Andre Esterhuizen returns to the Harlequins as a World Cup winner

Once South Africa’s countrywide tour of the Webb Ellis Cup comes to an end and Andre Esterhuzien settles into his business class seat ready to fly back to London to rejoin the Harlequins, the imposing centre will surely take a moment to reflect on the difference that four years can make. 

A chance to breathe before rejoining the Harlequins 

The 11-hour flight between Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and Heathrow in west London is likely to be the only quiet time Esterhuizen will get in between winning the World Cup and linking up with a Harlequins team who are fighting tooth and nail to win the Gallagher Premiership.

At 8/1 in the latest rugby union odds for the outright winner of the Gallagher Premiership, the Quins will no doubt benefit from having a World Cup winner rejoin the camp for the remainder of the campaign. 

Before that happens, however, the 29-year-old will, in all probability, use this rare bit of downtime to take stock of how much has changed in his life over the last 48 months. 

Bittersweet 2019 World Cup win 

Indeed, this time four years ago in November 2019, Esterhuizen was battling to come to terms with missing out on winning the World Cup with South Africa. The inside centre was not selected in the final Springbok squad for the campaign in Japan which he says, resulted in him not speaking to anyone for a week. 

Understandably, the sense of hurt was acute for Esterhuizen and it would only get worse as the inspiring South African team of 2019 went all the way after beating England 32-12 during the final in Yokohama. 

This isn’t to say that Esterhuizen was wishing ill on his countrymen in Japan. On the contrary, the 29-year-old is a proud and supportive South African but it is also easy to empathise when considering how such historic events would sting someone who could have been involved. 

Instead, the centre could only watch on as the greatest nation-building event to happen to South Africa since 1995 took place without any contribution from him. This disappointment ultimately led Esterhuizen to seek pastures new in a bid to find a fresh career challenge that would test him, while also providing a much-needed distraction. 

In the end, Esterhuizen would swap Durban for London in late 2019 as he left the Sharks and joined the Harlequins. It would be a move that the South African would later describe as the best of his career despite some initial doubts about being well out of his comfort zone. 

However, Esterhuizen would quickly adapt to life in southwest London as he thrived in a team that played with a relentless attacking philosophy. It didn’t take long for the Potchefstroom-born centre to leave his mark on the club after playing an instrumental part in the Harlequins winning the 2020/2021 Gallagher Premiership.

Redemption in Paris 

These impressive performances earned Esterhuizen a contract extension with the Quins until 2025 and crucially, also led to a recall to the Springbok side in the build-up to the 2023 World Cup. On this occasion, the centre would make the final squad for the global showpiece in France and played two games en route to helping the Boks lift rugby’s greatest prize.

This time, the only emotion Esterhuizen felt upon seeing captain Siya Kolisi lift the Webb Ellis Cup at the Stade de France was one of happiness and not regret. 

There’s never any guarantee in professional sport that grave disappointment will eventually be eclipsed by a fairytale ending but that has happened in Esterhuizen’s career. Indeed, what a difference four years can make.