Cobus Reinach won’t be eligible to play for the Springboks once he joins the Northampton Saints in November, but the scrumhalf insists he will still be available for selection. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Cobus Reinach’s flame of determination and desire to play for the Springboks burns brighter than ever.
When the Sharks scrumhalf announced in February that he had signed for an English club, the Northampton Saints, many outside observers may have perceived this to be a case of yet another locally-based player being lost to South African rugby. As it was, the confirmation of Reinach’s Northampton contract came before the official announcement that only overseas-based Springboks with 30 Test caps or more would be eligible for selection from July onwards.
In the weeks that followed, reports emerged which alleged that a lack of communication and clarity from SA Rugby had played a considerable role in Reinach’s decision to accept the Northampton offer.
Yet there is more to this story than meets the eye, and when SA Rugby magazine caught up with the 27-year-old midway through the Super Rugby season, he explained that there was a lot of misinformation doing the rounds at the time.
‘What’s quite important to clarify is that when Northampton approached me, the first talking point was that I still wanted to play for the Springboks if selected. There were other offers, but I didn’t even look at them if it seemed as if I had to put my Bok ambitions aside. So when Northampton said they were happy for me to be released to the Boks if selected, only then did it become a real option to consider. I think it shows that I desperately want to play for the Springboks – it’s every South African player’s dream – and I will do everything I can for them to choose me. But at the end of the day, it will be up to SA Rugby.’
Heading into June, Reinach had 10 Test caps to his name, having last played for the Boks in 2015. Since then, the talented Sharks scrumhalf has had his mental and physical strength put to the test. First, he had to endure the disappointment of missing out on selection for the Boks’ 2015 World Cup squad, despite featuring prominently in the lead-up to the team announcement. Then, just as Reinach was beginning to rediscover some of his best form in last year’s Super Rugby competition, he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, and was ruled out of action for nine months.
As fate would have it, Reinach’s outlook on life and his career underwent a paradigm shift during this time out of the game.
‘The injury was tough to take at the time because I hoped last year was going to be a big one for me,’ he explains. ‘Ruan [Pienaar] and Fourie [du Preez] were retired [from international rugby] and there was a lot of opportunity [to stake a claim for the Bok No 9 jersey], but then I had that injury setback that left me on the sidelines. It’s a lonely world when you have an injury like that, but looking back, it actually made me a lot stronger mentally. It also provided an opportunity to reflect and consider what the game meant to me, and what I wanted to accomplish.’
Besides dedicating as much time as possible to his rehabilitation programme, Reinach also focused on expanding his business interests in preparation for life after rugby, while giving careful consideration to what would be the next best step in his career.
‘After the knee injury, a lot of things changed in terms of the way I thought about my playing future and about providing for my family after rugby,’ he says. ‘An injury can happen at any time, and you never know how long it could rule you out for. So when the option [from Northampton] came up, it just shouted stability, and that was the main attraction. I’ve also been at the Sharks for eight years, and although I’ve loved my time in Durban, I thought it was perhaps time for a change of scenery; to have a new adventure and to experience a different rugby environment. I always told the Sharks I would never leave them to play for another local union, and that if I ever left, it would be to go overseas.’
In some respects, the stars then appeared to align for Reinach to join Northampton, with the English club offering financial stability in a new environment, while expressing a willingness to accommodate his national ambitions. Yet there were still other considerations to mull over. For one, whispers of the new 30-cap Bok eligibility rule began to build momentum, while the Sharks unequivocally expressed a determination to retain Reinach’s services, and began to engage with SA Rugby in the hope that the national governing body would assist in matching the offer on the table.
From Reinach’s perspective, he had not heard from SA Rugby since his omission from the 2015 World Cup squad, and remained understandably uncertain as to where his future lay with the Boks. Eventually, SA Rugby clarified its intent to do whatever it took to keep Reinach in South Africa, but by then his mind was already made up.
‘It’s obviously a sensitive thing to talk about. I was open to staying and I remain open to playing for the Boks, but there just needed to be clear communication and a clear plan. Having said that, I think Allister [Coetzee] and SA Rugby are putting that plan in place now. I did speak to Allister [during a Bok training camp in April], and it was a good meeting.
‘I have a huge amount of respect for him. I know a bit more about where I stand now and the message was that whoever plays the best this year is going to get picked. It was good to walk away knowing that my decision to go to Northampton won’t affect me for this year.’
This assertion is worth bearing in mind, considering that Reinach’s Sharks contract runs until the end of October. It means he will remain available for the Boks during the three-Test series against France and this year’s Rugby Championship. Although some of Reinach’s personal and professional priorities may have been realigned over the past 12 months, his ultimate ambition remains unchanged.
‘After coming back from injury and playing in the first pre-season game against the Cheetahs, it was like riding a bike again,’ he says. ‘Slowly but surely I’ve felt like I’ve begun gaining momentum, the more I play.
‘You’re competing against the best teams at Super Rugby level, and that makes you a better player. So my goal is to start as many games as possible, and to contribute positively in as many ways as possible. I want to play for the Boks again. I feel I still have a lot to offer and I will do my best to give SA rugby whatever I can.’
– This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine