Springbok veteran Beast Mtawarira says Schalk Brits has added a lot of value since joining the set-up as a player-mentor in June. JON CARDINELLI in Port Elizabeth reports.
Brits retired from professional rugby at the end of the 2017-18 northern hemisphere season. As the story goes, the 37-year-old was on holiday in Ibiza when he got the call from Rassie Erasmus about joining the Bok set-up.
Erasmus had intended to bring Bismarck du Plessis – who plays his club rugby for Montpellier in France – into the squad ahead of the three-Test series against England. The Bok coach hoped that Du Plessis would fulfil a player-mentor role, and that younger hookers such as Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi and Akker van der Merwe would benefit from Du Plessis’ expert input.
When the move to bring Du Plessis back failed, Erasmus managed to secure Brits’ services. Thereafter, the former Saracens hooker was seen chatting to assistant coaches about tactics at training sessions held in Bloemfontein and Cape Town. Brits was used as a player – off the bench – in the third Test against England at Newlands.
Since then, Brits has not played a minute of rugby. There has been talk of him linking up with a South African Super Rugby franchise before the 2019 World Cup, but nothing has been confirmed as yet.
He has contributed in other areas, though. According to Mtawarira, the most capped player in the Bok squad, Brits has made a ‘massive impact’ as a mentor since joining the set-up.
‘He’s one of the coaches!’ the prop said at a media gathering in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, before breaking into a big smile.
‘He’s really been a big help to the guys in the side. It’s something really special… that characteristic he has… he just wants to help the team do well on Saturday.
‘He’s always helping the hookers, offering them some additional information. It can be anything, from his knowledge of the opposition to something specific he has seen or picked up.
‘Even the guys in the backline get some advice,’ Mtawarira added. ‘That’s Scalla, he’s got an all-rounder brain. He knows the game very well. He’s made a massive impact and the guys really enjoy his presence.’
It remains to be seen when Brits will play for the Boks again. He’s currently in the group as the third hooker, and Erasmus has spoken about the veteran as a squad option for the 2019 World Cup – fitness permitting.
Mtawarira said that Brits will have a key role to play over the next two weeks. The Boks will face the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Boks felt that they made a statement up front in the recent clash against the All Blacks. That said, the forwards will have a point to prove in their next game against the Wallabies. The Boks lost to Australia in Brisbane three weeks ago.
‘The Wallabies have got a lot of experience in that pack,’ said Mtawarira. ‘They will present a massive challenge up front.
‘We want to impose ourselves. Tricks and so on, that’s not acceptable at scrum time. As a team and as a forward pack, we always want to have a positive mindset.
‘We saw that in the last Test against the All Blacks. There was only one reset. That’s what we want.’