Raymond Rhule says having a “special bond” with fellow Springbok Dillyn Leyds has allowed the pair to blossom at La Rochelle, before Saturday’s French Top 14 trip to Bayonne.
The pair arrived at Stade Marcel Deflandre in the summer of 2020 before helping the outfit on the Atlantic coast to last season’s European Champions Cup.
Rhule, 29, is currently out injured with an ankle issue but 30-year-old Leyds has scored 27 points including 17 from the tee, his first from the boot since 2015, as La Rochelle sit second in the league table after six rounds.
“We’re close. We’ve played together since under-20s where we won the World Championship (in 2012),” Rhule told AFP this week.
“It’s always nice when you have someone you can relate to, and crack the same type of jokes.
“It’s a special bond which makes rugby go a whole lot easier when you guys see the same pictures, see the game the same way,” he added.
Rhule, who like Leyds can play centre, wing and full-back, made the last of his seven South Africa appearances in 2017’s record defeat to New Zealand and missed out on the Rugby World Cup success two years later.
“I’ve always wanted to have a comeback but those types of things are not up to me,” said Rhule.
“I left there (South Africa) on a sour note and I always want an opportunity to rectify that.
“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’ve learnt to control what I can control and everything else is not up to me,” he added.
Rhule headed to France 12 months after his most recent cap and signed with second-tier Grenoble.
There he was clocked running 35km/h during a game by French broadcasters Canal+, as quick as Paris Saint-Germain’s France World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe.
“Pace is a part of my game but I reckon it’s not my whole game,” Rhule said.
“I always try to pride myself on being able to read my game and execute,” he added.
The Accra-born flyer, who speaks six languages, then moved across France from the Alps to the west coast to work under La Rochelle’s then head coach ex-Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara.
This weekend, O’Gara, who has since replaced Jono Gibbes as director of rugby, takes his side south to a sold-out Stade Jean-Dauger to face the Basques of Bayonne, who have Rhule’s former Cheetahs teammate Uzair Cassiem in their back row.
“He’s a great dude. His personality off the field is great as well. He’s quite energetic and gives a lot to the team,” Rhule said of eight-time Springbok Cassiem.
“He’ll bring a lot to Bayonne, we must not give him too much space to run, because he’s slick,” he added.
Elsewhere this weekend, Rhule’s fellow Bok Cheslin Kolbe is set to return for Toulon as they host Brive, three months after being sidelined with a fractured jaw.
Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who won the 2019 World Cup alongside Kolbe, has returned to training with champions Montpellier after a serious shoulder injury before Saturday’s re-run of June’s Top 14 final with a trip to Castres.
Former Buffalo Bills training squad member Christian Wade could make his debut as Racing 92 welcome Pau after the ex-England winger joined the Parisians on a one-year deal.
© Agence France-Presse
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