Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, COBUS REINACH talks about adapting to life at Northampton Saints, a potential Springbok recall and what lies in wait for South Africa on their end-of-year tour to Europe.
Sport24 asked: How have you adapted since signing for the Saints in 2017?
Cobus Reinach: Moving from Durban to the East Midlands took some getting used to, especially in the beginning. Durban is always hot and sunny, but in Northampton the skies are generally cloudy and the fields are wet. But to quote the song from Frozen: “The cold never bothered me anyway.” When it was snowing last December, I went outside in my boxers and made snow angels! Off the field, what I have found most challenging is trying to find the sun, but I have settled into my new surroundings thanks to my teammates and the supporters making me feel so welcome. The Saints supporters truly are in a league of their own and they have made my stay at Franklin Gardens memorable thus far. It’s a big move for anyone coming alone to the UK and luckily enough I have got my beautiful wife Frances with me. You need someone to come home to and say: “Hello, how was your day?” Frances has been a constant source of support and I’m lucky to have her in my life. In terms of the club environment, for me, one of the best parts about it is that we have got four South Africans in the mix. (Heinrich Brussow is also a Saint). It’s funny because some of the local boys get angry when we speak Afrikaans to each other in the locker-room and they say: “No, you’re not allowed to talk it.” However, we just naturally speak in our mother tongue and some of the lads in the team say they would like to learn Afrikaans, which is cool! As far as on the field is concerned, to be honest the adaptation was difficult at first in rugby terms. Owing to the weather conditions and style of play in the northern hemisphere, the game is more controlled and driven by the scrumhalf... The start of the 2018/19 Premiership season has definitely been a challenge (with two wins from six matches) and the amount of games we have won isn’t showing what we have done because we have played some good rugby. We have lost matches where I don’t think the other teams have beaten us - we have kind of thrown it away at the end. What we are working on in training every week is the little parts of our game to get the results and we see the big picture at the end of the day. There is so much to look forward to this season and we will keep climbing. It’s still early season and we are right on a knife’s edge in terms of turning it around. (The Saints are coming off a 35-21 European Challenge Cup victory over the Dragons. Reinach, who came off the bench in the second half, endured a bitter-sweet outing. He scored an enterprising long-range try, but was then sin-binned).
Sport24 asked: How would you compare your game to that of Faf de Klerk’s?
Cobus Reinach: First and foremost, Faf has been playing really well and boasts plenty of confidence. He has always been a great number nine and has been performing out of this world. In terms of comparing our playing styles, Faf and I both like to run with the ball and we don’t mind defending, so I wouldn’t say we are too different as players. (De Klerk and Reinach are also similar in stature - the former stands 1.72m tall and weighs 80kg, while the latter is 1.75m and tips the scales at 84kg). Myself and Faf are dangerous when we get front-foot ball, but we have also learned how to adapt our games. I have been working on my kicking game every day, so it has improved a lot. When the weather gets bad in the UK, everything tightens up. Consequently, your No 9s have to control the game and make plenty of tackles. I don’t mind putting my body on the line and won’t shy away from contact. I have been working hard in the gym and on the field, so confidence is up to be physical and try to dominate. At the end of the day, you have to be physical and put your head in where it hurts.
Sport24 asked: Do you see yourself playing for the Springboks once again?
Cobus Reinach: I would definitely love to play for the Springboks again and I don’t think there is any South African rugby player who wouldn’t want to. (Reinach featured in the last of 10 Tests for South Africa against Argentina in 2015). I don’t know who’s available or not and who will be chosen, but that doesn’t really matter. Rassie Erasmus has to select who he believes to be the best. If that is me and I’m afforded an opportunity, I will put my hand up and be ready for it. What can I do for the Springboks? I will bring my best and if that is good enough and everyone brings their best, I believe we can win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. It was definitely disappointing missing out on 2015 World Cup selection. (Reinach came off the bench in four Rugby Championship matches in 2015, but missed the World Cup cut). That is never a highlight to look back on, but there is always a next time. If, and when, I get selected for national duty, my standard of play will be up to the quality expected at Test level... Earning my debut for the Springboks against the Wallabies in 2014 was special, even if I wasn’t on the field for long. (Reinach replaced Francois Hougaard for the final five minutes). It’s an awesome feeling wearing the green and gold and getting a good win. My first Test start against England in front of a full stadium at Twickenham was also memorable. We beat them 31-28 and I scored a try. I was selected for the 2014 end-of-year tour to the northern hemisphere and really enjoyed it on a personal front. We played against Ireland, England, Italy and Wales and came away with two wins from four matches. (With incumbent De Klerk’s availability for the Test matches against England, France, Scotland and Wales in doubt, the door is open for Reinach to claim a recall).
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the current state of Springbok rugby?
Cobus Reinach: The Springboks are definitely back on track. For me, the Boks are, and will always be, a team to be feared and respected and I think that they are showing it at the moment. Tactically, I think the Boks have been very good. They have been attacking when it’s on and have been kicking when they need some territory. They are actually trying to get the ball back and put teams under pressure. It’s about just making sure the basics are good and when you need to kick, to put it on the mark and then run when it’s on. However, no international match is easy. We face England in the first Test of the autumn internationals next month and they are going to be physical and tough to play against. While they have a number of experienced players out with injury, there are younger players coming through who will try to prove a point ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. In spite of their lengthy injury list, I believe England are going to be dangerous opponents. They are big and physical and are going to be come for us. I foresee new assistant coach John Mitchell bringing physicality and structure to their defence... With matches against France, Scotland and Wales as well, it’s definitely a difficult set of fixtures for South Africa. Any international team for that matter is going to be tough on the day - it doesn’t matter who you play. France and Scotland showed what they can do in the most recent Six Nations campaign and we need to get one back on Wales, having lost on the 2017 autumn tour and in Rassie’s opening match at the helm in Washington DC in June.