In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, veteran flank Willem Alberts says Springbok stalwart Schalk Brits helped provide belief that the ‘older generation’ of players could extend their careers.
Five years ago, when the 2015 World Cup wound down, Alberts was satisfied that his rugby career was almost over.
He’d had a 10-year first-class run dotted with highlights, including a long stint as the designated ‘heavy’ in the Springbok pack. Life had been good. He wasn’t expecting an offer from Stade Francais but he got one and a productive five years in Paris ensued, as did a handful more Bok matches.
Then, just as the 35-year-old thought his career was winding down, he received an offer to rejoin the Lions.
In the latest edition of SA Rugby magazine, Alberts tells senior contributor Clinton van der Berg that he has had to recalibrate his career timeline.
‘I don’t know for sure about the future,’ he said on the eve of his comeback match against the Stormers. ‘In 2014, I thought I’d be lucky to play to the end of 2015. Now I feel really good. A guy like Schalk Brits has given us veterans a lot of confidence.
‘I always felt while nearing the end at Stade Francais that I had two more seasons left in me. I want to enjoy this last bit as best as I can; maybe another 18 months or so. Hopefully my experience can be good enough. I want to give back to rugby and to the Lions …’
Although Alberts says his family and he enjoyed their time in France, he reiterates that the plan was always to come back home.
‘My heart is in South Africa, with my family and friends. Except for a couple of problems like load-shedding and crime, it’s a pretty decent place to live. I’ve lived elsewhere and it’s not really as nice … you’re always an outsider.
‘Getting used to a new culture and a new language is challenging. You go to a restaurant [in France], order the wrong stuff and make mistakes. People laugh at you. It’s tough sometimes, like when your child gets sick. You go to a doctor but can’t really get help,’ he says.
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‘Fortunately, after a few years it became more enjoyable. France offered a healthy, safe lifestyle. I learned enough French to chat casually with someone, although I could never give a speech on television.
‘I made an effort to embrace the culture. You’re a fool if you don’t, and you quickly get pushed to the outside because the French aren’t very welcoming. They assume that you can just learn French. “We speak it, so why can’t you?” is the attitude.’
*The full interview with Alberts is available in our April of SA Rugby magazine, which is now on sale. During this period of lockdown, we hope you are able to get your hands on the latest copy, but we will continue to bring you the best possible content. You can also subscribe here