Exclusive: Rising star Tiaan Jacobs talks breaking through as first overseas Junior Springbok pickup

Disappointment, hope, emotional happiness. Tiaan Jacobs describes his journey to joining his national rugby team.

Yolulwe Qoshe
Yolulwe Qoshe

Last Updated: 2024-05-01

Naim Rosinski

7 minutes read

Rugby player Tiaan Jacobs playing for French rugby team Biarritz

Society is thought to function best when it is governed by certain rules, culture, and traditions that provide structure.

These structures become the basis that inform the wrongs and rights of what said society lives by.

But under special circumstances, the rules can be adapted to accommodate a new reality. Part of that new reality for South African rugby is Tiaan Jacobs. 

The loose forward made history by becoming the first-ever overseas player to be selected for the Junior Springboks. He now forms part of the squad who will also be part of another historic moment. This being part of the first-ever U20 Rugby Championship. The tournament, a replica of the senior edition, will take place in the host nation of Australia in 2024.

Image Credits: Tiaan Jacobs

Image Credits: Tiaan Jacobs

An initial disappointment 

Jacobs attended Selborne College in East London, where he captained their 1st XV in 2022. That same year, he also formed part of that year’s Border Craven Week side, being a key cog in their setup from the blindside flank. During that national week, he was one of the standout players of the tournament, earning two man-of-the-match awards. Having put up his hand every chance he got, it is only natural that he expected a bigger reward at the end of the tournament. But instead, Jacobs watched on as others earned their SA schools colours.

Image Credits: Tiaan Jacobs

Image Credits: Tiaan Jacobs

Speaking exclusively to Jacobs admits that was a damaging snub.

“I was very disappointed when I was not selected for the SA U18 squad in 2022 as I had worked hard all season. After my 2 man-of-the-match performances at Craven Week as well as player of the tournament at Kearsney Festival. Since a very young age, my dream and goal has been to play for the green and gold and represent my country,” said Jacobs.

But for Jacobs, there was very little time to spend licking his wounds.

“After the minor setback I decided to focus on the future and use my time in France for experience, skills, and to develop as a player in hopes it would lead back to me representing my country, South Africa,” Jacobs continued.

A brave but risk-filled decision 

The time in France he is referring to comes after a very brave leap for any young South African rugby player. Usually, if you still harbour any ambitions of representing the country, you stay in the country. Should you leave, it was previously an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Jacobs, however, says it isn’t as if there were options queuing up to keep him on local shores.

Image Credits: Tiaan Jacobs

Image Credits: Tiaan Jacobs

“There were discussions with one or two SA Unions but nothing was ever finalized prior to my deadline to sign with France,” Jacobs revealed.

So in the end, Jacobs knuckled down and accepted the challenge of starting afresh in France. There, he signed for Pro D2 side Biarritz.

“Going over to France, I did not expect to join the senior team as quickly as I did. It took lots of hard work and I am really grateful for the opportunities I was given to develop my rugby. The French have welcomed me and have helped me grow and develop as a rugby player. I played my first game as a pro in the French ProD2 for Biarritz just after my 19th Birthday and have since played seven pro games. I am grateful to Biarritz for releasing me earlier this year, allowing me to attend the SAu20 training camps thus allowing me to represent my country and my nation South Africa, the place I call home.”

Experience leading to an emotional country call-up  

Having experienced both South African and French coaching, Jacobs believes he is privileged that on both sides, the coaches have worked tirelessly to help him become the best version of himself between the four lines.

That best version has since seen him become a history-maker and boundary-breaker. Jacobs relives the moment he found out about his historic Junior Springbok call-up.

“It is a feeling that no one can explain. I was emotional but happy. It is a dream come true. From the day I ran onto the field for my first rugby match I dreamt of following in my dad, Bennie Jacobs's footsteps by playing rugby professionally. To be able to not just play rugby professionally but play for my country there are no words…” said an emotional Jacobs while trying to paint a picture.

He was equally excited about being part of the first-ever Junior Springbok side to play in the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship.

“As I have said, playing for my country has always been my main goal and a dream of mine. I am extremely privileged and honoured to have this opportunity words can not explain.”

Image Credits: : Tiaan Jacobs

Image Credits: : Tiaan Jacobs

Moulding well with the team 

While many, especially in the older generation of South African rugby lovers, and union stakeholders expressed concern about the selection, Jacobs insists he has felt no such vibes from his Junior Springbok teammates.

“Rugby is an amazing sport that brings people together and forms a family. We are like a brotherhood and have formed such amazing bonds that will never be broken,” he said.

Jacobs did not mince his words when quizzed on whether he ever gave up on his South African dream and thought of trying to qualify to play for France instead.

quote icon

I am South African. I am born and bred here and this is my home and my country. I am proud to be a South African and I always will be one!

Tiaan Jacobs

On the starting lineup and praises from teammate

To make the moment even sweeter, Jacobs will play the Junior Springboks’ opener against New Zealand from the start. The man leading him in and the rest of the team out is prop Zachery Porthen. Speaking to the media before departure, he had nothing but praise for his teammate.

“Tiaan has got a heart and he is a good player. He is someone you want to have next to you when you [are] on the try line, fighting in the last 10 minutes of the game. We had a session against the Lions (juniors) and about five of their players came to him asking him ‘do you not know what shoulder check is?’ as we were not meant to go full contact. Tiaan says, yes he knows what it is, but he doesn’t do that. That is because he trains how he plays,” said Porthen.

A rule bender, a history maker, a pioneer, a Junior Springbok, you can call Jacobs many things. But ultimately, he is an individual who rose from adversity and turned his dream into his reality.

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Yolulwe Qoshe
Yolulwe Qoshe Sports Writer

Yolulwe Qoshe is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked for Grocott's Mail, as well as freelanced for The Daily Dispatch, Grit Sports, Rugby365, The Herald, NexGen amongst others. He has also covered Super Rugby, United Rugby Championship, European Champions Cup, Premier Soccer League, CAF Champions League, African Football League, SA20 and Currie Cup games live and has been published six times by Soccer-Laduma Online.