Schalk Brits has told how he went from beer-drinking fan to shock international recall in the space of 24 hours, writes Alex Spink in Durban.
The retired South African hooker revealed the incredible details as England lined up Brad Shields for his full debut – less than a fortnight after he had to tell his new team mates who he was.
Brits said he was “sipping tequilas in Ibiza” with his wife and three sons when a text message from an unknown number asked if he would like to play a “bit more” rugby.
“I asked who the person was and they replied ‘Rassie’ (SA boss Erasmus),” said the 37-year-old, whose one and only Test start came a decade ago. “I thought someone was taking the p*ss.”
Brits was trying to adjust to life without rugby, having just hung up his boots following nine dazzling years with Saracens.
He had booked himself in for a couple of charity appearances – but first promised friends he would take them to watch England play at Ellis Park.
So it was that on Saturday Brits found himself watching the Springboks as a supporter for the first time with a secret he could not share.
“I had a couple of beers and some Biltong and went for a braai,” he said. “The following morning I had coffee with the Saracens boys in the England squad!”
From there he said his goodbyes, went to the airport, changed into Springbok gear and flew to Bloemfontein where Saturday’s second Test takes place.
“It’s been quite weird,” Brits said with considerable understatement. “But I’ve always said just live life. Plans do change and playing for your country is one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on you.”
He is due to start a new life in August, working in London for an investment holding firm. He has also been accepted at Cambridge for an executive MBA.
“Is this me out of retirement? Let’s see how these two games go!” he said, referring also to the third Test in Cape Town on Saturday week.
“A lot of things have to fall into place for me to consider playing more rugby.”
Down at sea level Owen Farrell and his team held a clear-the-air meeting on Monday night at which on-field discipline topped the agenda.
“We spoke about it as a group,” said winger Jonny May. “In the Six Nations (indiscipline) killed us and it was as bad as ever at the weekend.”
With Joe Launchbury unlikely to be fit Kiwi-born back row Shields is set to start out of position at lock despite pretty much no experience of playing there.