Dillyn Leyds’ pass to SP Marais in the Stormers’ Round 7 clash against the Chiefs had Super Rugby fans the world over on their feet.
The YouTube video was viewed numerous times and became a part of many braai-time conversations, children’s Sunday touch sessions and rugby analysis. Such was the sheer audacity and brilliance of the pass that it seemed to transcend the outcome of the match.
South African rugby is in somewhat of a transition period at the moment. Gone are the glory days of Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Fourie Du Preez where the Springbok physicality and no-nonsense style of play made us such a formidable and uncompromising opponent for nigh on a decade.
Couple this with an increasing dominance of the All Blacks and their brand of play has left fans yearning for a metamorphosis of the classic Springbok style of play to something more akin to the premier side in world rugby.
The pass made by Leyds seemingly encapsulated that cry. A play of such creativity, touch and brilliance, against an at-the-time undefeated Chiefs side, gave all South African rugby hopefuls a glimpse of what could be.
For the average rugby fan in this country, this was Dillyn’s breakout performance as he went from exciting Stormers prospect to household name.
For me, this was many years in the making having first watched Dillyn play as a 12-year-old and following his career from schoolboy to professional from the immediate sidelines, and at times from the same field.
Dillyn was in the same year as my younger brother at school and they played in the same teams for almost a decade. A tall, gangly kid, Dillyn looked more like one of those stick-figure paintings that five-year-olds draw than a potential Bok, but even then it was obvious there was something special about him.
It wasn’t his speed or his step, but his feel for the game was well beyond his years. It’s what is synonymous with those rare sportsmen for whom the game seems to slows down.
It wasn’t until 2010, his final year at school, that his brilliance became apparent to a greater audience as he tore through the extremely competitive Cape Town schoolboy circuit and Bishops’ overseas tour to Italy.
I later had the privilege of playing in the same side as Dillyn during UCT’s 2013 Varsity Cup campaign. We weren’t a great side, but he was the obvious star player that the team was built around.
One of my most vivid memories of him was during our game against Pukke in Potchefstroom, a particularly hostile environment as far as varsity rugby was concerned. Their team seemed to have about 10 kilos on us per player and it was obvious that they had decided to try and disrupt his game by launching their ball-carriers into his channel all game.
I can’t remember him shirking one hit.
All game they came, and all game he stood up to them. We were never really in the contest and he could have been forgiven for deciding this full-on assault wasn’t for him, but not Dillyn. He fronted up every time and never took a step back.
It is so easy for a young person in our era to buy into the hype that’s created by fans and the media. So when you see someone never let it faze him or change him, then that is someone as a young person in this world to look up to.
Dillyn Leyds has always been a team-first guy, more interested in pleasing his parents and supporting his teammates than taking any credit himself. The most excited you will probably ever see him is when he is watching his younger brother play or when he talks about my brother’s night-time antics during their schoolboy tours.
Dillyn Leyds is a man of very few words, who plays rugby the way it should be played, a distinct balance between imagination and heart.
He epitomizes the sort of athletes we need in this country and especially in our rugby as we enter this period of transition. As a man and as a rugby player he thoroughly deserves his life-long dream of being called up to the Springboks.
Law grad Nico Loizides spends more time in court than on the field these days, but the avid sports fan once played first team rugby for Bishops and UCT