TOYOTA CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Schalk Brits was celebrating his retirement from rugby with cocktails in Ibiza when he received an SOS from South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus to be part of the Springboks build-up to the World Cup in Japan.
Sixteen months later and the hooker will not only captain the side in their Pool B clash against minnows Namibia at the City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday, but start the game at number eight, where he has not featured for more than a decade.
Erasmus was open with Brits about the fact that he would be the third-choice hooker in the squad, but wanted him on board for his experience, leadership qualities and versatility.
“When Rassie spoke to me I was sipping cocktails in Ibiza,” Brits told reporters in Toyota City on Friday. “But he had a great vision for this team. When you consider where we were 18 months ago to where we are now, it has been an upward path.”
Brits had already accepted a job at investment company Remgro following his decision to call it quits in May 2018, but has put that on hold to answer the call of the Boks and have another shot at a World Cup title having been part of the squad that finished third in 2015.
“I can always do an 8am-5pm job, but I can’t always play (for the Boks). Remgro said to me, ‘if you start working at the age of 37 or 38, it doesn’t make a difference. So go live your dream and we’ll see you here later’.
“It’s been a great decision. It is unbelievable to be part of this group of players.”
Brits has only 13 caps since making his debut in 2008, with Saturday his third start and first appearance at the back of scrum.
It is not a totally new experience for him though having played there in patches for South African Super Rugby side the Stormers before his move to Saracens in 2009.
“In general play I am mostly on the wings anyway, but I played number eight quite a bit for the Stormers,” he said. “I would start the game at hooker and then move there in the second half when it opened up.
“So it has been a while, but I’m looking forward to the challenge, and to playing with Kwagga (Smith) and Francois (Louw) in the loose trio, even if it is probably the shortest one in world rugby!”
Brits was part of the Bok squad that famously lost to Japan at the 2015 World Cup in England, though he did not play that day, and says the memory of that humiliation will drive the side against neighbours Namibia.
“We can’t make our calls in Afrikaans because they will understand,” he joked.
“But for us it is about focusing on the process and not the result. I was part of the group that lost to Japan, so I know that feeling when you should win and you don’t.”
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty