Cape Town – Schalk Brits, at the age of 38, says has had his first December holiday in a “very, very long time”.
Those are the sacrifices that come with being a professional rugby player for nearly two decades, but Brits wouldn’t change a thing.
“I can’t believe that somebody paid me for 20 years to play the game I love,” he said on Friday, addressing media as part of his role as a Laureus ambassador ahead of next month’s Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin.
Now fully retired from the game after ending his career on the ultimate high with a 2019 World Cup winners’ medal, Brits will join the corporate world on Monday as he starts work for the Johan Rupert-owned Remgro.
While he remains as passionate as ever about rugby, Brits confirmed that his only participation in the game moving forward would be “sitting on my couch and screaming at the boys”.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’ decision to include Brits in his World Cup plans was greeted with a degree of scepticism at first given Brits’ age and the fact that, ahead of the 2019 season, he had announced plans to retire.
Erasmus, though, convinced Brits to stay while the Bulls offered him a lifeline and a home for the year at Loftus.
As the World Cup preparations developed, Brits began to emerge as a key leadership figure in the Bok set-up even if he was the third-choice hooker behind Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx.
By the end of the tournament, he was considered one of the key changeroom figures and he had captained the Boks in their pool match against Namibia as regular skipper Siya Kolisi was rested.
While he only played 15 Test matches over his 11-year international career, Brits was part of possibly the most celebrated Springbok squad in history.
“It’s amazing ending a career like that,” Brits said.
“But I enjoyed the journey as much as I enjoyed the results. You have to put in the hard work to win a match, but sometimes people forget the journey and always look at the end.
“That journey, those memories and the friendships I made … that is what I will keep with me.”
As the hangover of the World Cup fades, attention will now turn to Erasmus’ appointment of a new head coach for the 2020 season while he slips into his Director of Rugby role on a full-time basis.
For Brits, the fact that Erasmus is still involved is crucial.
“Maybe my memory will let me down, but I can’t remember in my whole playing career that there was ever any succession planning,” he said.
“From 2003 when Rudolf Straeuli left after the World Cup, to Jake White in 2007 when he won it, to Pieter de Villiers after 2011 and then Heyneke Meyer … there was always somebody new coming in,” he said.
“For once, we’ve got a good senior group that is together. You need consistency in team sports … you need stability.
“I’ve seen now with the group we have, the longer you keep them together the better they will become.
“If you get that combination of your coaching staff and your players together for a long period then you can create something really special going forward.”
There are, however, some serious challenges that Brits believes the Boks must overcome in their efforts to stay at the top of the international mountain.
“It’s going to be really hard,” he said.
“We’ve got an unbelievable coaching set-up, even though we don’t know yet who is going to be head coach and assistant coach, but it’s unfortunate that most of our homegrown players are playing abroad.
“There are a lot of reasons for that, but we have to make sure that we develop as much as we can and make sure that our players are competitive as they can be at Super Rugby level.
“You lose so much expertise and intellectual property going abroad. You need a strong home base.
“It’s going to be tough.”
The Boks are next in action in the July Inbound series where they will take on Scotland in two Tests and Georgia in one.
Super Rugby 2020, meanwhile, gets underway on January 31.