JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Hooker Schalk Brits has breathed new life into a rugby career that appeared over when he retired after leaving Saracens in May, but is now fighting for a place in South Africa’s squad for the World Cup in Japan.
Brits, 37, had said he was ready to simply enjoy ‘beer and biltong’ when he called time on his career last year, but was coaxed into a return to the game by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and signed for the Bulls in Super Rugby.
A calf injury meant he has been eased into the Pretoria-based side this season but was immense as he played 63 minutes in the surprise 30-12 victory over the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, the first time the latter have lost to South African opposition in four years.
“It was tough, we are sore, the Lions are a physical pack,” a beaming Brits told reporters. “We came out and executed our plan well, we wanted to match and dominate from a set-piece point of view.
“The coaches came up with clever plans, not always just using brute force, but being a bit cleverer from an attacking perspective. Our defence held up against a very good attacking force.”
Erasmus sees Brits as an important element in his Bok World Cup squad, even if he will likely be the third-choice hooker behind Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi.
His calmness, experience and all-action style are valued, on and off the pitch.
Eleven years in international rugby have yielded only 11 Bok caps but Brits said it was never about recognition.
“For me it is about just having fun,” he says. “People always said I must prove to Jake (White) why I must be picked, but for me it has never been about that.
“For me it is always about work ethic. If you get out there, work hard, enjoy it and have the physicality, I love the physical aspect, then it is great.
“After the first (Super Rugby) game against the Stormers, I was so sore I couldn’t get out of bed, even though I played only 37 minutes!
“My wife asked me, ‘why do you do this to yourself?’, but it is just the fun part, that is the biggest part of rugby.”
It is likely that the World Cup in Japan - his second after featuring for the Boks in 2015 - will be his swansong but Brits has refused to put a limit on his playing time as his career enjoys a second wind.
“I will just push as hard as I can and then have a look in the mirror,” he said. “If I feel I did not push hard enough then I will have a word with myself... I just want to go out and do as much as I can. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t.
“I don’t fear losing. I fear not trying my best and I fear not being physical. Those are the things I always want to bring.”
Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Sudipto Ganguly