UCT’s Robert Hunt scores a try against Tuks in the Varsity Cup final at Tuks Stadium in Pretoria on 31 May 2021. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
As he walked on a beach just outside Cardiff taking in the beautiful Welsh landscape during the Bulls’ recovery day on Monday, prop Robert Hunt was also still taking in the emotion of having made his professional debut for the team in their United Rugby Championship victory over Cardiff Blues the previous Saturday.
Hunt came on as a replacement for Jacques Van Rooyen and was understandably delighted to not only make his debut, but to also come away with a win at the famous Arms Park – a ground where rugby has been played since 1881 and which has featured some of the great moments and greatest players in the game.
“It was a very special moment. It’s something I’ve been waiting for, praying for and working towards for a very long time. And then to make my debut in Wales and at the historic Arms Park was just as special. It was quite a challenge mentally. It wasn’t home turf and it was my first professional cap. But I enjoyed it,” he said.
And his debut included a moment when he ran on that he laughs about now, but which at the time added to his nerves.
“In the first half, Jacques broke a stud on his left boot. We have the same size boots so I loaned him my left boot. Then when I came on we had to swap it again. So Cardiff Rugby had a kick for posts and I ran on and was busy tying my boot thinking, well, I’ve got time because he’s either going to miss the kick and it will go out, or he’ll get it and we’ll have the restart. I was still busy tying my laces in front of the posts when I heard the ball hit the posts behind me. I thought, okay, I probably need to get up and start playing now. So I just ran into it with no mouthguard or scrumcap. I hadn’t even finished tying my shoelace yet. It was an intense start, for sure.
“But it was great to celebrate a win with the team on my debut. Hopefully we can now build on this momentum as a team. I received so many messages of support from family and friends, and even supporters. It means a lot to me.”
The 25-year-old Hunt came to professional rugby in a slightly more unconventional path than many of his Bulls team-mates. He first earned two degrees in accounting and business studies, and then sports management, before playing Varsity Cup rugby for UCT.
And that’s when he received a WhatsApp from Jake White.
“The Varsity Cup laid the foundation for me. I was hoping that if I performed well in the Varsity Cup the eyes would be on me. I knew it was the best shot I had at being seen, and it just so happened that after the final I got the opportunity to go to the Bulls.
“I would’ve loved to have made it into the professional ranks a bit sooner. But my studies are done now. So now I wake up in the morning, I get ready for the day and the only thing I need to focus on is becoming a better rugby player.”