Following his second retirement from rugby, SA Rugby magazine reflects on the career and achievements of the ever-smiling Schalk Brits.
Brits made his professional debut 17 years ago with Western Province. After two seasons, he left to join the Golden Lions in Johannesburg. After making 30 appearances for the Currie Cup side and representing the Cats during the 2005 Super 12 season, Brits returned to the Cape and featured for Western Province and the Stormers for the next four seasons.
Prior to making his Test debut, the dynamic hooker with that trademark step was a member of the victorious Emerging Springboks side that claimed the 2007 IRB Nations Cup in Romania.
Brits eventually made his Springbok debut off the bench against Italy in June 2008. He featured in Tri-Nations Tests against the All Blacks and Wallabies a month thereafter, but would only make his next international appearance more than four years later. On the Springboks end-of-year tour in 2012, Brits again came off the bench against Scotland and England.
Between those brief stints with the national team, Brits had left the Western Cape and joined English Premiership side Saracens in London. Such was his impact on his new club that Brits received the Players’ Player of the Year award in his first season in England, while he also helped Saracens reach the Premiership final. Brits made over 200 appearances for Saracens, winning two European Champions Cups and four English Premiership titles over the course of a nine-year stint with the club. Having been a mainstay at Saracens for close to a decade, Brits is regarded as one of the best-ever foreign imports to the English Premiership.
The versatile forward moved back to the Stormers on a short-term loan deal in 2011, and played at eighthman in the Super Rugby semi-final defeat by the Crusaders. He returned to the international scene in mid-2014, making two substitute appearances against Wales before playing in a warm-up match against Argentina before the 2015 World Cup. Brits featured against Samoa and the USA during the tournament, as the Boks went on to claim the bronze medal in England.
After concluding his time in the northern hemisphere, Brits came out of retirement to play for the Boks in June 2018, before featuring for the Vodacom Bulls in Super Rugby earlier this season. Having rolled back the years, the 38-year-old was then appointed to lead the Boks in a World Cup warm-up against Los Pumas – in the process becoming the second-oldest Springbok captain in history.
Brits also led the Springbok ‘B’ side during the pool stages at the World Cup, and although he played no on-field part during the knockout rounds, his role behind the scenes in terms of motivating the squad and adding value through his experience was crucial.
Despite only playing 15 Tests over an 11-year period – starting just four of those matches – it was fitting that the ever-popular team man saw national success in his final season with the Boks. Brits bowed out of the international arena on a high with both a Rugby Championship and World Cup-winners medal.
Along with his achievements at international and club level, Brits also featured regularly for the Barbarians, making nine appearances in total since his Baa-baas debut over ten years ago. After concluding the World Cup victory parade, Brits ran out for the famous invitational club once last time in a brilliant cameo role against Wales. The veteran played with the vigour and enthusiasm of a much-younger man, and will always be remembered for the positive manner in which he approached the game.
Albeit that many South African fans might not have witnessed Brits at his absolute prime, he is an icon and absolute great of both Springbok rugby and the global game.