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Venter: Brits best ever
Schalk Brits (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - In England, the Saracens supporters tell Chuck Norris jokes about Schalk Brits, but the club side's coaching consultant Brendan Venter is dead serious when he says that the Stormers have the best rugby player he has ever coached on their substitutes bench this week.
Brits was on Wednesday picked as back-up loose forward for the Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders and it is expected that he will feature for about half an hour in the Cape side's No 19 jersey at Newlands on Saturday.
However, it's on the basis of approximately 70 games for Saracens that Venter bases his view that Brits could still play an important role for the Springboks going forward. That's if - like the Stormers - they are prepared to think outside the box about the matter.
"Schalk is the best player I have ever coached," said Venter.
"I recall when Chester Williams still coached the Cats how I once went to conduct a defensive session in Johannesburg and worked with him for the first time.
"When I got home that evening, I told my wife that I had just worked with one of the most talented individuals I had ever come across. He can do everything - and he's a hooker!"
However, this week Brits is a loose forward for the Stormers and there are people who believe that he's actually an outside centre.
In South Africa that was one of the reasons for some people not taking to Brits, but Venter believes it's precisely what could make him a terrific wild card.
"I realise that John Smit has already been appointed captain for the World Cup and that Bismarck du Plessis is probably the best Test hooker in the world. However, you don't need to necessarily consider Schalk simply as a hooker," said Venter.
"If you look at the preliminary squad for the World Cup, it's clear that security was the guiding principle. I think we need a few wild cards. Patrick Lambie can be one at fullback and Schalk is able to provide that x-factor off the bench that no-one can coach."
When Brits's name was raised in a recent discussion with Bok coach Peter de Villiers, he countered it with a question: in which one of Smit, Du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Bandise Maku and Adriaan Strauss's place should he be picked?
However, Venter does not believe that he should necessarily be competing directly with those players.
"Schalk offers something completely unique. No other hooker in South Africa - or the world - has his skills set.
"When you come across really talented players you often encounter that their work-rate is not high enough or that they look to avoid contact. Schalk brings a huge work-rate as part of the package.
"He is able to cover more than one position off the bench. You could gain a competitive advantage as it offers you scope to pick two reserve props."
What then about all the negative perceptions that Brits is not accurate enough in the set phases.
"That perception has been disproved at Saracens," said Venter.
"Schalk did really well in our live scrumming sessions at Saracens and we never struggled in the scrums. Our accuracy in the lineouts was also the best in the Premiership.
"Remember also that hookers mature with age. Schalk is no longer playing the way he did when he was 23 and wanted to attack from everywhere. He is now 30.
"Schalk has become a legend at Saracens in two years. They tell Chuck Norris jokes about him. The question is what he cannot do." Teams:Stormers:
15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (captain), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw
Substitutes: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Schalk Brits, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Johann SadieCrusaders:
15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Matt Todd, 20 Kahn Foutali'i, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Ryan Crotty