Former England centre Brad Barritt chats to Sport24

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Saracens’ Brad Barritt applauds the fans as he leaves the field dejected following his side's 10-3 defeat to Munster during the European Champions Cup match at Thomond Park in Limerick on 7 December 2019.
Saracens’ Brad Barritt applauds the fans as he leaves the field dejected following his side's 10-3 defeat to Munster during the European Champions Cup match at Thomond Park in Limerick on 7 December 2019.
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  • Recently retired Saracens skipper Brad Barritt talks about the leadership lessons over a 15-year professional career and how Siya Kolisi has handled the weight of national captaincy.
  • The former Sharks centre assesses South Africa's midfield options and explains why Damian de Allende has been unfairly criticised by the media and public based upon his style of play.
  • He also reveals whether he has any regrets of playing for England, for whom he won 26 caps, rather than earning Springbok selection having represented the Junior and Emerging teams.

Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your 15-year career?

Brad Barritt: It was a very strange ending to my Saracens career in many ways. (Barritt earned 262 caps, won five Premiership titles and three Champions Cups). My last game was the European Cup semi-final in which I unfortunately suffered a head knock in the final 10 minutes. I was hoping to play in a European Cup final but it wasn't to be. I sadly also had to miss the last home Premiership game but I reflect on my time at Saracens from 2008 to 2020 very fondly. I have some incredible memories and have forged even more special friendships from my time there. I am very grateful for the career I had and have been a professional since 2005. With the modern game how it is and the amount of matches I have played, I can count myself very fortunate to have been a part of some great teams. Aside from Saracens, I played for the Sharks from 2006 to 2008. On the Test front I played for England and the British and Irish Lions. I’m very thankful for the career I have had and the people who have helped me along the way. It was probably last September when my family and I already made the call that this would be my last year at Saracens. I have two young sons and we were yearning to have more family connection. We made the decision for the greater good of the family and I made peace with the fact that my time in rugby would ultimately be coming to an end.

Sport24 asked: How have you prepared for life after rugby?

Brad Barritt: I have always had my mind on ensuring a smooth transition post-rugby. (Barritt is currently settled back in South Africa). Straight after school I followed an academic path. I initially started with a Business Science degree and then moved onto a BCom and completed it through correspondence. When I went to the UK I also started a Master’s in Business Management which I completed in 2015. I have always had an inkling about the future and been interested about trying to achieve something outside of rugby. When I hung up my boots, a burning desire of mine was always to start something new and immerse myself in business. We launched Tiki Tonga Coffee in 2016 and it was very much a passion project. It’s inspired by sports and bringing people together. What began as a passion project has now grown into a fantastic business. The brand has spread to South Africa with a shop in Umhlanga and Melrose Arch and we are hoping to launch one in Cape Town in the near future. During the Rugby World Cup we partnered with Guinness which was a phenomenal success and have solidified that partnership. We are also the official coffee partners of Tottenham Hotspur, Saracens and the Tour of Britain cycling event. We have a strong foothold in the sports, health and exercise market however pride ourselves on being a brand that connects people.

Sport24 asked: Your take on the Chasing the Sun documentary?

Brad Barritt: I have been fortunate enough to catch a few episodes of Chasing the Sun and it’s a phenomenal documentary. It shows the raw emotion, the value of playing together and the root cause of why we play rugby. It serves as a very powerful motivating factor for teams. The Springboks winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup was an incredible story. To rewind the clock 18 months and understand where the team was at from a performance level makes it an even more phenomenal achievement. What Rassie Erasmus and the team have done has been incredible. All the pundits were saying that England were going to trounce South Africa in the World Cup final and the Boks showed that no Test is won on past achievements. Ultimately on the day the Springboks got their game-plan spot on. The Springbok tight forwards and the scrum was immense and there were small turning points in the game. The Springbok defence held firm and it underlines the fact that those small moments in a game pay massive rewards. The Boks can feel very proud of their performance.

Sport24 asked: Any regrets of not playing Test rugby for the Boks?

Brad Barritt: I have no regrets and loved every minute of playing for England (Barritt featured from 2012 to 2015). Every person’s journey is unique. My mom’s family are all English and I have always had a strong connection to England. I may have been born and raised in South Africa, with my dad having represented Zimbabwe, but the burning desire was to play international rugby and my opportunity came in England. I loved my time playing for the Junior and Emerging Springboks and got to play with some future Saracens team-mates - the likes of Schalk Brits, Ernst Joubert and Ethienne Reynecke - but I followed the path that seemed right to me at the time when I signed for the London club and the journey we had together was special and one that we’ll look back on fondly.

Sport24 asked: Your view on the incumbent Springbok centres?

