Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, flyhalf GARTH APRIL talks about his Bulls contract being cancelled, his frosty exit from the Sharks to play in Japan and his sadness around Pat Lambie’s forced retirement.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to lose your Bulls deal due to a failed medical?
Garth April: I am very disappointed because I most definitely feel like I have unfinished business in Super Rugby. The last time I had a proper run in Super Rugby was in 2017 with the Sharks. I only played one game of Super Rugby last year and I was looking forward to playing at the Bulls. Before the Bulls signed me, my agent told them about my shoulder and that I had injured it playing club rugby in Japan. And they said, “Okay, we have to do a medical before we sign the contract.” However, I already signed the contract before we did the medical. I took the medical and then the specialist said that I have torn my labrum in my shoulder and I need to undergo surgery. (The labrum is a piece of rubbery tissue attached to the rim of the shoulder socket that helps keep the ball of the joint in place). The injury would keep me out for four to six months and I had signed a six-month contract. It’s obviously disappointing, but I’m going to have the surgery and will then do my rehab in Pretoria with the Bulls. They are definitely going to support me through the rehab process. You never want to be injured and always want to be playing. However, as soon as the surgery is done and the rehab begins, from past experience I take on a relaxed mindset and clear my mind of rugby. It’s sad that I can’t play now, but I’ll use the time to reflect and refresh. In terms of my surgery, I haven’t got a date yet, but the plan is to have it as soon as possible. I have been through a lot before and this (setback) is nothing new to me. I’ll look to keep my head up, carry on going and work hard.
Sport24 asked: At the age of 27, how would you assess your professional career?
Garth April: I would say my rugby career has very been up and down because of injury. Whenever I played season after season I did well for myself. I made my Super Rugby debut in 2016 and that same season I was selected for the Springboks. I had mixed emotions because I had only played 10 Super Rugby games at the time and, at first, I thought I wasn’t ready for Test rugby. It would have been a dream to play for the Boks, but it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t play, which was obviously disappointing, but I’m happy with where I am. Right now, I would say I’m a more matured rugby player. When I was younger, I used to try a lot of things and sometimes it came off and other times it didn’t. Now I know when to kick, run and pass. The older you get, the calmer you become. I’m mature now in terms of how I play the game. When I was younger, I was very naive and just wanted to run everything and get past people. Off-field, there are also aspects I have worked on. Everyone makes mistakes. When I was injured this one time at the Sharks, I was told to go for three sessions to the physiotherapist and I only went for one because I felt I knew my body. They didn’t like it and that was the type of lesson I learned. When you receive an instruction, you must get on with it… In terms of being accused of a lack of off-field discipline, I definitely feel that’s an unfair assessment. I know that if a meeting is scheduled for 9am and you walk in one minute past nine then you are late. People always make their own assumptions about everything and you really can’t please everyone.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Robert Du Preez’s man-management style?
Garth April: Coach Rob’s mood changes daily and there is no grey area for him. Sometimes a player doesn’t like it when the coach comes straight up to him and says, “Listen, this is what you are doing wrong.” With Coach Rob, there is no space in-between and it’s either right or it’s wrong. But I wouldn’t say he’s one of my least favourite coaches because I played a lot of games under him prior to last season. It was tough playing only once for the Sharks during the 2018 Super Rugby season, but Curwin Bosch and Robert du Preez Jnr are wonderful players. I asked the Sharks if I could go to Japan during the Currie Cup and they said, “No, we are going to need you for Currie Cup.” And I was like, “Yes, but everyone else is going to Japan (after Super Rugby) so why can’t I?” And then they just said if I go to Japan then I don’t have to come back (to the union). So I said to the COO of the Sharks, “I would rather head to Japan than stay put because I’m not getting backed at the Sharks anyway!”
Sport24 asked: Do you share the view that Japan’s Top League is weak?
Garth April: No. I don’t think that there is anything weak about that league. Super Rugby is more physical, but the speed and intensity of the game in Japan is very high. Playing in Japan and experiencing a different culture is something I had always wanted to do (April played for the NTT Shining Arcs) and hopefully in the near future I can go back to Japan. I would have loved to have played Super Rugby, but things didn’t work out. I don’t know if I’ll ever play in South Africa again. I’m getting older and a rugby career is short and you’ve got to look after yourself financially. You’ve got to give yourself the chance to be wealthy after rugby because post-career the reality hits. Overall, the contracts in Japan are much better than in South Africa, along with your longevity in the game. In terms of playing in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Japanese people are very passionate about rugby and every weekend the stadiums are full, which bodes well for the 2019 World Cup. From past experience, the fans wait long after the game is over to get signatures and pictures from the players.
Sport24 asked: What are your thoughts around Pat Lambie’s retirement?
Garth April: I used to room with Pat and it’s very sad that he has been forced to retire due to symptoms of concussion. (Lambie has hung up his boots at the age of 28, and Australian Anthony Fainga’a is the latest player to call time on his career owing to ongoing issues with concussion). I feel for him and I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Pat is probably the most humble guy I have ever known and he is a gentleman. I don’t know why it would happen to him, but I’m sure he made the right decision for the rest of his life because rugby is only a small part of it. I’m sure Pat will be sorted for life post-rugby... In terms of the rules of the game, there is a still a grey area as far what you can and can’t do, but I wouldn’t say rugby has become more dangerous. However, you only need to get a head knock in a tackle and it’s all over. But when I take to the field, running the risk of injury isn’t at the back of my mind. If you think like that you limit yourself between the lines.
Sport24 asked: Your view on South African side’s Super Rugby chances?
Garth April: The Lions are the favourites from the South African conference right now because they have played in the last three Super Rugby finals. However, this season I have a feeling the Sharks can definitely finish top of the South African conference. They have always had a good team with Springbok players, but they haven’t been able to break through the barrier. Their success in Super Rugby has been a long time coming and hopefully it will happen this season. Meanwhile, at the Bulls there have been changes in terms of management and playing personnel, so it’s almost like a fresh start. However, Pote Human is highly experienced and he knows what he’s doing. With a number of Springboks in the mix, and the addition of veterans Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits to complement the young players in the group, I think the Bulls will do more than well this season. In terms of the Cape franchise, when I was younger I always wanted to play for the Stormers. However, it never came to pass because I wasn’t offered the security of a long-term contract. In terms of the union’s off-field issues, as a player you don’t want to get involved in that and want to do what you’re there for. You can’t be looking at things like that (boardroom battles) because you’re just going to do harm to yourself. Mentally, the Stormers players need to focus on the job at hand out on the pitch.
Sport24 asked: Who would be your three dream dinner guests and why?
Garth April: My first guest would be Tiger Woods. He has won 80 official PGA Tour events and is a legend of golf. I would also invite comedian Kevin Hart because he makes me laugh like no one else. He would definitely sit next to me at the table all night long. Rafa Nadal would also crack an invite. He is one of my sporting heroes. He has already achieved so much and is still fighting so hard for everything. It would be great to gain insight into his mental strength and what it takes to stay on top.