VIDEO: Brits opens up on World Cup expectations
WATCH as veteran hooker Schalk Brits opens up on his expectations for the 2019 season, which includes the World Cup in Japan later this year.
At 37 some of his teammates’ wives and girlfriends call him ‘oom’ (an Afrikaans term of endearment for a much older person), but he is still near the front during fitness tests.
Brits, after almost a decade and nearly 150 games for Saracens in the Premiership and European competitions, was lured out of a brief retirement last year.
He joined up with the Springboks and played off the bench against England at Newlands. Then he accompanied the Boks on the year-end tour, where he played a ‘mentoring’ role, without taking to the field.
That convinced him that he still has another Super Rugby season in his ‘mature’ body, with suggestions that he could be in the frame for World Cup selection later this year.
Despite his advanced years, Brits says his body “feels great and I am looking forward to the season to start”.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I still expect to play at this age,” he added when fronting up to the media at a Bulls training session this week.
Brits suggest he will be playing a similar mentoring role in Pretoria as he did with the Boks – using all of his experience from 11 Tests and 280-odd first-class games (which include Saracens, 144, the Cats, 11, Stormers, 52, Western Province, 40, and Golden Lions, 35).
At the Bulls, Brits will compete with the likes of Johan Grobbelaar, Edgar Marutlulle and Jaco Visagie.
“I have no expectation here,” he said of his stint with the Bulls, adding: “I am here to add value to the team.
“But if I am chosen, then I expect their [the other players’] support in the team and they will get the same from me.
“From that point of view, I just want to add any value that I can and make the Bulls successful.
“If the Bulls are successful then I will be successful too.”
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Brits admitted that in his younger days he was a touch selfish.
“I learnt at a later stage in my life how to be a good team man,” he said.
“From my point of view, I just want to add value. The coach will choose the team as he sees fit and I will support them any way I can. There is a bigger picture and it doesn’t just revolve around me.”
Brits also downplayed his World Cup prospects.
He will be competing with the established duo of Malcolm Marx and Mbongeni Mbonambi, who played ahead of him in 2018, while Armand van der Merwe and Mahlatse Chiliboy Ralepelle are also in the wider frame.
“There is absolutely no expectations in terms of the Springboks,” Brits said, when quizzed about the World Cup.
“My expectations here [at the Bulls] is to deliver the best I can,” he said, adding: “If my game is at a level where it is acceptable for the national selectors then it will be fantastic.
“My focus at this stage is only at the Bulls.
“My time with the Springboks was fantastic and it is always a pleasure to be involved with the national team, but for me, the focus is on the Bulls.”
Brits said the Bulls have a young bunch of players that are very talented.
“We have some experienced heads that have been around the block a little bit, that can help the younger players grow.”
He suggested that South Africa all too often lose “middle tier” of experienced players to cash-flush clubs abroad.
“You only have the Springboks and the young guys,” he said, adding: “[But] the players that are supposed to pass on that intellectual capital are lost to the overseas market.”
Brits suggested he should have moved abroad at an earlier stage in his career, because it helped him mature much faster.
“You never want to look back in history, but sometimes I wish I went overseas earlier, more from a perspective of growth.
“Your game develops faster on other levels in the Northern Hemisphere than it does here [in SA]. Your line-out throws, your scrumming, your set phases. But here, and not taking away from Super Rugby, but the focus isn’t on that.
“For me though it is great to still can add value to the group.”
He suggested more players should return from their stints abroad to plough back into the local game.
“Unfortunately for tight five players, we expect young tight forwards to perform at 22, 23 and 24 and unfortunately it is only later in your 20s that you become comfortable at hooker or prop,” Brits said.
“It comes through time and experience and a few slaps you get here and there and a few times you have to pull your head out of your ass in a scrum and then you learn what to do. There is a lot of value that can be added from older players.
“I was at the Cats, when they were still the Cats, in 2004, when Marius Hurter came back from Newcastle and just through him and Os [du Randt] next to me I learnt a lot in a short period of time.
“But unfortunately we lose that intellectual capital early with players. Hopefully, my goal is to not only play but to also transfer some of my knowledge over to them and hopefully help them grow rather fast.”