Neil de Kock will bid a final farewell to Saracens by captaining an all-star team at Allianz Park on June 30, kicking off the Sevens and the City rugby and music festival.
The former Springboks scrum-half made the last of 263 appearances for the European champions in April but returns to the club to lead a team in the Worldwide Currencies Cup match in aid of the Restart Rugby charity and the #LiftTheWeight mental health awareness campaign on Friday, June 30 (8.15pm).
De Kock will line up with some rugby greats – like John Smit, Matt Stevens and Iain Balshaw – as well as plenty of big names from Saracens history like David Strettle, Hugh Vyvyan and cult hero Petrus du Plessis at the Sevens and the City sport and music festival.
And the cause – encouraging players to understand and seek support about issues like anxiety and depression – is a one he fully supports as he prepares to return to Cape Town and leave rugby behind to start a business career.
“I will definitely enjoy playing there at Allianz Park – I’ve been looking at the team sheets and there’s such a lot of great guys involved,” said de Kock.
“It’s another opportunity to be on that pitch and I can’t wait to be back out there again, although I hope I won’t be making too many tackles.
“That rugby players can be macho, ego-driven types of individuals still rings true. But this is about trying to make people aware that you can struggle. There are more guys who do come forward and express what they’re feeling now and encouraging more to do that is a great initiative.
“I heard recently about the loss of Dan Vickerman (the former Australia lock who took his own life in February) and we’ve got to keep raising awareness.
“I’m going to transition out of rugby after 20 years and your whole life revolves around the team. So to reinvent yourself after that is daunting. This is a great initiative and it’s good that Sevens and the City and the RPA are a part of it.”
De Kock arrived in 2006 “on a two-year contract and stayed for 11 years” at the start of a golden era for the club which has seen them lift three Premiership and two European titles.
He lists the 2011 Premiership final victory over Leicester Tigers as the game he treasures most, a 22-18 win that showed the North London side was more than a one-hit wonder after being beaten in the previous year’s final.
“It was the first year after the takeover and to come back and get over the line was so satisfying,” he said. “The expectation was that the first final was a bit of luck and that in the second year we wouldn’t be at the races, so I’ll always cherish it.”
Tickets to the match are available at sevensandthecity.com