Cape Town - Being pressed into the role of openside flanker for the Stormers in the recent Super Rugby season has helped develop Nizaam Carr into a player he believes can fill a role anywhere in the loose trio, but the position he is filling currently for Western Province is where he’s happiest, reports the supersport.com website.
"A No 8 is more of a link between forwards and backs, and the role suits me, but today’s No 8 has to be able to do everything, and playing openside has helped make me a better rounded player," he says.
"I can carry the ball across the gainline if I need to, I can compete for the ball on the ground, I can put in the big hits.
"Playing No 6 in Super Rugby required a mental switch in that it demanded a higher tackle count, and it was tough to adapt, but I am glad I have managed to do that."
Carr says he has had 'a massive amount of guidance' from Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen.
It is Vermeulen’s presence at the back of the Stormers scrum in Super Rugby that dictates Carr has to play on the flank in that competition.
But with the contracted Springboks likely to be limited to a game time quota in next year’s Super Rugby due to the Rugby World Cup, Carr could well see himself playing No 8 for the Stormers too.
In that sense, the experience he is getting playing for what at this stage is the form team of the Currie Cup is invaluable.
He is honest enough though to admit that there are aspects that have taken him a while to adjust to, and the switch of focus to becoming a link when he plays No 8 may have detracted from the tackle efficiency that was so excellent during Super Rugby.
He missed a few tackles in the opening match against the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth, and again in the north/south derby against the Blue Bulls this past weekend.
Lumped together, those two performances have contributed to him having one of the less impressive tackle completion rates in a WP team that prides itself on its defensive excellence.
"I have had a look at my stats, and it is quite poor in terms of the missed tackles.
"I do need to up my game in that department," he said.
However, it is also true that WP players have had to make significantly more tackles than some other teams this season, and that could put Carr’s efforts into better perspective.
"If you make two tackles out of eight, that is different to missing six tackles when you are making 33 tackles," said the 23-old graduate of the excellent WP Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch and old boy of Bishops.
While his tackling may be an area that Carr is looking to improve, he did show in Super Rugby, when playing at No 6, that there are no insurmountable weaknesses in his defensive game.
"It took me a while to adjust but I did enjoy the challenge of playing openside flank, and it definitely improved my physicality and my tackling."
Indeed, the Sharks will vouch for that, for although he spent 10 minutes in the bin in the first half, his performance against the local Super Rugby conference winners in Durban at the end of May was probably the biggest contributing factor to the Stormers’ shock win that day.
Carr was an abrasive presence that night, a constant thorn in the faces of his opponents.
There is nothing abrasive though about Carr off the field, for he has a personable manner about him when he talks about his passion for his rugby, his teammates, his family and his religion.
All of those play big roles in his life, and he was pleased recently to get the opportunity to take his WP teammates, at least those in the pack, on a cultural excursion that included a visit to the mosque where he worships.
Part of a team building program introduced by the Province coaches, Carr felt it was invaluable as it enabled him to give his teammates an opportunity to understand him better.
"It was very special for me to be able to show the guys what makes me tick, what motivates me, to give them some understanding of my religion and what I do on a daily basis.
"It is not about trying to convert anyone.
"It is just important for me that the guys I play with have an understanding of what I am about. Islam is a very basic religion."
There have been times when observing his religion has made it harder to be a top class rugby player.
Although he woke at 3am every morning to eat and drink a protein shake, not being able to eat or drink between 06:00 and 18:00 during the month of Ramadaan saw Carr drop 'between six and eight kilograms', and in 2012 he dropped nearly 12 kilograms.
"I am back to my fighting weight now, which is around 103kg, and I did that by eating six small meals a day and doing explosive work in the gym.
"Losing that weight did make it more difficult for me in terms of contributing in the mauls and in putting in big hits.
"But I see my current role at No 8 as being more of a link, so the lean mass I have put on benefits me."
It is not unusual for rugby players to give back to the game and to the community, but Carr has a social consciousness that belies his relatively young age.
After our interview, he was heading off to Lansdowne, where he effectively runs his own rugby academy in a quest to help uplift the lives of boys from a disadvantaged community.
"It is linked to Islam College. We offer boys from outside rugby bursaries to go into the college.
"There is a rugby emphasis, but the idea is that they also get to learn academically," said Carr.
"I try to get across there whenever I have time.
"I help mentor the youngsters and guide them, tell them about the good things and warn them against the bad things.
"We are starting off with rugby but the plan is that in time other sports will be added."
Carr grew up in Mitchell’s Plain and attended West End Primary before his father moved to Rondebosch East.
At a Western Province age-group trial was spotted by a talent scout and offered a bursary at Bishops.
From there his rugby career took off as he earned selection for the WP Schools team and then the SA Schools, with his year at the Institute laying the groundwork for him to become the player he is today.
But while he has become a stand-out performer at Super Rugby level and a superstar in the eyes of his followers, Carr has kept himself firmly grounded.
He hasn’t forgotten his beginnings or turned away from the community he grew up in.
He still lives with his parents in Rondebosch East, in the same house they moved to when he was still at school.
Family is a big part of his life, and his attitude to an injury that ruled him out of rugby for much of 2012 might give an indication of what type of person he is.
"At the time, the meniscus and ACL injury was a terrible thing, but now I am grateful that it happened.
"It was a major setback as it came in the first home game that I started in Super Rugby and I was ruled out for nine months.
"But it helped me realise that you can’t take things for granted, which maybe I was starting to do.
"When you are out for a long time like that you start asking yourself questions. ‘What if I have forgotten how to catch the ball?’
"‘Will I still be able to stand up in the tackle?’
"Being away from it grounded me. It made me appreciate the game much more. When you are a junior you just expect things to happen and you don’t show your appreciation."