RYAN VREDE, in Dublin, reports that Schalk Brits says his time in Europe has refined him into a player capable of adapting his style to suit any match situation.
There’s a lingering perception of Brits in South Africa as a player who shuns the tighter disciplines of hooker play in favour of headline-grabbing attempts in the wider channels. However, those who have tracked his career at Saracens closely will attest to that perception being flawed.
Certainly there was a time in his career where that would be a legitimate accusation, but now it will not stand up to stern examination, with Brits having honed his craft in an environment that will expose front-row pretenders.
‘There were people who said I wouldn’t survive at Saracens because of the focus on scrummaging, driving and playing tight as a hooker. But I’ve learned to love those things, especially scrummaging,’ Brits said. ‘It isn’t just a way to start a game here [in Europe], it is a way of milking penalties. Overall I’ve learned to adapt my style to the match situation and I think I’ve been successful. There’s times when I need to be tighter and times I need to shine.’
YouTube examples of Brits ‘shining’ are plentiful, which made it quite a surprise when he endorsed the Springboks’ style, which is widely perceived to be conservative.
‘Somehow along the way we’ve lost touch with our strengths as South Africans. We’re moving back there now. I’m glad we’re going back to the core of what makes us special,’ he offered.
‘We’ve always succeeded when we’ve been on point with our kicking game and we’ve also got massive guys who like to be physical. That’s what we’re good at. We shouldn’t try to be anything we’re not. I know I’ve been known to play a bit differently but it will be great to get back to that South African style of rugby. There’s freedom in that structure and we’ve got the players to take advantage of that freedom.
‘But as a starting point we need to dominate Ireland at the set phases from the get go and eliminate the energy they’ll bring to those facets of play. We also need to play for field position.’
Brits was philosophical about his call-up, which he initially thought was a ‘piss take’ from mates (‘They’ve done that to me before’), explaining he has learned some hard lessons in his time in the Test wilderness.
‘All I can do now is be the best I can in the situation I find myself in, whether that be holding a tackle bag, playing 20 seconds or 20 minutes. One thing I learned from my four years out of this team is that you can’t take anything for granted. In 2008 I played my last Test and didn’t think I’d wait this long to play another.
‘When I signed with Saracens I knew the probability of playing for the Springboks was next to nothing. I’ve played my best rugby in the last three years and I haven’t been picked so I never thought this day will come again.’