Schalk Brits cannot wait for the opportunity to lead through on-field actions as a largely unexpected season with the Vodacom Bulls beckons, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Last May, Brits received a grand farewell as he ran out for his final game with beloved English club Saracens. From there he was set to head into rugby retirement, having planned to begin an executive MBA at Cambridge.
Instead, Brits’ life and career took an unexpected turn when he was lured out of retirement by Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, with the 37-year-old remaining a fixture in the national squad for the majority of last season.
Although that time served to ignite a burning desire for Brits to push though to this World Cup year, it has not come without its challenges. For one, there have been some critics who have questioned the stalwart’s exact role in the Bok setup and indeed his limited game time.
In addition, Brits and his family relocated to the Cape in the expectation that he would be joining the Stormers for Vodacom Super Rugby, only for administrative bungling to result in that move falling through.
Fortunately, the veteran hooker was able to find a ‘home’ at the Bulls, but it does require Brits to divide his time in regularly commuting between Stellenbosch and Pretoria, as he did not want to uproot his family again.
When SARugbymag.co.za caught up with Brits, though, he was as jovial as ever as he looked ahead to a new ‘adventure’ with the Bulls, who have recruited strongly in the off-season as they begin another rebuilding phase under coach Pote Human.
‘Well firstly, I think it’s money well spent,’ he joked in reference to the Bulls’ recruitment. ‘But in all seriousness, in my opinion, I think sometimes we can become too results-oriented in life and sport. For us at the Bulls, we just want to see growth as a group and to play better rugby each week.
‘Sometimes you have to experience hardship, but if you can keep the group together, then you can create success. At this early stage, my view is that if we can make sure our set piece and defence is good, we will have a chance [at being competitive]. Then slowly but surely we will hopefully get stronger as the competition goes on.’
On a personal note, Brits said he was really looking forward to a return to Super Rugby.
‘I didn’t play rugby to be a coach or play a mentorship role, that has just come with age, I guess. Some criticism has been thrown my way, and I’ve got no problem with that. But it’s nice to be in a setup where I will hopefully get some decent game time.
‘I’m not the player I was 10 years ago, or five years ago, or even last year. For me, there is a constant drive to keep getting better as a player, and now I’ve got a platform to focus on my game, while also obviously hoping to add value where I can to a team that wants to be successful.’
Although Brits’ retirement U-turn is at least partly aligned with the ambition of earning inclusion in the Boks’ World Cup squad, he is not thinking that far ahead.
‘I know that I can’t look further than the Bulls. If I don’t play well for them, then I can’t be selected for the Boks, it’s as simple as that … The ball is in my court, and it’s about what I do with it. If I play good rugby, I’ll hopefully have a good shot at being selected. If not, then I will have to go another route.
‘But there is a big drive in my last year to have a meaningful impact, and to leave a legacy, and for me, that is to play good rugby and continue getting enjoyment from this wonderful game. I’ve got a second shot at having a go at playing in South Africa, and it’s an unbelievable opportunity.’
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images