London – Schalk Brits will play for the Barbarians at Twickenham six months after ‘retiring’ from professional rugby as part of the playing programme designed to carry him through to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The hooker was supposed to have hung up his boots after clinching a fourth Premiership crown with Saracens to go with two European Champions Cup victories.
Instead the 37-year-old returned inside a month to win an 11th cap for South Africa, acted as a mentor during the Rugby Championship and is lining up provincial rugby in South Africa as he plots a path to the Rugby World Cup.
A further step on the road will be the Killik Cup match for the Barbarians against Argentina on December 1, when the famous invitation side will be overseen by current Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus.
“I missed rugby so much I’ve changed my mind,” said Brits of his short-lived retirement.
“I got a call from Rassie with reference to keep being involved until the next World Cup. After the June tests I still want to keep on playing and I’ve postponed work and my studies until after then.
“A friend said to me recently, ‘what’s the difference between being 37 and 38?’ It’s a fantastic opportunity and an honour whenever you play for the Springboks so I’ll be trying to stay in contention.
“I’ve been staying on top of things and I’m in better nick that when I was playing. You get the chance to rehabilitate properly and I’m feeling fantastic and can’t wait to play again. I enjoyed playing against England at Newlands but we lost that Test so I hope the next time will bring a better result.”
Brits has a long association with the Barbarians dating back more than a decade to a famous 22-5 win over newly-crowned World Cup winners South Africa and including games against England, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions. Most recently he appeared alongside Thierry Dusautoir against England in 2017.
He will be part of another star-studded side in December with the likes of countrymen Handre Pollard and Eben Etzebeth, as well as Australia’s Will Genia, already on board.
“Being part of the Barbarians was one of the best rugby experiences I’ve ever had – in terms of pure entertainment and meeting guys you normally bash week-in, week-out it’s outstanding,” Brits said.
“My first experience was in 2007 against South Africa after they’d just won the World Cup and we smashed them. In all it was a great week. You have to give your best at the weekend when it comes to the crunch and earn the respect of your team-mates.
“I got to play with the likes of Jerry Collins, Ma’a Nonu and Jason Robinson – legends from the past, legends of the present and then there are those who go on to be legends in the future. It’s a unique bond.
“Everything’s so professional now but it’s more relaxed with the Barbarians and amazing what sort of performances you can create in just a couple of days. Now we get to do it again, making new friends and making people proud.”