The 27-year-old Maritz, a strong wing with Cell C Sharks and Eastern Province rugby blazers in his wardrobe, was a stand-out for the New Nation Pumas in the early rounds of Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked late last year as rugby returned to provincial fields. He scored four tries in four matches, with some of those five pointers sublime individual efforts.
But the plan, that was coming together nicely, crashed down to earth when the former Paarl Boys’ High School player injured his shoulder halfway through the competition.
The injury required surgery and months of rehabilitation, while at the same time, timelines in rugby were seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Injuries are part of any professional player's risk assessment and Maritz was no stranger to that. His decision to leave the Cell C Sharks – where he was contracted out of school – for the Southern Kings ended in disappointment as he was out of rugby for almost five months due to injury and hardly played for the Eastern Cape outfit.
A move to Nelspruit was well-rewarded as the Villiersdorp native became a crucial member of the New Nation Pumas team and making big strides, earning nods from, amongst others, the Springbok Sevens scouts.
It was a former Blitzbok and Pumas teammate, Ryan Nell, who encouraged him to take up the offer when it came knocking.
SA Rugby's High-Performance Manager for Sevens, Marius Schoeman, invited him to join the SA Rugby Sevens Academy, giving him the option to return to Nelspruit to play for the Lowveld side in the Carling Currie Cup in 2021.
“Ryan indicated that I would have to make a mental shift if I decided to make the move and that helped a lot,” said Maritz.
“My short-term goals coming to Stellenbosch remain – to improve as a player, fine tuning the skills to be competitive at this level and to reward the trust put in me by the coaches. The mental challenge was also an important one.”
Playing for the Blitzboks in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series remains the main goal and Schoeman indicated that was the reason why Maritz was drafted in the first place.
“We do see Neil as part of our World Series set-up for the next couple of years but unfortunately, due to the injury, he could not yet take the field, which is why we wanted him to do his rehab with us,” said Schoeman.
“That helped us to keep track of his progress and at least it exposed him to our systems and culture. The only thing remaining for him now is to get some time on the field.
“We have some squad members reaching the end of their careers and to have Neil coming in to be part of the next group to take the Blitzboks into the future is an exciting prospect.”
The Blitzbok and Academy sides will play in a number of matches against Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe next month.
The South Africans and Kenyans will use this as an opportunity to start fine-tuning their preparation for the Olympic Games, while Uganda and Zimbabwe will get ready for the final qualification tournament to be played in Monaco in June.
For Maritz, the knowledge that he can mix it with the best in fifteens will help ease the nerves when he takes the field in a few weeks, although he already declared this stint in Stellenbosch as a successful one.
"One of the main reasons why I came here was to further develop my skills and I have succeeded in that already,” explained Maritz.
“I always wanted to bring my athletic abilities to the fore. At school I was a sprinter and a hurdler, and those attributes come in handy when playing sevens. Running around with these guys, who have represented South Africa with such distinction, is also inspiring for me.
"You just need to look at the logo on the training jerseys, there is a Springbok. That tells you everything about the standards you find here."
He points to Chris Dry and Branco du Preez as the two players he cannot wait to share the playing field with when he finally gets to play after months of rehab: "I have watched sevens for a long time and Chris and Branco have always impressed me with the way they go about their business. It will be really nice to share the same field as them."