As South Africa prepare to take on their southern African neighbours Namibia, Sports Gazette spoke to Springbok hooker and Saracens cult hero Schalk Brits, as he prepares to captain the team playing at number eight. It’s a remarkable and unexpected come back for the 38 year old, who was persuaded to come out of international retirement by coach Rassie Erasmus last year.
The Springboks played their first World Cup fixture last Saturday in a 23 – 13 defeat against the All Blacks.
“After Saturday’s game, the boys prepared well, we played well. The result didn’t come our way but we put in a good shift. There were some errors in general, but the boys did well.” said Brits.
The Springboks certainly were competitive in the early stages of the match, which came as no surprise given the form they showed coming into the tournament. The momentum switched when Handre Pollard missed an easy penalty that would’ve put the Boks in a good position towards the end of the first half. However, it proved to be a turning point as the All Blacks stepped up their intensity and before the Springboks knew it, New Zealand were on top with two quick tries in minutes.
The Springboks are still confident of going all the way and a big factor is the appointment of Erasmus in the beginning of 2018.
“Since Rassie took over the results speak for themselves because there has been a lot of hard work in getting the results. He is very meticulous in the way he wants us to set up”.
Brits has only made 15 caps for the Springboks even though he made his debut over a decade ago, in 2008. And it is fair to say he has been overlooked by previous coaches. This hasn’t changed the fact that Erasmus has put his full faith in Brits since his arrival. Erasmus acknowledges his experience and this resulted in Brits captaining South Africa against Argentina in a World Cup warm-up a few months ago. “It was never something I sought after (the captaincy) or wanted to be growing up, I just want to serve the team in whatever capacity I can”.
The Springbok coach has been very vocal about Brits playing in that loose forward role in an attempt to take the load off players like Siya Kolisi, who isn’t 100 per cent fit yet after suffering a knee injury earlier this year. This challenge isn’t anything new to Brits as he often played at eight with the Stormers earlier in his career.
“It’s a great challenge for me, there’s a definite plan for Siya. To bring him through to get him ready and firing come the quarters. He is our captain and he is our leader and we are standing behind him as a team”.
Brits’ dynamic playing style also offers something different compared to the other options such as Duane Vermeulen. Being in the front line doesn’t faze him and the captaincy wouldn’t change anything.
“The whole experience is good because I have so many great individuals around me, I can just play my own game and talk to the ref a bit more than I normally do and in essence just try to execute a plan that was prepared during the week”.
Springboks face Nambia on Saturday at the City of Toyota Stadium.