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All-star De Kock set for final Saracens farewell

PUBLISHED: 15:30 23 June 2017

Saracens Neil De Kock passes under pressure from Munster's Donnacha O Callaghan during a Heineken Cup tie in 2012 at Thomond Park (pic Julien Behal/PA)

Saracens Neil De Kock passes under pressure from Munster's Donnacha O Callaghan during a Heineken Cup tie in 2012 at Thomond Park (pic Julien Behal/PA)

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Neil de Kock will bid a final farewell to Saracens by captaining an all-star team at Allianz Park on June 30 (8.15pm).

The former South Africa scrum-half made the last of 263 appearances for the European champions in April but returns to lead a team in the Worldwide Currencies Cup match in aid of the Restart Rugby charity and the #LiftTheWeight mental health awareness campaign.

De Kock will line up with some rugby greats – like John Smit, Matt Stevens, Iain Balshaw and Mark Cueto – as well as big names from Saracens history like David Strettle, Hugh Vyvyan and Petrus du Plessis at the Sevens and the City sport and music festival.

And encouraging players to understand and seek support about issues like anxiety and depression is a cause he fully supports as he prepares to return to Cape Town and leave rugby behind to start a business career.

“I’ll definitely enjoy playing 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 is a great initiative.

“I heard recently about 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 working together.”

De Kock arrived at Saracens 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.

“A lot of it was down to hard work and we’re proud of our work ethic but in my opinion it had a lot to do with the identity the club created.

“The arrival of (Director of Rugby) Brendan Venter and (Chief Executive) Ed Griffiths focused on process and not outcomes, and created a family environment. Maybe we weren’t the most talented team. But every team playing against us would have to bring a big game.

“People don’t always remember the shortfalls but when we did lose five games in a row we got through it and won the Premiership that year. We realised we were onto a good thing.”

Tickets are available from sevensandthecity.com.

Confirmed players: Gerald Arasa, Iain Balshaw, Jonny Barrett, Mike Baxter, Ben Boynton, Dan Browne, Craig Burrow, Noah Cato, Tom Cheeseman, Tom Court, Mark Cueto, Gareth Davies, Mel Deane, Thinus Delport, Muna Ebongalame, Philip Friel, Danny Grewcock, Simon Halliday, Dan Harris, Justin Harrison, Rob Hawkins, Gareth King, Neil de Kock, Olly Kohn, Nick Lloyd, Tom May, Lee Mears, Ugo Monye, Nils Mordt, Fabio Ongaro, Michael Owen, Ryan Peacey, Shaun Perry, Ollie Phillips, Petrus du Plessis, Alix Popham, Tony Rea, Paul Reed, Lee Robinson, Gordon Ross, John Rudd, Dan Scarbrough, Dean Schofield, Ben Skirving, John Smit, Matt Stevens, David Strettle, Stephen Taylor, Jordan Turner-Hall, Hugh Vyvyan, Paddy Wallace, Richard Webb, Tom Williams.

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