However, in 2014 he decided to join Phuket International Rugby 10s organiser Pat Cotter’s Phuket Vagabonds and has travelled to Phuket regularly ever since to captain the Vagabond’s at this annual rugby spectacle.
Tjaart van der Walt was born and raised in South Africa where he now runs his own open-cast coal mining company. Tjaart is married to Monica and has two children, a daughter Ava, 13, and son TJ, 11.
But Tjaart’s connection with rugby goes way deeper than just the Phuket Vagabonds, and despite his age, he’s now 41, he is still passionate and dedicated to the sport he has played since he was 6 years old.
He explains, “From the age of 6 until 2010 I played Rugby Union. However, in 2010 I got involved with rugby league and went on to start, manage and play for three separate clubs.
“I then got involved with the national squad, the Rhinos, and went on to play with them against national teams such as Australia, the British Lions and Italy.
“I am now currently the national coach of the South Africa Rugby League national team.”
At a national level, rugby league was originally introduced to South Africa in the 1950s with the staging of several series tournaments within the country. However, unlike with many other rugby-playing nations, the concept failed to generate the needed interest and was not upheld.
The South Africans did not see further international rugby league until the 1960s where the first national side undertook fixtures against the visiting British and a tour to Australia. From the 1960s onwards the international fixture list for the South Africans was minimal and it was not until the early 1990s when they began to play with some lasting regularity.
However, since beginning to play international rugby league, South Africa have continually found it difficult to compete against the more established nations and so have progressed and improved very slowly and their greatest achievement to date has probably been qualifying for and participating in the 1995 and 2000 World Cups, where sadly they failed to win a fixture.
But Tjaart is hoping that situation is going to change and says, “We are trying to build rugby league in South Africa again but it is still very difficult as we are not recognised as the governing rugby code.
“Unfortunately, rugby union receives all the attention and funding but I am hoping this will change soon as we have a team with real good depth and quality players.
“Last Friday (Oct 12), we played a test against Italy in Australia.
“The game came at very short notice but despite that we got ourselves sorted in three weeks with a team made up of heritage players from Australia, New Zealand and obviously South Africa.
“I was part of the coaching team but also happened to play. I’m very proud of this team and our achievement. We lost two tries to three but you have to take into account that Italy is ranked 13th and South Africa 32nd,” he said.
“My hopes for the team now is that we qualify for the World Cup in 2019 and I will be able to assist where needed and elsewhere,” he added.
Turning his attention back to the Phuket International Rugby 10s, Tjaart said that when he took over the captaincy back in 2014 the Vagabonds won the Main Tournament Cup for the first time in 18 years.
“I have been the Vagabond’s captain ever since and am proud to say the we have gone on to win the Cup again twice since 2014. But I have also competed for the team at the Bangkok 10s and Pattaya 10s.
“Furthermore, as my age now permits me, I also play for the Viagrabonds,” he said.
“I have now done this tour for seven years and met many amazing people and made lots of friends during that time.
“Despite having never actually lived there, it really does feel like home whenever I’m over in Thailand, and I love what we do in assisting the kids at the Asia Centre Foundation!
“I would also like to make a special mention obviously to Pat Cotter for continuing to promote rugby in Thailand and all the effort he puts in to the 10s, Pat’s late sister Maria, and also to Huw Butler, the guys from Athena Siam Limited, Aussie Bar, Naughty Nuri’s Warung, Papa Rock, Thanyapura for their field, Nida’s Bar and of course The Phuket News!
“I’m a Vagabond for life!”