Hanno Dirksen will become an Ospreys centurion when he leads the team out at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon ahead of his 100th appearance for the region.
The South African born winger will join the exclusive 100 club just over seven years after he made his debut as a teenager, coming off the bench in the last five minutes of an LV= Cup defeat against Bath at the Recreation Ground.
His first start, and first try, came three months later in the same competition, a 21-17 win over Leeds Carnegie at the Liberty Stadium in a game where Steve Tandy also touched down in his final start for the region.
Reflecting on reaching the landmark this weekend, Dirksen was pinching himself at joining what remains a pretty exclusive club.
“I can’t believe I’ve got to 100 appearances” said the 25-year old.
“I remember my first training session with the Ospreys, going down to Merthyr Mawr and talking to people like Paul James, Duncan and Shane, who had already played over 100 times, and wondering to myself, never mind 100, will I ever get one game for the Ospreys.
“Now here I am on 99 and looking forward to Saturday afternoon. I’ve come a long away and I can’t wait to get out on to the pitch tomorrow.”
It’s not all been plain sailing for the man from Krugersdorp, in the Gauteng province, who has had to face up to serious injury setbacks on the road to his century, but he says he has enjoyed every day of it.
“I’ve had two knee injuries that have been pretty low points but there are far more good times to look back on” Dirksen insisted.
“Obviously being involved winning the league out in Leinster was a big day, but what stands out most for me is just being fortunate enough to play, train and work alongside some amazing players, internationals and Lions. To be around them every day is an achievement in itself.”
Dirksen arrived in Ospreylia as an 18-year old, via Tennessee, USA, and Truro, Cornwall.
His family moved to the USA in 2006, where he represented the Eagles at age-grade level, playing in an uncapped match for the senior team against Munster in the summer of 2008.
Having studied at Truro College in 2008/09 - where he played in the centre alongside Josh Matavesi, with both players scoring in a try in Truro’s victory in the Daily Mail RBS Schools Cup Final at Twickenham - he moved to Neath Port Talbot College the following year. Based in Ospreylia, he made a huge impression in the Premiership with Swansea, scoring 21 tries in 22 games and claiming the Young Player of the Year award for the All Whites for 2009/10.
Having lived in Swansea since the summer of 2009, and now having a Welsh wife and child, he says he is happy with how life as an Ospreys has panned out:
“I came here as a teenager, didn’t really know what I was going to do or how, there was no real plan, but with a dream of getting a professional rugby contract.
“I managed to get some good experience at Swansea and went from there. Time flies when you are having fun and this is my home now, I’ve got a family here, and this place is my life. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Dirksen’s two tries against Grenoble at the Liberty Stadium last month took him up to 28 in total and moved him ahead of Lee Byrne in the all-time list, with only five players having scored more for the region.
Of his current teammates, only Rhys Webb (32 in 137 games) has more, with Shane Williams (57/141) Nikki Walker (37/103), Tommy Bowe (36/77) and Sonny Parker (29/157) also ahead of him.
“Becoming a centurion is an outstanding achievement which Hanno should be proud of” said Head Coach, Steve Tandy.
“He arrived in Wales as a raw teenager with potential, combining his studies with Premiership rugby at Swansea, and he’s developed into an outstanding Osprey and a real crowd favourite.
“He’s had to face up to adversity with some bad injuries but he is a strong character with incredible commitment and strength, physical and mental. It’s really pleasing to see a character like him reaching 100 appearances.
“Hanno gives his body to the cause every time, he doesn’t shirk anything and physically he will run through brick walls for you. He’s not one to err on the side of caution and, as admirable as that trait is, it’s been to his own detriment at times. His desire to be part of what we are doing is admirable. Supporters recognise that and appreciate it.
“In fairness to him, he can sniff a try out and to be up and around the top five or six on the list shows what a finisher he is. He’s up there in some high quality company and you can only see him moving further up that list.”
Tickets for Saturday’s match, which kicks off at 1.30pm, are on sale now via the Ticket Office, the Ticket Hotline on 0844 815 6665 and online at ospreysrugby.com/buytickets, with prices starting at just £20 (adults) and £5 (children).