United Rugby Championship

Baffling toe injury allows refreshed Embrose Papier to learn from his post-2018 tumble

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Embrose Papier. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)
Embrose Papier. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)
  • Embrose Papier has no problem being one of the men in SA rugby that believes playing loyal to the local scene is still the best way to be a Springbok again.
  • It's that motivation that led to him extending his contract with the Bulls until 2024.
  • After three challenging years, struggling to cope with his competition with the now departed Ivan van Zyl, Papier is ready to apply those lessons he learnt.

If SA Rugby ever needs a poster boy for staying loyal to local franchise rugby because he believes it's the best way to still become a Springbok, then Embrose Papier is that candidate.

Hailed as a prodigy back in 2018, when he made seven appearances in Rassie Erasmus' first year as Springbok coach, the Bulls halfback has experienced three years of proverbial drought as injuries and a crisis of confidence took its toll.

But, in extending his contract at Loftus up to 2024, Papier has not only given a thumbs-up to Jake White's project but also harbours a dream to play international rugby again.

"Playing for the Boks again will always be in my mind," he said.

"I extended my contract here for that very reason."

Encouragingly, the 24-year-old from Clanwilliam makes a point of watching as much Springbok footage as he can, not to remind himself of the magnitude of the task of getting him higher up in the pecking order again but gain vital insights that he can apply to himself.

"All the scrumhalves in the national group are doing really well. It's very clear that they wouldn't be there if they didn't have the skill-set that Jacques Nienaber demands from them," he said.

"I watch all the games at any given weekend because I believe I can learn a lot from them. In the end, I do that because I want to focus on myself. I want to take every game step by step and just give my all."

And there's a distinct sense now that he has an ideal opportunity to do just that.

When White embarked on his big clean-out in mid-2020, there was mild speculation over whether the former Springbok coach would keep both Papier and Ivan van Zyl on the books given how the rotation system between them affected them negatively post-2018.

But the Bulls director of rugby was undaunted and found a way to make Van Zyl his first-choice while still keeping Papier happy as the energetic impact player.

Once Van Zyl made his move to English giants Saracens, his more mercurial team-mate was in a prime position to get ahead in his new race with Zak Burger, only to suffer the most frustrating of injuries.

"I tore ligaments in one of my big toes. It was very strange. I saw the specialist, put myself in a 'moon-boot' for a month, only to see that it wouldn't help. A month became six," said Papier.

"It was really tough time. At one stage, all I could do is sit on a couch with my feet up. The inactivity could've gotten to me, but in the end it made me stronger. 

"I worked really hard with (conditioning coach) Andre Volsteedt and I learnt a lot about myself. Also, I could focus on a few smaller things, like my passes and tactical kicking. 

"It was a nice time to refresh and 'find' myself again."

Wiser, Papier exhibits the type of body language that suggests this time round, he'll embrace the competition with Burger, Marco Jansen van Vuren and Keagan Johannes instead of wilting under pressure again.

"A guy like Zak is a brilliant player. He's brought a lot of tempo and game management to our game," he said.

"We really have a great bond going among us scrumhalves. We're always assisting each other, checking out where we all can improve. 

"Skills development is a collective effort for us. Competition has never been a bad thing."

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