The Bulls new No 9 is ready to leave his mark amongst the greats as he undertakes his debut season in Super Rugby
Stepping into the boots and jersey once worn by the great late Springbok and Bulls scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen and the retired Fourie du Preez sounds seriously daunting, but not for Embrose Papier.
The 20-year-old Papier looks likely to be the “chosen one” at No 9 at Loftus Versfeld to fill the void that has been left by almost two decades of genius scrumhalves in Van der Westhuizen and Du Preez, who not only brought silverware to the Bulls but carved their names in Springbok rugby history.
Papier is not entirely rattled by the enormity of trying to replicate the feats achieved by his childhood heroes, especially Du Preez.
“I would say there is pressure but I don’t focus on that. I just want to focus on what my job requires and I want to learn a lot from André Warner and Ivan van Zyl, I think they are also great scrumhalves. I learn every day and from every player and that makes it easier,” said Papier.
While it might be still early in his fledgling career to make big pronouncements on his future, there have been encouraging signs during the Bulls pre-season friendlies to justify why coach John Mitchell chose the former Hoërskool Garsfontein pupil over Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige in his Super Rugby plans.
The soft-spoken Papier admits that it came as a shock to be considered above a player like Paige and his elevation to Super Rugby was unexpected, but the Junior Springbok halfback is looking forward to living his dream in his maiden Super Rugby season.
Armed with a crisp and quick pass off the base of the scrum and ruck and with the ability to make the right decisions, even when under pressure, Papier will prove to be a valuable asset for the Bulls and Mitchell’s rapid and expansive game plan.
In fact, what stands out about Papier is his transformation from a placid and humble youngster off the field to the larger-than-life and fearless player he is on the field.
And while there is little to criticise nor any glaring weaknesses to speak of, Papier knows that there is still a lot to learn before he becomes the complete package that will see him attain cult status at the Bulls.
“No, not at all,” he responds when asked if he was expecting to be involved in Super Rugby.
“I worked hard during the pre-season on the things that I have struggled with. I didn’t expect this but I am looking forward to it,” Papier added.
For Papier it is not only about becoming the best No 9 in the country but also living out a childhood dream of playing for the Bulls and playing out the inspiration that he found in watching the former Bulls and Springbok wing Bryan Habana and Francois Hougaard.
“It means a lot to me to be part of the Super Rugby squad. As a young boy I always dreamt of becoming a part of the Blue Bulls and it is a huge honour for me. As a young boy I always looked up to players like Bryan Habana and Francois Hougaard, they inspired me a lot especially to see them playing for the Blue Bulls.”
Papier is under no illusion of how steep the road ahead is and that he won’t have the No 9 jersey handed to him, but he finds comfort in having some of his Junior Springbok teammates around like flyhalf Manie Libbok.
At the same time, Papier is relishing the chance of playing alongside Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard just as much as finally walking in the footsteps of the greats when he makes his Super Rugby debut – hopefully against the Hurricanes in the Bulls first game of the season.
“That made it a lot easier.
“Actually, Manie and I stayed together last year and we also played together for the Junior Springboks at the Junior World Championship.
“Our relationship is really tight so it makes it a lot easier.
“I’ve passed a few balls to Pollard at training but it would be nice if we can play together,” Papier said confidently.
The Bulls open their Super Rugby campaign against the Hurricanes on February 24.