- Former Lions loose forward Ernst Joubert talks about coming full circle by returning to live and work in Stellenbosch and how his team are cultivating the next crop of rugby talent.
- The ex-Saracen shares his views on South Africa’s big four franchises joining an expanded PRO16 competition and which local sides will adapt most expediently in the Rainbow Cup.
- He also offers his opinion on Siya Kolisi’s much vaunted move to the Sharks and explains why he feels the change could well breathe new life into the Springbok captain’s career.
Sport24 asked: How did you end up becoming head of SASRII?
Ernst Joubert: Fresh from having played in England, I became the link with the overseas market and was soon appointed head of the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport Rugby International Institute. We have been running the academy since 2017 and it has picked up gradually. It’s exciting to see the (Remgro-funded) project grow and we are also fortunate to have Neil de Kock involved within the rugby division. We have evolved to coaching the coaches and have had guest coaches such as John Mitchell, Phil Davies, Matt Proudfoot and Gregor Townsend for seminars. While my role is primarily recruitment of players for our five-month programme to fit in with the overseas market, I can’t run away from the hands-on coaching. It gets really hot in Stellenbosch during the day so we have 6am sessions and put the players through their paces to show them what professionalism is all about. Corne Uys is our head coach and I serve as assistant and work with the forwards and help with some attacking stuff as well. I am lucky that my work is only a 3km Vespa ride from home every morning!
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to be back where it all started?
Ernst Joubert: I went to school in Stellenbosch and played Craven Week. I then took a gap year to England on a holiday visa. On my return, I eventually ended up in the Maties under-20 team. I went on to captain the Western Province under-21 team, but back then the Stormers were stacked with decent loose forwards and I never actually got the opportunity to get that senior professional contract. At 22, I played a game for Maties against Tukkies and luckily Eugene Eloff was there on the day. He came to me after the match and asked me if I was keen to join the Lions. That was a fantastic opportunity because I have always been a Lion. My grandad played for the Lions and my dad grew up in Johannesburg and was a staunch Lions supporter. Having been born in Ceres and living in Stellenbosch, I would have ideally played for the Stormers and Western Province, but representing the Lions fell into place. It was amazing when the opportunity to move to Johannesburg arose because they had always been my team and a change of scenery was good for me. It was the perfect time to leave Stellenbosch and play in the big city. I loved every second of my time in Joburg.
Sport24 asked: Your reflections on your six-year Saracens career?
Ernst Joubert: It was amazing. We had all heard of this family business before in rugby and it can be quite hard to manage, but as Saracens we pulled it off. The wives and girlfriends had coffee mornings and the kids had a crèche at the club. It was about ensuring that the players focused solely on rugby and the Saracens motto was, “We will treat the players unbelievably well and in return they will work unbelievably hard” and that is exactly what happened. The hard-working culture that was forged during my time at Saracens helped towards the success... At the moment, the top dogs at Saracens haven’t played a lot of rugby and it kind of showed against Scotland. I’m 100% sure that England will bounce back. With regards to the current Saracens side, I hardly know the players at the moment – it’s a really young squad playing in the Championship. Once the top players come back it will be a different story. Owing to relegation, Saracens don’t have the depth they used to, but they still boast quality players. The young players now just need to make the step up and get used to the level. Saracens have always been good with their recruitment – they have the right players – it will just be a question of time to push through. I have heard that there might not be relegation next year and rumour is they want to pull two Championship teams into the Premiership and make it a 14-team competition which is ring-fenced. But if that doesn’t happen, Saracens will still bounce back.
Sport24 asked: Do you regret not having played international rugby?
Ernst Joubert: I obviously have massive regrets having never worn the green and gold, but you have to be good enough to play Test rugby. I gave my best, it didn’t happen and I probably have to tell myself that I just wasn’t good enough and that’s the reason I didn’t make it. 2007 was probably the closest I ever came to national selection when Jake White rested the frontline Springboks during the Tri-Nations. It was always a struggle when I was at the Lions because at that point we were probably the fifth biggest union. There weren’t a lot of Springboks in our team and the selectors may have turned a bit of a blind-eye. I don’t have sleepless nights having never turned out for South Africa, but every now and then I watch a Test and think to myself it must be quite amazing to put on the green and gold. Playing for the Springboks would have been the ultimate because as a kid I just wanted to play for the national team. It didn’t happen, but I loved every minute of my rugby. I am pleased with what I achieved. It was special to have played against the Springboks in 2009 for Saracens at Wembley. (Joubert scored a try for Saracens during their famous 24-23 victory over the Springboks).
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of an expanded PRO16 series?
Ernst Joubert: It was time to see our top teams in a different competition and now we’ve got that. I’m extremely excited and not just for the Rainbow Cup, but for the long-term as well. Owing to Covid-19, I don’t know if the Rainbow Cup will happen this year, but it will be great if it can. I’m excited to see South African players measure themselves against their northern counterparts, but obviously a number of our top players are playing in England and France. It will be good to see the new breed of players who are top in South Africa at the moment take part against the best in Europe. A number of people find northern hemisphere rugby boring, but many forget that when you play for such a long time in the north you go from autumn and winter to spring and almost summer again. You can go from playing an ugly kicking game in the snow where you brawl it out to throwing the ball around on a green field. In the north, you have to have a balance in terms of the way you play and can’t just focus on one game plan. From a South African perspective, the Bulls and Sharks in particular have a strong kicking strategy coupled with an effective attacking game and will do well.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Siya Kolisi’s impending Sharks transfer?
Ernst Joubert: It’s a good move for the Sharks and a massive loss for Western Province and the Stormers. In terms of WP Rugby, I don’t want to get involved with the boardroom stuff, but as a player you want to know that your house is in order. And if you are not too sure that it is, it’s very hard to always perform. It becomes quite stressful when you and your family sit and read the news. You then see other unions making good calls and progressing. With Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee being very exciting and bringing in new ideas, I think it will be a breath of fresh air for Kolisi to play for the Durban-based franchise. He left the Eastern Cape as a youngster and joined the Western Province Rugby Institute. He has been in the Western Cape ever since and a change may be as good as a holiday. I think he will slot right in at the Sharks. Siya has been a fantastic leader in South African rugby both on and off-field. He has given hope to the nation and there is plenty of pressure on him, which makes it quite hard to stay a quality player with all stuff he’s got going on off the field. However, he continues to take everything in his stride, which shows why Rassie Erasmus picked him.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests. Who gets the golden tickets?
Ernst Joubert: Aside from sport, music is one of my biggest passions. I would invite Bono as I was a massive U2 fan back in the day. However, in recent times he has become very political, which might make it a bit tense. From a sporting perspective, I would extend an invitation to Zinzan Brooke. Back in the day, we all wanted to play like him and drop kick as a No.8. Last but certainly not least would be my wife Minki (van der Westhuizen). Apart from being a fantastic wife and mother, she is amazing at what she does. She is a natural in front of the camera, but people don’t see her behind-the-scenes preparation. I admire the way she steps up and cracks on with it because I’d probably freak out in the same position... I’ve got the weekend to think about Valentine’s Day plans, but there are four females to entertain! (Joubert has three daughters with Minki, whom he married in 2012).