Springbok tighthead Vincent Koch feels that he has taken his scrummaging and general play to another level since moving to English club Saracens. JON CARDINELLI reports from Port Elizabeth.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus raised a few eyebrows when he announced his squad for the Tests against Australia and New Zealand. Koch, who hasn’t played for the Boks since November 2016, was listed among the forwards.
Perhaps Erasmus feels that Koch, at least the new and improved version, can offer something different. The 28-year-old was one of the standouts for Saracens across the 2017-18 northern hemisphere season. According to the player himself, he has taken giant strides since joining the English club in 2016.
‘I’ve grown mentally as well as physically since I moved overseas,’ Koch told the media on Tuesday. ‘They taught me to work harder, and perhaps I wasn’t working as hard in the past. Whether it’s my scrummaging or my work off the ball, I’ve become a better player since making the shift.’
It remains to be seen when Koch will be deployed at the Boks. He only arrived in Port Elizabeth on Monday evening, and it may take him some time to adjust to the new systems in place.
It’s a challenge he’s willing to embrace, though. Indeed, it wasn’t too long ago when the big man believed that his time with the Boks was over.
Shortly after Koch signed with Saracens, SA Rugby implemented a rule that prevented the Bok coach from selecting overseas-based players with fewer than 30 caps.
When Erasmus was appointed as coach in early 2018, however, the law was relaxed. Meaning that players like Koch – who has nine caps – were eligible once more.
‘When I signed to play overseas, that 30-cap rule wasn’t in place,’ said Koch. ‘It was implemented soon after. It made me sad to know that I might not play for the Boks again.
‘As South African guys, that is our biggest dream as rugby players. So at the time, it was like my dream had disappeared. It was an emotional period for me.
‘Life goes on, though, so I focused on settling in Saracens. Luckily Rassie changed a few things when he returned.
‘I see this as another opportunity, whether I’m playing for the team this Saturday or just having the chance to be back on the training field. I want to play for the green and gold again, and I will do everything I can to get that chance.’
Koch last featured for the Boks in the historic loss to Italy in 2016. On Tuesday, he admitted that the mood in the current camp is very different to what he experienced previously.
Erasmus’ side is coming off a monumental victory over the All Blacks in Wellington. The Boks will go into the game against the Wallabies this Saturday as favourites.
‘You keep watching the Boks, even if you’re overseas,’ he said. ‘It’s emotional when the Boks are winning, and when they are losing.
‘I feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster these past few months. I know all the players. We are all brothers. As a former Bok who had gone overseas, I still felt it when the team lost.
‘In terms of positives, it looks like they’ve developed an amazing environment and it’s been good to see the energy levels and how they are so much more motivated than before. It’s been easier for me to slot in.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) September 25, 2018
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images