Schalk Brits is an exceptional rugby player who would add immense value to the Springboks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and SA Rugby should invest in the recently-retired 37-year-old in the build-up to the game’s showpiece event in Japan.
Since making his debut for Saracens against London Irish in 2009, Brits has established himself as one of best players to have turned out for the Londoners. The former Stormers hooker only seemed to become better with age and, until hanging up his boots in May, had won all that was on offer in England, including two Champions Cups and four Aviva Premiership titles.
Brits has risen to rugby royalty since opting to trade Table Mountain for Big Ben, and was recently hailed by a UK scribe as “the most amazing rugby player” he’d ever seen. Such was his success at the newly-crowned champions of England that many members of the European media struggled to comprehend how it was that an individual of such obvious talents had not played at least 50 times for his country of birth.
Likewise, the 10-capped Brits expressed regret at not having run out in the Green and Gold on more occasions. He often insinuated that he had more to give, and that the intense knowledge gained from having spent so long overseas could be of huge benefit to the Boks.
Last week, Erasmus persuaded Brits to postpone a holiday in Ibiza to come out of fortnight’s retirement to provide the Boks with some much-needed experience. In the injury-enforced absences of hookers Malcolm Marx and Bismarck du Plessis, and in the midst of a three-match Test series against England, Erasmus felt that Brits had all the ingredients required to make the difference.
Brits is set to play off the bench in this series’ final Test, and he will therefore add a series-win against England to his fourth Premiership medal as he rides off into the sunset in what may be his final appearance in a professional rugby match.
That is, however, unless Erasmus has come down with a mild case of “Jake White fever”. Appointed Bok coach in 2004, White was unhappy at a lack of quality options at loosehead prop and he coaxed the legendary Os du Randt out of retirement to strengthen his squad.
The rest, of course, is history, with Du Randt going on to play a prominent role in the Boks’ triumph at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Bongi Mbonambi was splendid in the first two Tests against England, while Akker van der Merwe looked to be his industrious self whenever he came off the bench. Chiliboy Ralepelle and the France-based Bismarck are two other conservative options Erasmus could opt to pick as backups to Marx at hooker.
But Brits offers something different than these options; something more. He may not be a World Cup winner like Du Plessis, but it’s Brits’ human qualities that would benefit the current Boks. Word out of the national setup is that he has had an all-encompassing grin glued to his face since he arrived. It is exactly this kind of vibrancy the Boks need to shake the painful memories of the past two seasons.
Erasmus believes that Brits, who would be 38 at the time of next year’s World Cup, could potentially still make a difference. Both men need to be backed.
It is in SA Rugby’s best interests to keep Brits in the local system for another year by contracting him to play Super Rugby in 2019, perhaps for a team like the Bulls, who lack a world-class hooker aside from Adriaan Strauss.
He’d obviously need careful management, especially considering the immediacy of the World Cup, but this can be accomplished with the newly-struck partnership between Erasmus and SA Rugby.
Adding Brits’ experience and personality to the World Cup squad would be a masterstroke.
Follow Shaun on Twitter: @ShaunGoosie
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