Happy hooker finds bliss among the Brits

Sunday Times - - Sport | Cricket/Rugby - By LIAM DEL CARME

● 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.

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