Boks: ‘Grand old man’ may have busy role

Schalk Brits (Gallo Images)
Schalk Brits (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Schalk Brits just at the World Cup to regale the Springbok squad with fireside tales of his extraordinarily lengthy rugby career?

Don’t be so sure.

The oldest member of the party – by some four years, too – at 38, the charismatic hooker will pretty certainly see service against some of the more second-tier nations in the Boks’ RWC pool, just for starters.

Head coach Rassie Erasmus has effectively confirmed that few, if any, of his 31-strong party will be idle during the tournament, as he will be earmarking his best combination for the games against New Zealand (the opener, on September 21) and Italy, plus the pre-RWC Test against host nation Japan on September 6 … while giving his more “back-up” troops exposure against African neighbours Namibia, and Canada.

Brits seems exactly the kind of player Erasmus will value for those dates against the relative minnows, given his vast experience and leadership qualities – significantly, he skippered the Boks very recently in the experimental Test against

Argentina at Loftus – which should help settle any butterflies in those around him about the outside chance of being flustered into a shock defeat on either occasion.

The popular former Saracens, Bulls, Stormers and Lions stalwart has more than laid to rest, in opportunities in Bok colours this year, any fears about his ageing body not being up to the challenges posed on the highest stage of them all in the Far East over the next few weeks.

He has a natural, infectious restlessness, zest and high-tempo playing style which continues to make any calendar-related concerns about him largely irrelevant.

As things stand, it is almost undeniable to submit that he is the “third option” for the No 2 duty behind considerably younger gladiators Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi (those two in no particular order, considering how neck-and-neck they seem to be for first pick).

Yes, Brits will be largely contemplating life as the proverbial dirt-tracker at RWC 2019, though happy enough with that state of affairs.

But as much as injury to either of the other two would catapult him into the match-day frame for the biggest, strength-versus-strength encounters at the event, he has a reasonable enough chance just on merit anyway of a “gate-crash” in that regard.

That is because both Marx and Mbonambi -- assets though they are in so many other areas of play -- are not incapable of potentially damaging attacks of the yips, if you like, when it comes to the core department of their throwing-in to the lineout.

This set-piece is traditionally a part of the Bok battleplan that they pride themselves on … but lineout success is also quite heavily dependent on just how well the jumpers gel with the man providing them with their service.

Sometimes a couple of wayward throws by the hooker can spiral into a more prolonged, debilitating loss of efficiency.

That is where someone like Brits instantly becomes an attractive solution: it is one of the regularly top-notch strengths of his.

His praises were effusively sung in that respect, immediately after the Pretoria Test against the Pumas, by World Cup 2007-winning Bok captain and hooker/prop John Smit, in his capacity as a SuperSport studio pundit.

Smit said that Brits was a “very natural” thrower and had the “full range” of them, from a reliable, speedy shallow one, to the lob, and a high success rate with the often trickier deep throw as well.

But the world-wise customer has already all but ticked one illustrious box for this World Cup (his second, after a presence already aged 34 at the 2015 event) by now emulating Victor Matfield – at least on the strong assumption Brits gets on the park in Japan -- as a 38-year-old Bok “grand master” for a crack at the Webb Ellis Cup.

That contribution at RWC 2015 in the UK saw Matfield soar to second oldest recorded player in the event’s history, albeit some way behind the record-holder: Uruguay’s captain and No 8 at RWC 1999, Diego Ormaechea, who had just gone beyond the 40-mark.

As with Matfield (eventually a bronze-medallist) four years back, Brits isn’t in Japan for rocking chair, pipe and slippers …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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