Insider: Canan Moodie

Toast of the nation
Canan Moodie has taken on the rugby stage by storm.
SuperSport
The first thing that Canan Moodie did when he came off the field in Sydney after scoring that exceptional try in his debut test for the Springboks, was to call his family back home.

Minutes after being swamped by his teammates, as he became the toast of the nation, all Moodie wanted to do was talk to his family.

No sooner had the players exited the field than the video call was made to his mom Chantel and father Raymond, where he couldn’t contain his smile.

"Canan is always someone who wanted to make us proud. Right after the game, he made a video call home - the family had gathered to watch his game - he phoned straight away and you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face," his mom Chantel told Supersport.com.

"The smile and the pride on his face was amazing. He asked us if we were proud of him, and we said yes. He said that is all he ever wants to do, to make us proud. All he wants to do is make his family and his parents proud."



Meteoric rise

Moodie’s sudden appearance on the international stage took everyone, even his most fervent supporters and family, by surprise. As Chantel says, there was always a hope that he would make it to the Green and Gold one day, but nobody foresaw such a meteoric rise to the national side.

Especially because, at school, Moodie wasn’t a standout star for most of his school career. He never played Craven Week and, for a large part of it, was seen as a fairly average schoolboy player.

"I always thought that he had the mental ability to make it as a professional rugby player," Boland Landbou coach Olaf Bergh told supersport.com. "But I never thought he would be a Springbok. He surprised us all."

The meteoric rise is even more stark when you realise he didn’t even play A-side rugby in his under-14 and 15 years and missed out on a proper full season in his final year in school because of the Covid pandemic.

But either way, when Moodie got his chance, he took it.



Something special

It was a far cry from the Paarl schoolboy, whose quiet demeanour and willingness to learn are two of the hallmarks of what made him a star.

"We always knew there was something special about him," Chantel says about his early years. "We always had other mammas and pappas coming up to us next to the field, saying he had something special inside. But we raised him like any normal kid.

"A lot of motivation comes from his brother Keano, who is an athlete, and while Canan was never one who loved to practice, his brother egged him on the whole time and they were inseparable."

Keano is eight years older than Canan, and one of the country’s top long-jump athletes, winning the Boland senior championships and placing in the top five at the SA nationals. His influence on his brother would become a massive part of Canan’s sudden rise. Moodie also has a younger sister, Aneke, who is still at school.



Not an athlete

With Moodie’s speed, it would be easy to believe he would have been a good athlete, especially with his brother excelling on the track, but Chantel tells another story.

"He was never really an athlete, mainly because he was someone who was rather competitive and wanted to do well in his sport. He loved rugby and always wanted a rugby ball as a present when his father asked him; never other toys, always a rugby ball.

"He did well in the team sport, but athletics was more individual and a lot more competitive. Whenever he came last in athletics, it was always because his leg was sore or his ankle, and it was a tearful story every time. So his father and I told him to leave athletics."

Chantel tells how Chris Zondagh, a teacher at Klein Boishaai, was the first influence on Canan who helped him decide on rugby, and then from there he went to Boland Landbou, where his career really took off in his Grade 11 year.

It was a try against SACS in a schools day at Newlands that helped Moodie burst onto the scene, as an inside pass allowed him to sprint away from the opposition as he turned on the pace and caught the eye of some of the scouts countrywide.

Bergh tells of a shy young boy who arrived at the school and struggled with rugby in the beginning.



Slow beginnings

Moodie played for the under-14 B side on the wing, moving to the centre later in the year, and still in the B side at the under-15 level.

"In his Grade 11 year, we were a bit thin at centre and he played there in a very young first team. He did well, but his defence wasn’t always perfect. It wasn’t that he couldn’t defend, but defending at 13 is an art; you need to understand it, and he struggled a bit," Bergh said.

"Plus, he made the step up from under-16 to under-19 in a year. It is a big step to do that and defend at 13. In his matric year, he never got the opportunity to play a lot because of Covid but that try at Newlands stands out.

"He really developed exceptionally in two years. To think he went from under-14 B to Springbok in the space of six, seven years is unbelievable."

Bergh only has fond memories of Moodie.

"The biggest thing is he is a lekker person. He is a nice guy who works hard and is coachable. He has the right frame and is tall, but he is deceptive with his speed. That’s why the comparisons with JP Pietersen strike home, Canan also doesn’t often look that fast, but he is."



Sweet tooth

Chantel tells of a growing boy who "never liked to cook at home" but was always bugging her "for a muffin or something sweet."

Moodie had a way of getting his mom to bake for him whenever he was home.

"He never wanted big meals, but there always had to be something sweet afterwards," she laughs.

His provincial coach, Jake White, told Sport24 recently that he believed Moodie had it in him to play 100 tests for the Springboks.

"He was at training today and the next thing we got a call saying we’ve got to send him to the Boks," White said. "He was in tears, man. It’s a massive thing for a young boy.

"He’s going to make it ... he’s going to play 100 tests for South Africa. Going to see him and telling him that he’s been picked into the Springbok side makes coaching so worthwhile for us."

Moodie has already captured the country’s hearts in his first test, and the indication is that he will do a lot more as his career develops.

And there will be a lot more video calls with big smiles and loads of pride gushing out.