Heinrich Brüssow feels he's a smarter and ultimately more effective player than he was four years ago, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
Brüssow has been selected to start at openside flank against the All Blacks at Ellis Park this Saturday. After four years in the international wilderness, he will finally get a chance to prove his worth.
Brüssow was the standout openside flank in world rugby back in 2009. He featured prominently for the Boks in the British & Irish Lions series and the subsequent Tri-Nations. That season also included three successive wins against the All Blacks.
Brüssow added a fourth win against the All Blacks to his tally when he helped the Boks down the old enemy in 2011 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The 2011 World Cup quarter-final, however, was to be his last game for a lengthy period.
On Wednesday, Brüssow was asked if he could make as big an impact as he did in 2009 and 2011. He was asked if he was still the same player.
Without arrogance, the 29-year-old flanker Brüssow responded that he was better than before.
‘Back then I was a youngster. I think I’ve come a long way over the past four years. I feel I’m making better decisions at the breakdowns, I’m choosing my rucks more carefully.
‘I’ve also added a bit more to my game. That time in Japan [playing for the Docomo Red Hurricanes] was really beneficial. I started to enjoy my rugby again. And now I have this opportunity.’
Brüssow said that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has always been honest with him. Even now, the flanker knows he has plenty to prove, and that even a strong showing against the All Blacks may not be enough to cement his place in the squad.
‘We’ve always had a good relationship. A lot of people don’t know that. He has told me what to work on. It was frustrating at times when I would find some form, and get close to an opportunity with the Boks. Then I would get injured.
‘I’m looking forward to testing myself this weekend against the best team in the world. I realise we are missing a few experienced loose forwards [Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee are currently unavailable due to injuries] and that they may come back into the mix for the World Cup. But there's still plenty to play for. I would love to be there, and I know that injuries could strike at that tournament. You have to be ready if the coach calls on you.’
Meyer has selected an experimental loose-forward combination for the match against the All Blacks. Not only has he included Brüssow, a player he has never used before, but another openside specialist in Francois Louw.
‘It’s an interesting combination,’ said Brüssow. ‘I’m looking forward to playing alongside Flo. We’ve been in the same squad before, but never in the same combination.’
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