Investec Champions Cup: Ben Loader on life in Cape Town after joining Stormers from London Irish

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Ben Loader
Ben Loader has scored four tries this season for Stormers

It was only 12 months ago that Ben Loader was chasing the Premiership play-offs with his boyhood club London Irish.

The winger was having his best season. A new three-year deal had just been signed and a first England call-up before the World Cup was a realistic goal.

But life changed quickly and he now lives in Cape Town with views of the spectacular Table Mountain from his apartment.

Looking for a new team following the demise of London Irish at the end of last season, the 25-year-old took up an offer from South African side Stormers.

Turning down offers from Premiership clubs, Loader is the only Englishman playing for one of South Africa’s four teams in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

“When this opportunity came up, at this point in my career and life, it seemed like it was a perfect time to do it,” Loader told BBC Sport.

“I still can’t get over the fact that I am sitting in my living room at the minute and I am looking up at Table Mountain.

“I am 10 minutes from the beach, the sun is shining and it is a brilliant place to live.”

Stormers won the URC in 2022, reached the final last season and have a squad littered with World Cup winners.

Full-back Damian Willemse, who started the World Cup final victory over New Zealand, is one of the players who joins Loader for post-training dips in the sea at the local beach.

“The beach has almost been a running joke with a couple of the other boys,” added the Reading-born Loader. “My usual day would be training, come back and head to the beach for a couple of hours for a dip for cold-water recovery.

“The first couple of weeks it was easy to forget I was here for a job. It felt like a holiday almost.

“There is still so much to explore. I feel like I have only done a fraction of what it has to offer.”

Ben Loader
Stormers moved from Super Rugby to the United Rugby Championship in 2021

Home matches are played in the DHL Stadium, which holds 55,000, and a crowd of nearly 40,000 watched when Stormers hosted fellow South African side Bulls last month – a game Loader started and scored in.

The passionate and large fanbase have taken to Loader quickly as the only foreign player in the squad.

“Cape Town is the Stormers,” said Loader. “Getting out into the community here, meeting different people from all walks of life and seeing the love they have for the team has been amazing, and one of my favourite parts of the journey so far.

“It is a new experience and quite humbling to see how much it means to people to meet us and support us.

“In the UK that doesn’t happen with rugby too much, it is more of a football thing.”

‘Playing for England still the dream’

Loader, who played for an England XV side against Barbarians in 2019, has put his England dreams on hold by moving to South Africa.

England head coach Steve Borthwick is only able to pick players attached to Premiership sides, but Loader believes the experience is worth it.

“Last year I had one of the best seasons I have had and I felt like I could be pretty close to getting to that ultimate ambition,” he added.

“It was something that was a bit taboo in terms of young English guys going abroad, as that was seen as completely shutting the door on any England ambition.

Ben Loader, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Henry Arundell
Loader is close to Ollie Hassell-Collins (centre) who moved to Leicester Tigers and Henry Arundell (right) who is now at Racing 92

“Coming here and testing myself against all these different players and amazing guys is only helping to further that ambition and make me a better player.

“I am by no means in the twilight of my career. My ambition, like every young English kid, is to play for England one day. That is still the dream.”

Back-to-back European Champions Cup winners La Rochelle travel to Cape Town in the last 16 on Saturday, looking to avenge their pool-stage loss to Stormers.

Loader claimed a try in that 21-20 victory back in December. He expects a big crowd this weekend and has his father travelling over.

“The group-stage game against them was one of the most intense that I have played in – it was like a Test match,” said Loader.

“It is the type of game you don’t want to miss and the support we have over here won’t want to miss it either.

“We beat them by one point in the last game and they will be extremely fired up coming back here to try to get one back over on us.”

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