By Joe Harvey
Less than an hour before picking up the phone, Le Roux Malan has found out that he has made the Major League Rugby First XV of the week.
His efforts against the Austin Gilgronis in Texas were certainly warranting of this recognition, the inside center continuing his good form that has followed him wherever he has gone in 2022.
Arriving in New England at the start of the year, Malan has started every game of the season so far, providing an attacking threat in the midfield, as well as being a defensive rock.
Coming to the team following an impressive Varsity Cup campaign in South Africa, where he represented the Ikey Tigers, the 22-year-old has already won admirers across the league for his workman-like efforts.
Already since moving across the world, Malan has come across a fellow University of Cape Town graduate in the form of Free Jacks Ambassador, Dallen Stanford, and last weekend in Texas took to the field against another, Marcel Brache.
“He actually came up to me, and I grew up watching him,” Malan gushed. “My dad always rated hm, and he came up to me after the game and started speaking to me.
“He embodies what UCT is about; being friendly and playing rugby for the love of it. Coming up to me as a fellow Ikey Tiger to speak about it, was actually awesome.
“I told him afterwards, I really appreciated him coming up to me. It meant a lot. I watched him play a lot, and now I get to play against him and have a beer afterwards. Which is what it’s all about.”
Malan’s chat with Brache came at the conclusion of an extremely rewarding trip to Austin, where your Free Jacks ended the game as 25-17 winners at Bold Stadium.
Not only subjecting their hosts to a second consecutive loss after having started the season 5-0, New England currently sitting third in the East Conference after six games played.
Five of those games have been on the road, the home opener at Veterans Memorial Stadium against the Toronto Arrows the only time the Free Jacks have played on home soil so far in 2022.
“I definitely think the Free Jacks have the best supporters in the league, and it is great to have people care about the team,” Malan said.
“It is a growing league, and I think we are getting a log of followers and it is great to know whenever you wear the jersey, people will be out there supporting you.”
After such long periods of time spent on the road, where trips to New Orleans, Los Angeles and Austin have all come, this most recent road performance a satisfactory one.
“It was an awesome win,” Malan said. “The travelling is really taxing, you cover a lot of distance, so to be consistent and to pull through with a win is awesome.
“They are a top side, we needed the points and I guess it comes down to having confidence in the plan and having confidence in each other.
“We are a very confident team, the belief we have in one another is probably what makes it so great, and the off-field bonding has definitely contributed to us enjoying the travel.”
With attention now turning to a divisional clash with Rugby ATL in Georgia, Malan believes that there is even more to come from he and his teammates in the weeks to come.
“We are super confident in our ability and what we have been doing,” he said. “I think it is all about keeping building and I think all of us know that we have still got another 30%.
“We are still building out season, we are not exactly where we want to be, but we are getting close. It is all about keeping building that faith, but also going out, enjoying and expressing ourselves.”
In some ways, Malan’s preparation for his first season with the Free Jacks came back in his native South Africa, his fascination with Scott Mathie’s Griquas team giving him an idea of the role he would be playing in North America.
A week removed from his 23rd birthday, Malan certainly has his best years ahead of him and has already put together an impressive resume.
Having attended Paarl Boys High School, the Namibian also played for the Natal Sharks at age grade level before spending a season with the Ikey Tigers and has been compared to South Africa international, Damian de Allende.
When asked how he would categorize his rugby career to date, the 22-year-old says that he has had to dig deep and create opportunities for himself.
“I don’t think I have always been presented with massive opportunities,” he explained. “I never played first side rugby in high school, and I never got sent to any of the trials.
“I always thought I was good enough, I just didn’t have the confidence in myself, and I think a few coaches have played roles in my life, where they gave me confidence.
“I would say I have been an underdog. The route I have taken is that I have always had to prove myself to be given a spot, which is great. I actually prefer it that way.
“Even at the Sharks, going through the ranks, I feel like with the opportunities I had, I proved myself and I got the opportunity at UCT.
“I really started enjoying my rugby last year, and I had quite a similar role for that team. I had a similar role to what I do now, and I just really love my rugby now.
“I am really just getting my hands on the ball, being a carrier and I love the carrying part of it, I love being involved defensively, tackling, and also being a playmaker.”
Never without support, at the end of every game Malan is welcomed by messages from his family in South Africa.
Parents Liesl and Van Reenen, along with siblings Stef, Mila and Hannah, are up until the early hours of the morning supporting the center, their pride extending across oceans.
Malan jokes that his mother is probably “commenting on the Free Jacks’ posts as we speak”, their investment in not only the player, but the team, clear for all to see.
This is also the first time that Malan has spent an extended period of time away from his family, the six-month MLR season keeping the 22-year-old occupied before travelling during the offseason.
Hoping to see more of the world was part of what attracted Malan to New England in the first place, his experience off the field thus far matches those on it.
“I have always wanted to play rugby abroad,” he said. “My dad has always told me to look into playing rugby abroad and mentioned America quite often.
“I have been following MLR since it started and it seemed like a really fun league and when I came over, I did some research and what speaks for itself is that New England is a proud sports region and that had a big influence as well.
“I love getting outside of rugby. I love rugby with all my heart, but there is way more to it.
“That’s why I looked at the environment and the people that I would be playing with, because it can’t all be rugby.
“I have been out and about, I enjoy thrift shopping and going into the city, going to restaurants, bars and checking all of the sports out.
“When I came over, I was very excited to watch all the sports and just enjoying the city life. MLR is a league that takes you places, which is absolutely awesome.”