FNB NWU Eagles loose forward André Fouché is putting in 80-minute performances just like 2018 captain Tiaan Bezuidenhout, who tragically passed away in a car accident on 8 May.
The Eagles opted to retire their No 8 jersey in memory of Bezuidenhout for their Round 8 match against FNB UCT, with eighthman Ruben Dreyer wearing the No 24 jersey instead.
The occasion was even more special for Fouché, who has been best friends with Tiaan’s 21-year-old brother, Francois, since primary school.
Tiaan and Fouché both grew up in the North West and attended Hoërskool Rustenburg, matriculating in 2013 and 2017 respectively.
One of Fouché’s fondest memories is a December holiday in Hibberdene, KwaZulu-Natal, with the Bezuidenhout family at his cousin (and future Springbok loose forward) Marcell Coetzee’s home.
Whenever Bezuidenhout trained, Fouché was his shadow and followed what he was doing. They would often jog from the sugarcane farms to the beach, with Bezuidenhout’s mother, Lazelle, driving behind them in the car.
Fouché always idolised Bezuidenhout because he played for FNB NWU and they both played eighthman.
As a Grade 11 pupil when Bezuidenhout was a second-year university student, Fouché regarded him as a mentor. In Fouché’s matric year, Bezuidenhout returned to the school to give a speech to the rugby boys before a game and Fouché sat in awe of him.
Choosing a university was easy for Fouché, having grown up 150km away from Potchefstroom and representing the Leopards at the U16 Grant Khomo Week and U18 Craven Week. However, he only chose his hostel after hearing Bezuidenhout speak about it.
“I went to Soetdorings because Tiaan was there,” Fouché tells VarsityCup.co.za. “When they played at the Fanie [Fanie du Toit Stadium], we were next to the field as first-year students doing push-ups every time they scored. Tiaan was captain and after the game I went straight to him and asked him for a photo. That’s the last rugby photo we have together.”
Although Bezuidenhout moved out of Soetdorings and into a flat with his brother, Fouché still got to spend time with him.
“No matter how busy Tiaan got, he was always there for me,” he says. “It was nice to have a mentor and a friend, and my very own NWU hero.”
Fouché says playing for Bezuidenhout during that Round 8 match against FNB UCT motivated him to perform.
“It was very emotional for me, especially having gone through that week with the family,” he recalls. “I couldn’t do much, just give my support and acknowledge how much he meant to us.
“Even though the younger generation didn’t know Tiaan, we can always take him with us as a team. Everyone will know that he was the Varsity Cup captain in 2018, and the stories will be carried down with the No 8 jersey.”
Besides his leadership skills, Bezuidenhout was a player who left it all on the field every time he played.
“He was always an 80-minute man, so I decided I was going to be like him,” says Fouché. “I’ve played 80 minutes every game this season and I know he would have been proud of me.”
The last message Fouché sent to “Big T” was on his 26th birthday on 28 ApriI and he had that nickname written on his wrist when he played against FNB UCT.
“I learned a lot from him, and it wasn’t always about rugby. His mother was his life, and vice versa.
"I used to play like Tiaan, but now I’ll play for him,” Fouché concludes.