Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, speedster ROSKO SPECMAN talks about adapting to the Bulls’ playing style, James Small’s death and the Currie Cup clash with Western Province at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your debut Super Rugby season?
Rosko Specman: It was a blessing to be afforded the opportunity to play for a Super Rugby team and make my debut at the age of 29. The fact that it wasn’t the first time that I played the 15-man game made it much easier for me to switch codes. However, the most frustrating aspect for me was role of the wings at the Bulls. There weren’t a lot of times where the ball was spread wide to the wings, so every time when Cornal (Hendricks) and I got the ball, we would try to do something special because we never knew when we would get it again! The whole game plan around the wings was to kick-chase and put the opposition under pressure. It was frustrating for me because you never know when you are going to be in a move, whereas in Sevens I was the guy making the moves and decisions. I was happy with my debut against the Stormers at Loftus and the fact that I scored two tries. But, as the season progressed, opponents identified me as one of the more dangerous players on the field and tried to keep the ball away from me or close my space… I finished with five tries for the season and, when I wasn’t dotting down I was keeping the opponents busy and Cornal was scoring tries. While we didn’t crack the play-offs, we are putting the correct processes in place. I believe the overall strength of our Super Rugby campaign was because our team was well-balanced.
Sport24 asked: What did you make of Sevu Reece’s try-scoring exploits?
Rosko Specman: The nice thing about the Crusaders is that they give their wings the space. Reece, who ended the Super Rugby season as the leading try-scorer with 15 dot downs, is an overall finisher but the Crusaders create space for him. If Cornal and I were in the Crusaders set-up, who knows where we would end up in terms of the try-scoring charts? The thing about the Crusaders is that they make sure that they bring their key players into the game. Whereas, at other unions they know that they have dangerous attacking players but they don’t use them as effectively. The South African mindset is more about wanting to play with our forwards, and if that doesn’t work then we will kick. There are times when you need to put the ball through the hands, try to find the space and move the defence. When you move the defenders around, you create space. That is how Kiwi teams play.
Sport24 asked: How does the level of Super Rugby compare to the PRO14?
Rosko Specman: Having played in both competitions, I can say that the PRO14 is a more forward-dominated type of play with a focus on the tight-five. It was pleasing to see the Cheetahs move the ball more this season. Rabz Maxwane scored a record-equalling 14 tries in the PRO14 and was named in the PRO14’s Dream Team for the 2018/19 season. However, in general, Super Rugby is harder and quicker and the players are more open-minded in terms of their decision-making. In Super Rugby, the guys score tries from nowhere, whereas the PRO14 is slower and all about your tight-five. I think Super Rugby is a higher standard of competition because you play against world-class players. I wouldn’t say the PRO14 isn’t world-class because there are some big-name players there, but sometimes the top teams that you play against are more like their second-stringers because they are involved in other European competitions, which run concurrently with the PRO14. At times they prioritise certain fixtures over others and can do that because they boast two teams.
Sport24 asked: How did you hear about the death of former Bok James Small?
Rosko Specman: Cornal and I were having coffee on Wednesday and he told me that he had heard on the radio about James having died from a heart attack. Your heart attacking your body is something you can’t control and three years ago Cornal was also having those problems. It was almost time to end his career, but Cornal has a fighting spirit and never gave up. James didn’t have the same opportunity and we don’t know what he was going through. A number of past players go through emotional stuff at the conclusion of their career, which can lead up to a heart attack in some cases. At the age of 50, it’s young to have a heart attack and it’s a very sad loss for South African rugby. Looking back on his career, James was one of those guys who were always hard-core and if there was a brick wall, he would try to run straight through it. The Springboks had a nice balance back in the day, with Chester Williams and Small on the respective wings. At the 1995 World Cup, Chester would look to find space, whereas James made his own space and took defenders on.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your career with the Springbok Sevens?
Rosko Specman: My time with the Blitzboks taught me a lot of things I didn’t know about rugby. I learned how to identify space, how do put other players into good positions and how to make reads on defence. I found out that you get different types of defences – slide, rush and drift. Playing for the Blitzboks also helped me with all my individual skills and I have now put it together in the 15-man code. I must say Sevens takes your body to the next level. At training you don’t have long breaks because it’s short and sharp and the running we did in Stellenbosch was intense. We made sure we trained twice as hard. In terms of someone like Kwagga Smith, the reason he is so quick on the field is thanks to the Sevens environment that has given him all the tools. It shows that if you have all the elements in your toolbox then you can be an amazing rugby player for club and country. In terms of the family environment at the Blitzboks, it was the people that created the culture and I will always have a soft spot for Sevens because that is where I was born from a rugby point of view.
Sport24 asked: Does Cheslin Kolbe’s national call-up also serve as inspiration?
Rosko Specman: Cheslin has opened up so many doors for young players who thought you had to be this size and weigh that much to make it to the top. Cheslin has shown the world that size doesn’t matter and it’s all about what you believe in and what you know you can achieve. He has achieved many things in his career. He has won the French Top 14 and is now with the Springboks preparing for the Rugby Championship and World Cup... The reason I made the move from Sevens to the 15-man game is because I dream of playing for the Springboks. I also wanted to give myself the opportunity to show my talent in the 15-man code. It all comes down to opportunity and I feel privileged to play Super Rugby and put myself in the shop window for national team selection. Many other guys don’t get the chance to play at this level and so I said to myself, “If I get an opportunity to do this I will give it my all.” I have the opportunity and must ensure I use it to the best of my abilities.
Sport24 asked: Your viewpoint ahead of the upcoming Currie Cup season?
Rosko Specman: I think we have a good squad who can win the Currie Cup and if we take the competition, which only comprises a single round, game by game I believe we can be successful. There is something about playing against Western Province that always brings the best out of me and I am up for the challenge at Newlands on Saturday. It’s always nice to play against your friends - I have a few in the Province team - but on the day you put friendships aside when you cross the line.