The 24-year-old Southern Kings player has arguably furthered his reputation more than anyone else with the Port Elizabeth franchise since their switch to the Guinness PRO14 – going head to head with the likes of Cory Hill and Jonny Gray already.
Some might have raised their eyebrows when De Wee chose to move to the Kings last summer, leaving the Golden Lions for a European adventure.
Yet six months on, De Wee has established himself as a first-team regular, starting the last 13 fixtures for the Kings and having made the most tackles in the Championship of any player – 221.
5 OF THE BEST
⚡️ You don’t see gas like this every day. Pure pace shown in the #GUINNESSPRO14 and some pretty special tries 👌
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) February 13, 2018
De Wee was also crucial in helping the Kings to their maiden Guinness PRO14 win, scoring a try in Round 17’s 45-13 victory over the Dragons, and the lock insists there are no regrets about taking the plunge.
He explains: “The whole prospect of the PRO14 really excited me, especially with the Kings being the first South African team with the Toyota Cheetahs.
“A lot of players in South Africa end up going to play in Europe towards the end of their career but I’m fortunate enough that the opportunity presented itself to play in a European competition but still be based in South Africa and get all the exposure. So I came to the Kings to add value to the squad and to live up my passion and my dream which is every week on the field.
“We all have dreams and aspirations but at the end of the day we all want to make rugby wild again in the Eastern Cape and South Africa as a whole.”
For European fans, understanding the importance of rugby in the Eastern Cape is not necessarily easy, but Ulster got a front row seat when they travelled to the Wolfson Stadium back in November, the first game played away from their usual ground, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
— Bobby de Wee (@bobby_d_4) November 6, 2017
In that slightly smaller, intimate, and passion-packed setting, the team from the Kingspan had to battle to the very last to earn a 43-36 victory.
Three weeks later, back at Nelson Mandela Bay, it was the Scarlets who were pushed to the wire before earning a 34-30 success.
De Wee added: “It’s amazing at the Wolfson. The people from that side of PE don’t always have the means to get to Nelson Mandela Bay and with 3,000 people they can get a bit lost in a ground that big.
“But when we took it to a smaller stadium, the people really did come out in the numbers and supported us.
“It’s not easy to support a team week in, week out when they aren’t getting the results, but the people of Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape as a whole have really stood behind us.
“Even in the malls and the shopping centres, they recognise you and the first thing they say is ‘we’re behind you 100 percent’. Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape is a bit smaller than some other places in South Africa so it has a community feel to it. Everyone here is part of a family and there’s a loving feel to everything we do.
“We’re not just here to make up the numbers and we can be competitive.”
6 Days to go until the first ever international franchise match at Outeniqua Park!
— Southern Kings (@SouthernKingsSA) April 1, 2018
De Wee’s athleticism, both around the park and in the lineout, are clear for all to see, but the 24-year-old is also a keen student of the game.
While travelling to Europe was a step into the unknown, the players he has come up against have been studied and analysed and as a result he has more than held his own.
Ulster’s Iain Henderson is an interesting comparison – like De Wee he can play both in the second row and the back row, and plays a similar style in both positions.
“I’ve been playing in the second row for the most part of my career,” de Wee added.
“Occasionally I move to the back row and I don’t really mind. That’s because I think that a five lock has to be a fourth loose forward so I don’t have to alter my game too much between the two. I enjoy playing five a bit more, getting up with the best and competing, playing against guys like Iain Henderson, it really does help my game as well.
Southern Kings will play their #GUINNESPRO14 fixture against @Munsterrugby at Outeniqua Park, George. A first international rugby franchise fixture for the historic ground.
Full story here ➡️ https://t.co/cU1aEAijfx #SouthernKings#GUINNESSPRO14#TEAMUP pic.twitter.com/tH0z5zBz6l
— Southern Kings (@SouthernKingsSA) February 13, 2018
On the pitch, De Wee’s burgeoning reputation is only set to grow as more Guinness PRO14 fans see him in action.
And yet even at his tender age, the lock has big plans for his post-rugby career, studying business in order to set himself up when the time comes to hang up his boots.
He concluded: “It comes around to the fact that, it’s not something I just want to do part-time. Rugby is a lucrative career, but it doesn’t last forever.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) February 9, 2018
“I’m studying while I’m playing rugby, just so that when I do decide to hang up my boots and I step into the adult world in some ways, I’ll know where I’m going. Just to secure my future post-rugby while I’m still playing is very important to me.
“I’ve always thought of myself as business-minded so I’d like to do something entrepreneurial in the business management side of things. So that, say I want to start my own business, I have the necessary skills and I don’t have to start all the way from the bottom.”
Predicting how De Wee will get on as a businessman would be a fool’s errand but if he shows the same commitment and potential as he has in his rugby career, it is hard to bet against him.
However, the time for hanging them up is a long way down the line – for now De Wee is very much one to watch on the pitch and in the Guinness PRO14.
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