, to be honest, I’m just privileged to be able to play professionally still at my age, and I’m excited about the prospect of playing at a union with such a rich history and traditions.
“I know they’re thinking big, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Exciting times lie ahead at the Bulls, and I couldn’t turn down the chance of playing under Jake and finishing my career in front of my friends and family.”
Aplon will be 38 in October and he said he drew inspiration from World Cup winning hooker, Schalk Brits, who featured in Japan last year, at the same age. Also, said Aplon, he wanted to show the young kids who love rugby that size doesn’t matter. He stands only 1.75m tall and weighs 78kg; not much more than another World Cup winner, Cheslin Kolbe (1.71m and 78kg).
“Age and size are only numbers,” said Aplon. “I want the kids out there to see me, like they saw Schalk and Cheslin at the World Cup, perform at a high level and hopefully it can make a difference when rugby starts up again and gives someone out there hope.
“I initially only played cricket at school because I was considered too small for rugby, and only later on developed into a rugby player. And only after a lot of convincing did I feel I belonged and was good enough.
“Schalk and Cheslin showed last year what is possible when there’s a will to make it, and I hope to show, too, that size and age mean nothing if you work hard and want to succeed.”
Having spent a few days in Pretoria where he met a few of his new Bulls teammates Aplon is back in Cape Town with his family. He said it was frustrating not knowing when rugby would start up again in South Africa.
“With no date in place for a return-to-rugby, or even group training for that matter, it’s pretty frustrating,” said the utility back. “We’re all training on our own, doing a lot of running, but it’s tough. You ask yourself what you’re doing it for, and why? Normally we, as rugby players, are working towards something, but right now there’s nothing.
“But, as least I’ve been able to come down to Cape Town and spend the next few days or weeks with my family.”
Aplon said he was excited about the future of the Bulls under White.
“The one thing you know what you’re going to get with Jake is a competitive, professional set-up, and you know you’re going to be in with a chance of winning some trophies.”