- Former Western Province and Sharks utility back Tim Swiel is back in South Africa after playing in England for five years.
- The former Harlequins and Newcastle player shares his views on South Africa's flyhalf depth and the overall strength of the local game.
- He also explains why it would be a good move for SA Rugby to head north.
Sport24 asked: How have you been handling lockdown in Cape Town?
Tim Swiel: It has been testing at times but I have actually enjoyed it. When the pandemic broke out, I was still in the UK and luckily I got home just in time. Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards gave me a frantic call and said, “Tim, you need to get home in the next 48 hours because the borders might shut soon.” I literally packed up six years of my stuff - from my time playing for Harlequins and Newcastle - drove down to London and boarded a flight to Cape Town the following evening. Once in Cape Town, two days before lockdown began I bought some gym equipment and set myself up nicely at home where I’m staying with my mom and brother. My good mate Kyle Sinckler and I liaise in terms of exercise programmes and do a few remote sessions a week. From a mental and emotional perspective, Kyle introduced me to his mentor at Saviour World and all in all I think I have grown a lot as a person over the last six months. My father passed away suddenly three months ago and lockdown has given me time to grieve the loss... I’m now in a better space and I feel for people who haven’t enjoyed the lockdown because you want to come out of it with a positive mindset. I think I’m in a position to do so. I’ve just completed my honours degree in Economics & Environmental Management through the Open University in the UK.
Sport24 asked: What attracted you to the teachings of Saviour World?
Tim Swiel: From the teachings of Saviour World, I’m feeling the progress and energy from the process. I have gained a huge amount of knowledge that has changed my life. The platform is knowledge for men and has taught me about my boundaries, controlling the ego, limiting expectations and not just living an external existence. Through the programme you are taught to see your craft as an art and mastering your craft is a huge driving factor. Through this journey, I have grown across the levels of consciousness and it has been amazing to see the progress. It has helped me at a time when I probably needed it the most. With all these learnings, the end goal is about creating my value to be able to serve others. I plumbed the depths exploring whether rugby was really what I wanted to do. We dug deep about that and I came out strong. My ‘why’ for playing the game has changed. I have forged a determination and inner-fire through what has happened with my dad and my main motivation is to be of service to others... I see James O’Connor has been on a good journey with Saviour World, which culminated in him being picked for the Wallabies Rugby World Cup squad last year. Similarly, Kyle Sinckler used to be quite aggressive on the field and was physically external but has gone on to become probably the best tighthead prop in the world. It’s inspiring to see those stories and a privilege to be on a similar mentoring journey. I haven’t drank alcohol for six months and the whole party scene, which you think makes you content, is not really what life is about. I have found balance in a new type of way now.
Sport24 asked: Do you feel you fulfilled your potential in the UK?
Tim Swiel: In hindsight, I probably didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked to in England but it wouldn’t have put me where I am now from a mental point of view. I went to England very early on in my career and had aspirations as one does. My style of rugby probably didn’t suit the English game, especially at flyhalf. Owing to the slower fields and the stronger defences, over there I was more suited to playing fullback. Through that I learned a lot and having an all-round knowledge of the game has taught me more about my craft. Going to the UK also made me really appreciate home more. If I had remained in South Africa over the last six years I don’t know how my journey would have turned out. Not having my family around was difficult but I used the loneliness as a tool to really internalise what I wanted in my life. I hold no regrets in terms of the decisions I made. I had an enjoyable four years at Harlequins. I have made lifelong friends and I will always be grateful to the fans for their support. I most recently had a good time at Newcastle where we won the Championship. Overall, I had some good years in England but I feel more South African than ever. The tragic passing of my father has given me a different drive and purpose. I received a lucrative offer from a Japanese club and, before all these instances occurred in the last six months, I would probably have gone for it but it’s all conspired for me to come home. (Swiel, who has been training with the Stormers, is linked to a Super Rugby contract).
Sport24 asked: How would you assess South Africa's flyhalf options?
Tim Swiel: Incumbent Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard has done very well over the years in South Africa and earned his move to Montpellier through sustained performance. At the Sharks, Curwin Bosch probably hasn’t enjoyed as much game time as he would have liked but has still been doing well and boasts a big boot. At the Stormers, Damian Willemse has chopped and changed between fullback and flyhalf. He is a very talented player and needs to settle in one position. Meanwhile, Elton Jantjies of the Lions has been in the system for a while and possesses pedigree at international level. There are a few spots up for grabs when it comes to national selection and everyone needs to keep working hard and enjoy what they do. In terms of playing No.10, when I was younger all I wanted to do was run and step. However, when you learn about the art of rugby you take responsibility and become the quarterback. Flyhalf is a position that, with age, you improve your knowledge of the game.
Sport24 asked: How do you rate the strength of South African rugby?
Tim Swiel: The Springboks are definitely steps ahead in terms of where they thought they would be in their journey so it’s good times for South African rugby. I think the goal for the Springboks was actually to win the 2023 World Cup but they exceeded their own expectations by claiming the title in Japan. In turn, England had a four-year plan with Eddie Jones and because they had longer to prepare there was probably a bit more expectation on them. It was only two years prior to the World Cup when things starting changing for the Springboks. The timing was great and it all worked out really well. Since the World Cup triumph, Jacques Nienaber has taken over as Springbok head coach but Rassie Erasmus is still involved so there is a transition with similar personnel. Meanwhile, provincial rugby in South Africa is very healthy and there is some serious talent. I think South Africa has the most talented schoolboy rugby system in the world. Good schoolboy players get an education through University and then filter into the professional set-up. Before you were sold a dream as a younger player with all the big academies but now it’s seems to be going back to an old-school outlook which will prove even more beneficial for professional rugby.
Sport24 asked: Your take on talk that South Africa could head north?
Tim Swiel: I’m sure the powers that be will weigh up all the factors when they make those decisions but I’m hearing about the north-south link involving South Africa or South African teams. If South Africa were to join an expanded Six Nations tournament it would be very interesting. You would go from hot weather on the Highveld to slow, wet fields in the UK. It would certainly be all-seasons type rugby. It definitely makes sense from a logistical standpoint. The flight to the UK is only about 12 hours and the countries in question share the same longitudinal profile which means that there is little to no time difference. It could be a good option and I think South Africa would do well in the competition if it came to pass. We saw how South Africa did against England in the World Cup final so there is no need to doubt that as the Springboks have built a blueprint courtesy of their World Cup win.