Former Saracens star Schalk Brits says that an inexperienced Springbok side must make a mental and physical shift on the four-Test tour of the northern hemisphere. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Brits called time on his decorated club career following Saracens’ win in the English Premiership final in late May. A couple of weeks later, he rejoined the Boks at the request of coach Rassie Erasmus.
Erasmus believes that Brits can add value to the current set-up. While Malcolm Marx is the form hooker in world rugby at present, he and Bongi Mbonambi are relatively inexperienced at Test level and could, according to Erasmus, benefit from Brits’ input on a regular basis.
Indeed, the more experienced players in the squad could also learn a thing or two from a player who has been competing at the top for more than 15 years. In the buildup to the game against Australia in Port Elizabeth, 107-Test veteran Beast Mtawarira revealed that the players had taken to calling him ‘Coach Schalk’ and confirmed that the 37-year-old was adding value across the board.
Brits has been heavily involved in the preparations for the four-Test tour of Europe. The team trained in searing heat out in Stellenbosch last week. In the lead-up to the clash against England in London, however, they will need to make some significant adjustments in anticipation of some unfavourable conditions as well as a different style of officiating.
The Boks beat England 2-1 in the series in South Africa this past June. A Test at Twickenham, says Brits, will be very different to what the players experienced at Ellis Park and the Free State Stadium. First-time tourists like Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse, and even some of the forwards, will have to adapt.
‘You can’t compare playing the northern hemisphere teams in South Africa to playing them in their own backyard,’ Brits told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘The game in the north is different.
‘The management of where you play rugby is just so crucial to the outcome. You have to be mindful of the weather and the pitch conditions. You have to be more wary about conceding penalties, because you don’t want to lose territory. It’s more challenging to get out of your own half when you are under pressure.
‘In South Africa, you can run a lot more from your 22 when you want to exit. You can afford to gamble. In the north, you can get stuck in your own territory for 10 minutes or more if you don’t manage the situation correctly.
‘We’ve discussed it. The whole team has spoken about things that we can and can’t control when we are going abroad. We will have to manage the game differently.’
Brits has been encouraged by what he’s seen from the side in the series against England and in the Rugby Championship. Eight games remain until the 2019 World Cup, though, and the coaches will have to strike the right balance between pushing for results and developing less experienced players.
‘Defensively, we are getting up in opponents’ faces and putting those opposition skill sets under pressure. It’s taken time to get there, though. We knew when we put those structures in place that it would take time to see results. We knew we would concede a few tries along the way.
‘We’ve got a lot of inexperienced players in the group [touring Europe this November],’ he continued. ‘The key is to fast-track those guys with four or five caps, to help them grow and get on the same level as a guy with 30 or 40 caps.
‘Some of the older and more experienced guys in the group have a good appreciation of those conditions as well as the northern hemisphere players we will come up against. How can we help the less experienced players? Maybe our input will result in those young players conceding one penalty fewer in a big game, or winning one more turnover. And that may be the difference between winning and losing.’
Brits realises that there is a pecking order as far as the hookers are concerned. That said, he expects to be heavily involved in the team’s preparations whether he plays every week or in just one or two matches over the course of the tour.
‘I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,’ he said. ‘I would like to grow as a player and learn from everyone. For example, Handré Pollard runs different lines to Owen Farrell [at Saracens]. How can I adapt?
‘The guys down south scrum differently to how they scrum in the north. What can I pass on to Malcolm and Bongi, and what can they pass on to me?
‘I do have ambitions to play more [Brits has made just one appearance, against England at Newlands in June, since returning to the fold], but I realise that the team comes first and that there is a bigger picture with regard to the World Cup.’
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