ZOOKEEPER ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY
"ALL I've got now are dogs, cats, chickens, birds and fish," says Rowen Fernandez ruefully. "Normal pets. Nothing outrageous."
In his youth the Bafana keeper had a passion for snakes and spiders. But the romance disappeared when Fernandez's trusted boa constrictor chose to sink its fangs into an irreplaceable professional tool - his right hand.
"I brought him a rat to eat, but he bypassed the rat and went straight for my hand. I was bleeding, and had to get a tetanus shot. So I thought, okay, no chance - my hands are worth more than this snake! I went to the pet shop and said, 'please, find a nice home for him'."
AtKaizerChiefs, Fernandezlovedto torment a young Jabu Mahlangu (then Pule) by bringing him an assortment of wild creatures.
"I even used to bring a plastic snake to training, and tease Jabu," laughs Fernandez. "He thought it was real and used to run around Naturena so fast.
"I'd also catch a frog or two and put them in Jabu's locker. I wasn't popular, but it breaks the ice."
Like many top goalkeepers, the Arminia Bielefeld keeper is ever so slightly nuts. It speaks volumes that one of his best friends is former Proteas bowler André Nel.
Fernandez also speaks his mind, sometimes to his detriment.
AfterItumeleng Khune's excellent showing in the Confederations Cup last year, he remarked that he had noticed a couple of errors by the youngster who had deposed him as Bafana's leading net-minder.
"I got thrown over hot coals last year because people misinterpreted me," Fernandez says.
"I said Khune had a great Confed Cup. He did make a couple of small mistakes, but every keeper makes mistakes. I have made some terrible blunders for Chiefs and for the national team. But that's how you learn. Khune has gotten better and better since then, and I wish him all the best. If he needs me to strap his finger, I'm there for him! His distribution is amazing, and he's a great talent.
"We must protect him, and not put him on a pedestal and then knock him off it the next day. If Khune is looked after and supported, he can be one of the best keepers South Africa has ever had."
His words of admiration do not mean Fernandez is resigned to serving as a deputy.
He still wants the World Cup jersey, having recovered from a serious knee injury he suffered in January in Germany.
"It was a long, hard journey getting back to full fitness," he says.
Conservative, non-surgical treatment has rescued his dream, though he must see off the challenges of Moeneeb Josephs and Shu-aib Walters if he's to make the final 23.
Fernandez has two years left on his contract at Arminia, who were relegated to the second division at the end of last season.
"The good thing is that the club have said that next season I will start as No 1 keeper again," he says.