Schalk Brits's unique talents will add extra impetus to the Springbok attack in the June internationals, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Two weeks ago, Saracens and Schalk Brits were the talk of the European club rugby community. The St Albans-based club had advanced to both the European Cup and Premiership finals, and thus stood on the brink of a rare double. Their best player, Brits, was on the short list for the European Cup Player of the Year award.
But there was to be no double for Saracens, who were soundly beaten by Toulon in the European Cup final, and then pipped by Northampton in extra time of the English domestic decider. Brits also lost out to Steffon Armitage, who was named European Player of the Year.
Despite that disappointment, Brits will be a happy man today. The versatile hooker has been included in the Springbok squad for the June internationals, and is expected to play against the World XV, Wales, and Scotland.
In an interview with SA Rugby magazine in late 2012, Brits told me that he'd 'give his right nut' to play for South Africa again. At that point, he'd failed to add to his three Test caps despite performing consistently for Saracens in England and Europe.
Shortly after that interview, Brits received a Bok call-up. South Africa had been hit hard by injuries, especially in the hooker position, and Brits's services were required. He may not have enjoyed much game time on that tour to Europe, but as he said himself, it was a terrific experience and gave him hope of being involved again in the future.
Two years on, and Brits has been recalled. Adriaan Strauss is not available for the next three games because of suspension, while other hooking options in Chiliboy Ralepelle, Tiaan Liebenberg and Scarra Ntubeni are recovering from long-term injuries.
Bismarck du Plessis may be the incumbent, and when available, Strauss is another fantastic option. It's vital that Brits uses this rare opportunity to show what he can do. He may not get another chance like this before the 2015 World Cup.
Brits was outstanding for Saracens in last week's Premiership final. The Saracens forwards failed to fire as a unit, but Brits showed his gamebreaking ability in the final quarter.
A brilliant touch set up a crucial try for centre Marcello Bosch to bring the English side back into the contest. It was a powerful reminder of how Brits can influence the flow of a game, even one as big as a final.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer should be commended for bringing a play like Willie le Roux into the mix in 2013. With Le Roux in tow, the Boks are a less predictable side. They offer something more on attack, and are a threat on the counter-attack. The stats for the 2013 season support this statement.
Like the Boks, Saracens are often labelled as a conservative side. However, their formidable defence has produced counter-attacking opportunities. And they have been known to use brilliant runners like Brits when launching a counter-offensive from back field.
Brits has developed a reputation as a dependable set-piece exponent in one of the toughest regional competitions in the world. He has, however, retained the special something that made him such a dangerous player for the Stormers five years ago. He is a more complete player now than he was in 2009, and should add great value to the Bok squad.
It's taken the suspension of Strauss and the unavailability of several other options for Brits to receive this chance. But regardless of how the selection has come about, it is one that should work for the Boks and further boost their attack.
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