Loftus Versfeld has been his playground since a child and taking the reins of the Vodacom Blue Bulls is dream come true for the newly appointed head coach Nollis Marais. Catching up with Marais two weeks since he had been given the task to steer the Light Blues back to Absa Currie Cup glory, he still seems like a child with a new toy when describing his vision for the Blue Bulls. The 43-year-old Marais, however, knows full well coaching one of the top South African rugby sides in the world’s oldest provincial competition will be anything but child’s play.
Marais says: ‘Our teams did not do well (in Super Rugby), everybody wants a trophy and this is the one they can still win this year and there will be huge drive from the South African teams to win the Currie Cup.’ Give Marais half-a-chance and he will share his passion for the Blue Bulls and love for rugby with anyone willing to listen. Marais has already left an indelible mark on rugby in Pretoria during his relatively short coaching career.
In his final year of playing club rugby for Naka Bulls, Marais was asked if he was interested in coaching the Under-15 team at Hoërskool Overkruin back in 2003. After a few years of success at coaching schoolboy rugby Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, who was the Bulls’ director of rugby gave him a chance to coach Tuks in the Varsity Cup.
Since then Marais has demonstrated his coaching abilities collecting two Varsity Cup titles and three Under-21 Provincial Championship trophies with the Blue Bulls. Marais speaks of his memories watching rugby at Loftus Versfeld with fondness which fuels his passion for the team and his dream of winning the Currie Cup. He says: ‘I will never forget when I was still in Primary School, my dad would drop me and five friends off and we would buy bags of biltong. The Voortrekkers (scouts) would show us to our seats, it was still on the steel stands, and there we would watch many games – from the morning starting with the Primary School games to the main game.’
In pursuit of his passion, Marais gave up a successful career as a logistics manager without any real coaching prospects. Marais says: ‘I went almost a year without work because I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in rugby but my wife said if it is something that made me happy that I should go for it. Within a year I had a job with a small salary which allowed me to follow my passion and God was good to me but my family’s support means the world to me.’
Marais has promised that supporters will be in for a surprise by the Blue Bulls’ new approach to the game. A move away from the Bulls’ perceived conservative game plan could be on the cards with a major assault on the Currie Cup trophy. He says: ‘If you look, over the years, the Bulls have been very successful in the Currie Cup and it is a competition that is close to my heart. It is about getting the pride back in playing for the Currie Cup again and our main focus is to play for the Currie Cup and all our emphasis is on the competition.’