Schalk Brits has ended his self-imposed retirement from rugby after being convinced by South African coach Rassie Erasmus that he can win a place in the Springboks squad for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Brits and Erasmus have been in close contact since the former Saracens hooker returned for the Springboks in the final test of their June series with England. Since winning his 11th cap Brits has been examining his options and despite still looking for a new club and having to undertake pre-season training on his own, the 37-year-old told RugbyPass that Cambridge University have agreed to defer his arrival to study for an MBA for another year.
Now, the priority is to prove to Erasmus that he can be part of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship squad and it is understood the Bulls are favourites to land his services for the next Super rugby season although he continues to have strong links with the Stormers. John Mitchell, the Bulls head of rugby, is currently being linked with an England role, however, he has spoken to both Brits and Duane Vermeulen about adding their experience to his squad. The deals have yet to be signed.
Brits, who had a stellar ten year career helping Saracens become Europe’s top team, is currently on holiday with his family in Majorca and said: “ Rassie has convinced me to keep on playing and now it is a case of getting the logistics around that in place. I want to play rugby and it was a case of either choosing to continue or do the MBA at Cambridge. We tried to work through all the things that I would need to do playing wise with Cambridge but there were too many clashes and too many missed classes. As result we have deferred it for a year and I will apply again and hopefully get in after the World Cup.
“We were at a point where my wife said “ just make a decision “ and that is what we have now done. The main problem is that I have entered the rugby market for a new club late. I am currently trying to sort out something with the Stormers or the Bulls and the options in the UK were limited because the squads are already full under the salary cap.”
Brits, whose final game in England saw him help Saracens become Premiership champions at Twickenham in May, was offered the opportunity to join the club’s pre-season sessions but with no contract in place the question of insurance cover meant he had to, unfortunately, turn this down. That has initiated a period of training on his own, using the programme that allowed him to remain a key member of the Sarries squad. He explained: “ It has been quite difficult training on my own. Mark McCall was kind enough to give me permission to do pre-season at Sarries but the question of what happened if I got injured meant I had to do gym work and running on my own.
“ After talking with Rassie I had to ask myself if I could physically do what would be required and luckily my time at Sarries involved a rota of hookers being used and that extends your career. It also helps that not being Mako or Billy Vunipola, I don’t run at big men, I run past them. It means my body feels great and from a mental point of view, I had to go from being retired to asking myself about the mental challenge of doing this for another year. That was the most difficult discussion I had to have, but the upside is the opportunity to go to a World Cup and I really believe I can add value to the Springboks on and the pitch.”
Brits is aware that having been lauded as arguably the best overseas signing the Premiership has seen, by coming back he could damage that legacy. Having gone out on a high at Twickenham, playing on needed to be at a similar level. “ If I play and I am not in top shape then people will say I am past it: “admitted Brits. “That is why I have been training harder than I have for a couple of years. When you reach your 30’s people say you are too old and you need to prove them wrong.
“I am sure that in the first couple of sessions when I joined the Boks for the England tests they probably thought I was going to coach but things went well and I showed what I could do. You get judged at every training session and that is why I am working so hard to be in top shape. The Super rugby pre-season is in January but I need to be fit to put myself forward for the Rugby Championship squad. I am hoping to be involved for the Championship and I would then head back to South Africa.”
South Africa start their Rugby Championship campaign at home to Argentina in Durban on August 18 and head to Mendoza a week later.