Cape Town – In an exclusive interview, Saracens hooker SCHALK BRITS discusses the Stormers’ attack, Eddie Jones’ success with England and looks ahead to the mouth-watering clash at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: You have been at Saracens since 2009. Describe your experience at Allianz Park.
Schalk Brits: My time at Saracens has been phenomenal. Joining the London-based club was probably the best rugby decision I’ve ever made and has proved a life experience second to none. Most clubs normally “treat you mean to keep you keen”. However, here there is a promise between players and management. If you try unbelievably hard as a player, the coaches will treat you incredibly well. For instance, the club has taken us on a skiing trip to Verbier and to the Munich Beer Festival. When you have a mission that is much bigger than yourself, it makes it easier to perform.
Sport24 asked: Saracens are top of the Aviva Premiership. What’s led to your continued success?
Schalk Brits: We are a group of individuals who have been together for quite a long time. There is a great value system installed at the club and the players and management are extremely hard-working and focused on team-building. Something that Brendan Venter introduced during his time at the club was the concept of an effort error versus a skill error. We have a problem with effort errors because it’s the duty of every player to try as hard as he can during training and a match. Meanwhile, if a player makes a skill error, such as knocking the ball on, our coaches don’t have a go at him afterwards. Instead the player in question takes the responsibility to up skill himself and minimise skill errors going forward. If you live by the above principles, hard work is always rewarded.
Sport24 asked: Eddie Jones has won the Six Nations at the first time of asking. What’s the secret?
Schalk Brits: Jones is a very astute coach and technically sound. I had a first-hand account of his successful coaching methods as we lost to Japan during our first pool match the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Before the 2016 Six Nations, England had a number of inexperienced players. However, they have grown as a group as the tournament has progressed. Jones has instilled them with confidence and has brought technical know-how. However, I have heard that Jones had plenty of one-on-ones and group sessions with the players and he asked them what their vision for England rugby is. It underlines that it’s not just a coach-led approach. More of a combined effort from players and management has led to England’s success in the Six Nations and their first championship since 2011.
Sport24 asked: The Stormers have been criticized for a lack of penetration on attack. Your take?
Schalk Brits: During my time at the Stormers, people gave Allister Coetzee a lot of grief for the way in which the Stormers attacked. However, having been privy to the set-up, I believe he was daring. Because we had such a good defence coach in Jacques Nienaber, the reality is that we played to our strengths. People must understand that attack is a lot more difficult to coach than defence and set-piece. Attack is more about feel and takes time to evolve. There are no set rules for a well-functioning attack and you have to play what’s in front of you. Before a match, we analyse the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and then the picture they present on the day. You tend to kick more against a team that boasts a tight defence and focus on a territorial game. Against a team that plays with more of an attacking style, you can attack more. Personnel also plays a big part. At Saracens, for instance, scrumhalves Neil de Kock and Richard Wigglesworth, and flyhalves Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson offer different playing styles. We thus play according to their strengths.
Sport24 asked: Vincent Koch is the latest player who’ll move north. Is the player drain a concern?
Schalk Brits: The player exodus is a problem. The rand has devalued, which makes it more difficult for SA unions to retain its players. However, we need to take a more holistic approach. If you just focus on what players get paid month-to-month then they are going to go to where they’re paid the most. However, if you can help them develop as players and individuals and offer them a post-rugby future then maybe they will stay and look at the long-term plan. Rugby should not be the entire focus. I have long maintained that a balanced player will always be a better player. At Saracens, we have a personal development plan in place and develop post-rugby skills. I have studied accountancy in order to up skill myself and when I call time on my playing career I aim to add value at Remgro. I plan to enjoy my last couple of seasons before embarking on a new challenge in the business world.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of Jean de Villiers’ determination to fight back from injury?
Schalk Brits: Jean is my hero. I went through a similar injury and I know that it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice to get back on the pitch. However, I never doubted that he would return. He is a great leader and an inspirational figure. I’m actually playing against Jean at Welford Road on Sunday. We try to catch up as often as possible, but it’s difficult with the packed fixture list.
Sport24 asked: The Stormers tackle the unbeaten Brumbies. How would you assess the two sides?
Schalk Brits: Firstly, the suits at the respective franchises must be credited for affording two young but exciting coaches the opportunity to take charge. Stephen Larkham and Robbie Fleck have been there as players, and are now charting their coaching paths. In terms of the Stormers, they are a very young side in comparison to the Brumbies, but have tremendous potential. Meanwhile, the Brumbies team is made up of a group of talented individuals. The men from Canberra have always played a great brand of rugby. I’m looking forward to the contest this weekend and of course I’m supporting my former franchise… Win or lose, the Stormers players will put their bodies on the line.