He trained for hours per day, trying to do that slide he saw Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer do so many times on TV when playing the French Open at Roland Garros, to be followed up by a wicked top-spin forehand and that precisely-placed backhand. Way too skinny and small to play rugby like everyone else at school, Dewald Human was determined to become the next big thing in tennis.
The shot became better, but the slide was not that easy.
South Africa is just not clay court country.
Instead the 14-year old Outeniqua High School pupil, nicknamed Japie, developed his own way to slide and to compensate for the lack of clay.
This intuitive knowledge of how to use his feet came to good use when his friends called him over to come and play touch rugby with them during breaks at this famous rugby school in the Southern Cape.
Ball skills would never be an issue and when he also proved pretty elusive with rugby ball in hand, under-16 coach, Pieter Cloete, who happened to walk past his age group team playing touch, had little hesitation inviting Human to come and try out at rugby.Problem was that Human, at the time, was the smallest, skinniest kid on the field (he still is) and that was pointed out by his tennis coach, Danny Sullivan, who told him in no uncertain terms that he was crazy to try and play rugby with his frame.
The one thing Human never shy away from though, is a challenge and he not only attended trials, but then was catapulted into the game quicker than Nadal would get his shirt dirty at Roland Garros.
The path to schoolboy rugby glory was as quick as any ace served up in Paris during the French Open.
Human made the provincial Under-16 side to compete in the Grant Khomo Week and then made the SWD Craven Week side for two years in a row, despite the fact that he was 1.65m and only weighed in at 65 kg.
In his final year at school he also made the SA Schools team and was contracted by the Vodacom Blue Bulls.
His aptitude for space and elusive running at this time also captured the attention of Marius Schoeman, SA Rugby Sevens Academy Manager. He drafted Human into the Commonwealth Youth Games Under-18 team that won gold in Rugby Sevens in Australia. The team was coached by one Neil Powell, fresh into his new trade after retiring as a player.
Human made an immediate impact in Pretoria as well, representing the University of Pretoria in the highly competitive FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International, playing at fullback and flyhalf and then represented the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Under-19 and Under-21 level. He was drafted into the Southern Kings Vodacom Super Rugby squad in 2016 and scored the winning try on debut, coming on as a replacement at fullback, against the Jaguares, a team laden with players who took Argentina to a semifinal of the Rugby World Cup the year before.
He made his first start for the Kings (at flyhalf) against the DHL Stormers at DHL Newlands, so having to perform on the big stage is not something Human is unfamiliar with.
His true inspiration for performing on Saturday and Sunday though will come from driving past Roland Garros this week, for so long his field of dreams.
“We drive past the stadium from our hotel to the training ground and I can only smile thinking back at my dreams to play at the highest level here in Paris. I never thought, at that time, that my dreams would actually become a reality as a rugby player,” Human said.
“I always wanted to play for the whole of South Africa here in Paris and now I actually will, but in a totally different sport. In the end, is does not really matter. I still had to work really hard to get here and for that I feel pretty humble and proud. The one thing about the Blitzboks are the values. Things like respect, brotherhood and always putting the team first is just so easy to fall in line with.”
Human was out of action for most of the year due to a groin injury, but now gets his opportunity to show why he should be associated with the leading team in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“When I was presented with my training jersey, Philip (Snyman, Blitzboks captain) asked me to leave a benchmark in this team. And he asked me to always keep my smile when I play, as the enjoyment I have for playing the game is an inspiration to all of them, even though, they have played many, many tournaments. I hope to do just that here in Paris. After all, this is where I am supposed to be.”
The Springbok Sevens fixtures for Saturday 13 May are: (SA times)
11h28 vs Scotland
14h54 vs Japan
18h42 vs Canada