Nizaam Carr has returned to South Africa with the Vodacom Bulls as a more mature player who is driven to succeed, writes DYLAN JACK in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
A Western Cape man through and through, it came as a bit of a surprise to see Nizaam Carr return from a stint with Wasps not in the colours of the Stormers, but of their old rivals, the Bulls.
Carr was raised in Mitchells Plain, schooled at Bishops College and until his move to Coventry, had spent his entire life and rugby career in the Western Cape, making just short of 100 appearances for the Stormers.
‘People told me on social media that I am in the wrong blue colours,’ Carr tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘At the end of the day, everybody knows you have to take care of your family and I felt this was best for me. I was passionate and longing to win something, whether it is the Currie Cup or Super Rugby. That was the drive behind it all.
‘I enjoyed every single second of my time in England, and I mean that. Having experienced that, I always wondered what it would be like playing Super Rugby again. I wanted another shot at that.’
The theme of family permeates our interview. Carr became a father for the first time in 2019, which opened his eyes to the demands of a professional sporting career.
Family was also something which played a massive role in his desire to return to South Africa. ‘My family is very close,’ Carr explains. ‘In my faith, being a Muslim, you are with your family until the day you are married. So until I was 24, we were very close. I missed that. It was the biggest motivation. When it hit me most was when my son was born in England. I wanted to come back home and give him a similar experience.’
Having joined Wasps on loan as injury cover in 2017, Carr signed a permanent deal after the 2018 Super Rugby season.
‘All I knew was Western Province,’ Carr admits. ‘The Wasps trip really opened up my mind and my heart to new experiences. I didn’t know what it meant to play for another club. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The first three months were overwhelming. Me, a boy from Mitchells Plain … I was in a whole new environment.’
After getting over the culture shock and settling in at Coventry, Carr found the experience of playing for a new club, with its own traditions, matured him as a player and a person.
‘My wife tells me that four years ago, I was a different person. It has opened up my mind in terms of the world, seeing a different culture and how England was different to South Africa.
‘As sportsmen, we spend most of our time with our teammates. We go to work at 8am and get back at 5pm. So sometimes, I don’t even see my boy in the morning and when I get back, he is back in bed.
‘The Bulls have said we have to involve our families; you spend lots of time with your teammates and it is your family that is most important. That is what they are driving and that is what I really enjoyed at Wasps. They made me realise there is more to life than just rugby. It was a big step in the right direction to open up my mind. That’s why I say it was a big success for me.’
After three seasons in England, Carr needed to look at his options when Wasps, suffering under the financial impact of the Covid-19 shutdown, decided not to extend his contract.
He says the Bulls’ history as the most successful South African Super Rugby team, with three victories, made it an easy decision to move to Pretoria.
‘The coronavirus made it tough for every club so I didn’t have a lot of options, but when I spoke to the Bulls, they were eager and said it would be great to have me on board and I would suit their style of rugby. I jumped at that because when you feel welcomed and valued, that is the place you want to be. That’s what stood out for me. Jake White and Edgar Rathbone [Bulls CEO] were really friendly. Meeting the teammates and the staff was the cherry on the cake.’
During lockdown, the Bulls have undergone a massive rebuild under White, their new director of rugby and head coach.
He has not only brought in a fresh coaching staff, but has also made big changes to the playing staff, releasing 15 players and bringing in 13 new faces to the squad.
‘It is the first time I have worked with Jake White, but I have known about him, obviously, for all his accolades. I was in his son’s class at Bishops and I knew him, so it was quite easy talking to him because I had that prior relationship.
‘To be able to play with and learn from Trevor Nyakane and Duane Vermeulen, as World Cup winners, is special, as are guys like Gio Aplon and Cornal Hendricks. You want to be associated with the best. That brings the best out of you. They have high standards and that is the team culture that you fall into. I count myself lucky to be at such a great franchise.’
Carr has undergone his own introspection during the enforced break in the season and has been able to get a good perspective of where he is in his career and what he wants to achieve.
‘It showed me what is important: the people around you, like your wife and son. You grow closer. I enjoyed being home, but it wasn’t always easy. I am comfortable when I am playing rugby, going to training and spending time with the boys in the gym. You miss that after about a month.
‘It also gave me a better perspective on what I have achieved. It is nowhere close to what is about to come. I am only 29 and I would like to believe there is a lot of rugby left in me. I am grateful to Wasps, the Stormers and Western Province for helping me in my career and I am proud of who I have become and how the game has shaped me into the man I am today.’
Having seen many of his former Stormers teammates and close friends lift the Webb Ellis trophy in Yokohama last year, Carr admits that playing for the Springboks is still on his radar.
‘Anybody who plays in South Africa who doesn’t dream of playing for the Springboks shouldn’t be playing. That should be the pinnacle of your career, the highest point that you can achieve in rugby. Seeing my friends win the World Cup inspired the nation.
‘There is a lot of poverty out there. Yes, sport won’t save people from what they are going through, but it definitely inspires and gives hope. For any person wanting to do well at their job, wanting to be great at whatever they are doing. That’s what the World Cup win meant to me, it was inspiring.
‘A lot of things have fallen into place in my life and I am grateful. Others are not so lucky. I am in a fortunate position and if I don’t use those opportunities, I am wasting my time. Playing for the Springboks would definitely add to that.
‘Saying that, it is the end result and I need to lay a foundation. I need to enjoy myself at the Bulls first and be a good person. Everything links into a bigger picture. If I am not a good teammate at the Bulls, then playing for the Springboks doesn’t support what I am saying. You need to be the same with everybody. I can only focus on the Bulls and winning something there.’
*This feature first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!