Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, RUAN COMBRINCK talks about taking the long road to success, whether the Springboks require a full-time kicking coach and why he feels the All Blacks aren’t unbeatable.
Sport24 asked: After starring for the Springboks, how tough has it been dealing with injury?
Ruan Combrinck: My injury (a leg fracture) wasn’t ideal and was obviously not something that I wished for, but I believe that everything in life happens for the perfect reason. My time away from the playing field has allowed me to overcome other slight niggles and I’m very satisfied with how my rehabilitation has gone. I have recovered much faster than the doctors expected I would. I’m well on track for a return to competitive action and am actually hoping to be back playing the game by the end of the month. If all goes well, maybe I can get a match in the Currie Cup or Rugby Championship.
Sport24 asked: Why did you refer to your rise to national level as an emotional journey?
Ruan Combrinck: It’s because there is so much that has happened in my life. I had to walk somewhat of a longer road than most other rugby players to get to where I am today. That made it even more special. My Springbok debut against Ireland was the most perfect day of my life. At first, playing for my country was a fairy-tale that I could only dream about. However, through good genes, hard work and discipline it became a reality. The talent you get is what God gives you, and what you do with your talent is what you give back to him. I believe one of the biggest reasons for my success is that I have grown as a person. When you grow as an individual off the field and adopt a mindset of striving for excellence, it’s only a matter of time before you succeed. I’m still very far away from being the “ultimate athlete” as Warren Whiteley has kindly described me as, but I’m striving for excellence every day. I realise my responsibilities as a professional athlete, and I know that it’s not worth skipping an hour of recovery to have a good time with my friends or to go out hunting. It’s about living with self-discipline, and my more mature off-field conduct has brought me on-field rewards.
Sport24 asked: You possess a strong kicking game, how have you honed that facet of play?
Ruan Combrinck: I have been fortunate enough to follow my father Cobus’s words of wisdom. When I was growing up, he always said to me: “Listen son, if you want to become a Springbok one day, you have got to kick like Naas Botha – off the left and right foot and with good distance out of hand.” So every day during the week, as a boarder, and every weekend on the family farm, we would always have internal competitions to see who could kick the ball furthest and most effectively off both feet. Thankfully, all the years of practice seem to have paid off. I have learnt over the years that you don’t always need to attack by running with ball in hand; you can also attack by kicking the ball into space.
Sport24 asked: Some say a full-time kicking coach would benefit the Boks. Your impression?
Ruan Combrinck: Louis Koen was with us for the duration of the June Test series against Ireland. He is an awesome kicking coach, but what I felt was that it took away a bit of our recovery time here and off time there because instead of having two field sessions per day, we had to have three. A full-time kicking coaching could work and may prove helpful, but at Springbok level the truth of the matter is that we are extremely pressed for time. Furthermore, I feel that there are enough talented kickers within our ranks and everyone has done many years of kicking. For me, said discipline ultimately needs to be honed at the various unions around the country rather than at national level. I’m aware that all eyes are on Elton Jantjies because he has missed a few kicks at goal of late, but I maintain he remains a great goal-kicker – his kicking stats during Super Rugby spoke for themselves.
Sport24 asked: The All Blacks have won the Rugby Championship comfortably. Are they beatable?
Ruan Combrinck: The All Blacks have been a step ahead of the rest of the world and have just proven that again by clinching the Rugby Championship with two rounds to spare. However, at the Lions, we beat four of the five New Zealand sides in Super Rugby and nobody is unbeatable. I firmly believe that if you employ the correct game plan against them, you can win. There is a way to beat them and I believe the Boks will find that way. At the Lions, we enjoyed positive results against New Zealand teams because we strove to play the type of rugby they play. The coaching team of Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira possess an attacking mindset and always find new ways to develop. For instance, instead of kicking it out of your own half, we try to have a go and exploit the opposition’s weaknesses. What New Zealand teams do is have a go on attack and if it’s not working they kick it. There is always going to be a hole because there are three of four men at the back, but when they come up there is space at the back. It all comes down to the principle of attacking space.
Sport24 asked: The Springbok defence has been poor. What technical improvements are required?
Ruan Combrinck: It’s important to remember that defence is not just about having the right attitude and smashing people backwards, it’s also about getting your footwork right before you make contact. Each year, the skills and attacking prowess of players improve, which is why you always have to work on your defence. To offer an example, on Sunday I watched the Top14 match between Toulon and Racing Metro. Welsh international Leigh Halfpenny is such a great defender, however, his footwork left him sitting for every defender. He was guilty of conceding two soft tries. As players, that is something that we can all look at and work on, so that we don’t make the self-same mistakes.
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