Happy hooker finds bliss among the Brits
● You can almost picture it. A wide-grinning Schalk Brits and his wife Colinda sipping cocktails on loungers not just basking in Ibiza’s sunny skies, but the afterglow of wellearned, recently announced retirement.
His phone beeped, and though he initially didn’t believe it, it was Rassie Erasmus wanting him to hop on the Springbok bus again. He’d been there before and he may as well have been the conductor with just 10 test appearances spread over a decade.
Watching his beloved Springboks slip to seventh in the world rankings made Brits’ heart bleed.
No surprises there, he’s a bleeding heart and his blood happens to run green.
“My wife summed it up quite well,” said Brits. “She asked ‘how many times have you been involved with the Boks?’ I’ve been a lot but I haven’t played a lot. It’s always an honour. This will never present itself again. She said it’s a no-brainer, ‘go have fun’.
“I felt I can add value as a player. I want to see the team grow and become the force it can be. We’ve got better rugby players, better structures. We should be top three in the world irrespective of the issues we have.”
Brits’ first game back was from the bench in yesterday’s test against England. He had, however, been part of the build-up to the series. “I’ve seen a lot of different players come and go. I don’t want to compare the different cultures in the different squads but what I can say is it’s been great so far.”
Hard work key at Saracens
“The focus is on work ethic. That’s fantastic. The group is a lot younger than the 2015 World Cup squad. What they lack in experience they make up in lust for the game.”
Seeing an honest work ethic would have resonated with the hooker. Saracens, the club he called home for the past 10 seasons, built their empire on the virtue inextricably linked to success.
Brits may have played in just 10 tests, but he has no regrets going north.
“They said I wouldn’t survive in the UK. I should stay in Super Rugby. I’ve become a more mature, better rugby player there because they focus on different things than in the southern hemisphere.
“If I played more tests I would not have ended up at Saracens. It had such a massive impact on my life — from a rugby and life perspective. It’s been an unbelievable ride at Saracens. I invested in myself and looked after my family. I’m more than just a rugby player. The memories I made I can hopefully never forget, through the people I’ve met."
Going places, making friends
Brits holds his friendship dear. “In my 10 years at Saracens I don’t remember the games. I remember building friendships with Ernst Joubert, Neil de Kock, Schalk Burger, Brad Barritt and my English friends.
“Being friends with guys from Argentina, Wales, England, Australia, it is quite a mix of different cultures coming together. And it’s more than just winning.
“Apart from being successful the club took us to Verbier (in the Swiss Alps), Miami, Munich Beer Festival, you can name it. They took us to all these places to build social capital. That has been special.”
In his time there they won four Premiership titles and they stood at the summit of European rugby in 2016 and 2017.
“The motto was they are going to treat us unbelievably well and in return we are just going to work unbelievably hard. It was as simple as that. They gave us time and energy to grow as individuals. It worked miracles.
“Winning or losing, the coaches didn’t care. If we worked hard in the game and lost, then fair play to the opposition, and what can we learn from that.
“Good teams learn from their losses. Bad teams focus too much on the losses and don’t move on. The good teams just don’t make the same mistakes over and over again. We trained hard to be successful.”
How long he’ll be with the Boks still needs to be determined. Brits wants to go to Cambridge to do an executive MBA. If he’s still in the Bok mix, he may have to play for the club too.
Schalk Brits is back in Bok colours but he has a few bridges to cross.