Northampton renaissance prop Francois van Wyk is on the Red Rose trail and has put England’s stable of looseheads firmly in his crosshairs.
South African battler van Wyk, 29, becomes England-qualified this month and believes he has what it takes to cap a remarkable career transformation by claiming a Test jersey.
A lock-turned-prop in his youth, Bellville-born van Wyk saw a serious back injury wreck his chances at Western Province before he crossed the Indian Ocean to spend four years as a bit-part player at the Western Force – a stint also blighted by spells on the sidelines.
The loosehead joined Saints on a one-year deal in 2017 with his career hanging in the balance; since then he has racked up 72 appearances and become a respected member of the Club’s front row armoury.
His freshly acquired EQP status now puts him on the radar for higher honours.
“I’m English-qualified this month and that’s exciting because I’d like to have a good year now and hopefully things will work out for me,” van Wyk told The Rugby Paper.
“When I first came to England, I never knew how long I was going to stay and in my first year I was a bit nervous about whether I’d get contracted again.
“But once Chris Boyd arrived, along with our scrum coach Matt Ferguson, I stayed and they’ve helped me a lot.
“At Western Force I had injury after injury and only managed 20 games in four years, so mentally I was at a stage where I couldn’t deal with it. But coming to Saints has been the best thing ever for my career and I’ve played a lot of games in my three years so far.”
Asked if he feels ready to challenge for an England place, van Wyk replies: “100 per cent. Maybe in my first season here I would have doubted myself, but I feel I’ve got the backing of my teammates and coaches now and I back myself to take that next step.
“Ferg (Matt Ferguson) has played a massive role in that and I’ve changed a lot of stuff in the way I scrummage. I used to be a bit old-school – the South African way if you like – but with the Saints pack we need to be technically very good in order to compete.
“We’re normally known as a smaller pack so on that technical side Ferg’s been influential, and I need to acknowledge my teammate Alex Waller as well because he’s also played a massive part in my development.
“At this stage of my career I feel I’m getting better and better and if the opportunity ever came with England now, I’d grab it with both hands.”Francois van Wyk
With the arrivals of Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi and Nick Auterac adding to Saints’ loosehead stocks, competition for places is set to be fierce.
Considering the packed programme ahead, however, van Wyk adds: “Competition is good and going into nine league games, hopefully making the play-offs and with Europe as well, rotation is quite key for us at Saints.
“Personally, I’m the fittest I’ve been in years and as a squad we want to play fast, so hopefully the weather keeps nice and that will go in our favour. I’ll back our squad to go all the way this season now and hopefully we can end it on a really good note.”