Brad Barritt: Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am have both been fantastic. Munster have made an incredible signing in Damian. He has proved himself on the big stage and his performances in the knockout rounds for the Springboks were probably the best of any centre in the World Cup at the time... I remember watching him as a young kid coming through the Western Province ranks and you could always sense that he was destined for big things and likewise with Lukhanyo. The 26-year-old outside centre is a fantastic player and he has turned into a brilliant leader for the Sharks. He is classy and you can sense that he has a very mature head on his shoulders. He was one of the standout Springbok players at the World Cup. You can also add in a player like Jesse Kriel who is phenomenal and dynamic. He is someone that definitely offers a physical threat whenever he is on the park. Those three centres are going to carry the Springboks forward for the years to come… Coming back to Damian, who I rate highly, he has been criticised in the past for his style of play. In rugby there is always more than one way to skin a cat. It’s frustrating for players when they get pigeonholed in a certain way when that is what is being asked of them in the team. I know that Damian has all the skills because I have seen it for myself but sometimes you have to have an element of selflessness as a player and do what the team requires. Sometimes that is doing the hard yards and other times the game opens up and you can show a wider array of your skills. I started my career as more of a distributor in South Africa but in the UK the game is more attritional. You become more of a ball-carrier. It’s about gain-line and speed of ball on which the team can operate.

Sport24 asked: Your outlook on a Bok-less Rugby Championship?

Brad Barritt: I understand fan frustration as everyone wants to see the Springboks play but the players have only been back a few weeks and the Australasian sides have already completed their unlocked competitions months prior. Confidence is a very fickle commodity in professional sport and if a Springbok team were to travel to Australia undercooked and possibly with a team they didn’t want to pick - with some European-based players unavailable - I don’t think it would have served anyone any good. The players can prepare well ahead of the biggest event people are talking about next June - the British and Irish Lions series. It’s about doing everything they can to be best prepared for that and if it means missing the Rugby Championship this year then I think it’s a good decision. The landscape is ever-changing and I’m sure the players can get in some very competitive games... England will have a very strong contingent in the British and Irish Lions team next year and I expect it to be the exciting challenge we have all been waiting for. Maro Itoje (who has been tipped as a future British and Irish Lions captain) is a fantastic player and is very well-respected amongst his peers. His rise in the game has been incredible but he backs it up with the preparation and detail he has put into his game over the last few years. As a young player coming into the Saracens team, you got a sense of someone who was very hungry for success and I believe he has earned it in every way.

Sport24 asked: What are the fundamental tenets of leadership?

Brad Barritt: In my book, the key elements of leadership are: Being the best captain you can be whether it’s leading by example and trusting the people around you to drive the team forward. In terms of Siya Kolisi’s captaincy watching the World Cup was inspiring and along with Rassie, Siya did a fantastic job in knowing that rugby is such a multi-diverse game. As a captain, you need to rely on the leaders around you and I’m sure Siya would have leaned on the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Handre Pollard - players who have been at the coalface for many years. Siya isn’t going to be able to run the attack and Duane is probably going to have a better understanding of how the lineout works. It’s about bringing all those components together and leading by the example he sets – his appetite at the collisions, tireless work-rate around the field and the gentle word of encouragement to someone when they have had a dour moment in a game. Those are the unique elements of a captain. It’s not about being the man that has to do everything but trusting the people around you.

Sport24 asked: Which three dream dinner guests would you pick?

Brad Barritt: I would invite American Andre Agassi, who was my favourite tennis player growing up. Tennis was one of my earliest loves. Kelly Slater would be another guest. He is a surfing god. Having grown up in Durban I would say I only dabbled in the world of surfing but I like the lifestyle surfers lead and it would be interesting to understand a bit more. It’s a sport in which you pretty much compete and that’s your training. It’s similar to golf in that sense. The former is an incredible lifestyle sport and you don’t have aches and pains for the five days preceding the contest.  In terms of golf, it would be great to invite Ernie Els over. He represented every single South African on the international scene for so long. From what I understand, he’s a fantastic guy and enjoys a good time.

Previous chats:

Casey Laulala

Dean Furman

Pieter Muller

Andre Snyman

Bruce Reihana

Mark Robinson

Neil de Kock

Tim Agaba

Jonathan Mokuena

Tonderai Chavhanga

DTH van der Merwe

Demetri Catrakilis

Joe Rokocoko

Tim Swiel

Grant Esterhuizen

James O'Connor

Clyde Rathbone

Eugene Eloff

Werner Swanepoel

Joe van Niekerk

AJ Venter

Brian McMillan

Kirsten Landman

Scott Hamilton

Wayne Fyvie

Wynand Olivier

James Dalton

Jacques Rudolph

Marco Wentzel

Neil de Kock

Os du Randt

Andre Pretorius

Lloyd Harris

Justin Gatlin

Christian Stewart

Schalk Burger

Jacques Burger

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