Jaque targets Bok comeback

Jaque Fourie wants to return to South Africa in 2015 to compete for a place in the Springbok World Cup squad.

In an exclusive interview with this site, the former Lions and Stormers centre revealed his ambitions of featuring in his fourth World Cup.

He last played for the Springboks at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand and for WP in the 2011 Currie Cup semi-final loss to the Golden Lions. He then left the Cape union to pursue a short-term deal with the Wild Knights in Japan, before signing for the Steelers (who also have Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant in their squad) for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 domestic seasons.

It’s been reported that his deal in the Far East is one of the most lucrative in world rugby at R11 million a year.

Fourie has been in red-hot form so far in the Japanese Top League, having scored seven tries in six appearances. Last weekend, he grabbed a hat-trick during the Steelers’ 70-24 win over the Voltex.

The 29-year-old indicated that he wants to be based in Japan for another three years before a return to South Africa. It will be the kind of return Sonny Bill Williams is set to make with the All Blacks in 2015.

Fourie has played 69 Tests and scored 32 tries, which is a Bok record for a centre (third behind Bryan Habana and Joost van der Westhuizen on the all-time list).

‘Everyone goes to Europe. I wanted to do something different … something that didn’t revolve around rugby alone,’ Fourie told keo.co.za. ‘But I plan on coming back to South Africa for the 2015 season to contend for a place in the Springbok team for the next World Cup. I haven’t made myself available for the Boks during the two seasons I’ll spend at the Steelers because I want to give my full commitment to the club.

‘I have been following the Bok Tests this year,’ he continued. ‘The standout performers have been Bryan Habana and Francois Louw. It has been very difficult sitting over here and watching, because I do miss playing for South Africa very much.’

The only concern is the standard of club rugby in Japan as the European, Sanzar and South African leagues are all considered superior. However, several internationals, including Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and USA skipper Todd Clever, have lauded the conditioning and medical care one gets in the Asian country.

Fourie admits that the Japanese club scene is still semi-professional, but this is improving every year.

‘Half of the players in my squad still have to work for the [Kobe] company during the day, then come and train afterwards,’ said Fourie. ‘But most of the teams are getting better and stronger. The playing conditions are very good for running rugby.

‘Rugby in the country is also getting more popular every year too. You can see the locals are getting excited about the World Cup that will be held here in 2019. Many fans notice the overseas players, but no one really makes a fuss when we are seen in public. There was a lot of hype with regards to the arrival of Sonny Bill Williams.

‘The main benefit of playing in Japan is that you play less than 20 games a season. That makes a huge difference to your body. Even [former Springbok lock] Albert van den Berg is still playing at the age of 38. He is still enjoying the game. His body is in great condition, that’s why he can still play at a competitive level.’

Fourie adds he’s enjoying life in Japan. It’s a similar route the likes of Du Preez, Wynand Olivier, Danie Rossouw and Ryan Kankowski have taken.

‘I’m not surprised to see so many South Africans in Japan. It’s really an amazing experience,’ he said. ‘There are many New Zealand and Australian players here, and they’ve been coming here for ages.

‘It wasn’t tough for my wife, Kelly, and I to settle in here as the people made it very easy for us. We stay on Rokko Island, where most of the foreign players and working people live. The only issue is communicating with the locals, but we take two language lessons a week, so it’s getting better every day.

‘We spend a lot of time with our friends, like Peter Grant and his wife Leigh-Anne.’

By Gareth Duncan