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Alvizo's reprieve

Alvizo Erasmus has never met Jannie du Plessis and probably never will, but these two men, who ply their respective rugby trades in parallel universes, are nevertheless joined by an unbreakable bond.

Both men wear the number three on their backs, but it is Du Plessis, the former Free State farm boy, who through great skill and good fortune needs no introduction. As South Africa's number-one tighthead prop, Du Plessis, together with brother Bismarck, has successfully shored up the Sharks and Springbok front row over the past few seasons.

And yet Erasmus, too, needs no introduction – well at least not in the Western Cape seaside town of Mossel Bay. It's there where he anchors the scrum for the local Barbarians club, who gained a wild card entry to play in the Cell C Community Cup – SARU's new national tournament for non-university clubs that kicked off earlier this month.

Now 33, Erasmus is a born-and-bred Mossel Bayer. Like all of his friends in the suburbs of D'Almeida and Fairview – and just like the Du Plessis brothers – he started off playing in primary school, barefoot and brave on chilly Saturday mornings. A broken arm in high school threatened to pull the handbrake on his passion, but then along came Barbarians.

It was there where Erasmus, a fresh-faced youngster just out of school, learned the tricks of the trade from players many years his senior, including local hero GT Amsterdam, now a coach. In 2010, Alvizo starred for Barbarians as they won the SWD Premier League title for the first time, beating their neighbours and fierce rivals, Groot-Brakrivier. Two years later, on the same day as his beloved Western Province won the Currie Cup, he tied the knot with his long-time girlfriend, Jessica, and the couple are raising two sons.

For the past 12 years, Alvizo has worked at the Mossel Bay traffic department and working shifts means that getting to practices remains a constant juggle. Missing big games over the years has become something he's simply had to make peace with.

But the good times outweigh the bad. Two weeks ago, Alvizo scored a try in Barbarians' maiden Community Cup match against bitter rivals Bridgton. The moment was made even sweeter because it was captured on camera and broadcast on the tournament's weekly magazine show on SuperSport. It was a fleeting moment of fame – a moment that every club player in this country dreams of.

One only has to visit the D'Almeida Stadium on a Saturday afternoon to realise what this game means to the players and supporters of Barbarians Rugby Club. They, and many other clubs dotted around this vast country, are just as passionate as the Du Plessis brothers and their Bok colleagues, but the big difference between professional and club rugby was brought home in simple terms last week.

Two days before the biggest match of his unheralded career, an away tie against defending champions Despatch with a possible place in the play-offs at stake, Alvizo was faced with a choice his heroes don't ever have to worry about.

Mossel Bay was hosting the annual Buffalo Rally and the traffic department needed all hands on deck to handle the hundreds of bikers expected. The choice, in the end, was not a difficult one to make, and Alvizo reluctantly withdrew on the eve of a game that Barbarians went on to lose.

And therein lies the unbridgeable divide between Alvizo Erasmus and Jannie du Plessis. For both men, rugby is their life. But for Alvizo, rugby doesn't pay the bills. Rugby, he has learnt time and again, is something that must somehow be fitted around the stresses and strains of real life – not the other way round.

But play this game long enough at any level, hang in there through the ups and downs, and you discover that an opportunity to make up for past disappointments usually presents itself. Just ask Schalk Burger.

And so it will that, at four o'clock this coming Saturday afternoon, Alvizo Maurice Erasmus, without work to worry about, will run out for Mossel Bay Barbarians in front of 3,000 adoring fans, knowing that victory over the visiting Border champions, Old Selbornians, will put his side in pole position for next month's Community Cup Easter play-offs in George. And with it will come the tantalising prize of three live matches on TV – and a chance to show the whole country what he and his little-known club are capable of.

Club rugby and professional rugby may be poles apart, but for the players involved in the Community Cup, it's a chance to dream big and to have their moment in the sun. And now, thanks to SARU's initiative, you don't have to be a Springbok to feel like one.

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