Springboks

Brits bows out with champagne Cardiff cameo

2019-11-30 22:45
Schalk Brits
Schalk Brits (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Once a spring in the step ... always a spring in the step.

Schalk Brits may be well into his 39th year but his natural exuberance, mobility and wide range of rugby skills have stayed undimmed to the very last.

You could state that with conviction after he made his international swansong - on a day when there were several poignant ones, whether on field or in the booth - as a genuinely impact-bearing substitute for the Barbarians against Wales on Saturday.

An impressive crowd of some 62 000 at Cardiff's Principality Stadium witnessed the hosts repel the tradition-steeped, much loved cosmopolitan outfit 43-33 in a fittingly up-tempo match.

The hooker's role for the Baa-Baas was in especially auspicious hands on the day, with gnarly Irish veteran Rory Best (124 Test matches) leading the side out on his own last international appearance at age 37 - you might cheekily say almost a spring chicken compared to his deputy - and remaining on the park for 52 minutes.

But then the more traditional old mongrel at close quarters - a distinguished icon of the Six Nations and European club culture - made way for Brits, to generous mutually-aimed applause from the Welsh audience, and it was no coincidence that the South African's infusion simultaneously saw the match become a more hotly-contested affair in the last half-hour or so.

From a situation of 33-7 down when Best came off, the Barbarians found a notable second wind ... aided in no small way by Brits giving them an extra prong to their attacking arsenal with his fleet-footedness and constant proximity to the ball.

Things even got interesting with some 12 minutes to go, the Baa-Baas having clawed back to 40-33, Brits stepping and linking like a young buck in several of the moves that led to their salvo of dot-downs.

He was responsible for a brilliant, double-handed final pass to the inside from near the touchline to tee up Wallabies flanker Pete Samu for one of them - a television commentator rightly observed that it was a classy score "with Barbarian DNA written all over it".

Albeit in overwhelmingly light-hearted vein, popular Springbok RWC 2019 "dirt-tracker" dynamo Brits later led the protests from the Baa-Baas ranks, raising his arms theatrically as if in disbelief when Wales opted - in defiance of the dominant tradition on these occasions of not aiming penalties at the posts - to bank three points through Leigh Halfpenny in the 77th minute to effectively close out the contest, as a 10-point gap took effect on the scoreboard.

In its own way, the decision to bank the points off the tee was a tribute to the way Brits and several others around him had made for a nervy finish for the Welsh cause, in a match where their new head coach Wayne Pivac had named a not far off full-strength line-up and clearly would not have wished to begin his tenure with a home defeat.

Former Lions and Stormers favourite Brits may be retiring with considerably fewer Test caps (15, widely scattered between 2008 and 2019) than the Baa-Baas' starting No 2 on Saturday, Best, but he had a highly productive decade or so on the books of Saracens in high-level northern-hemisphere competition, so is well acquainted with UK audiences and his own send-off was an unreservedly warm one.

Empangeni-born Brits will live long in rugby-watchers' memories, as much for his infectious smile as his rare, bamboozling footwork for a tight forward.

Saturday was absolutely no different.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    barbarians  |  schalk brits  |  rugby

 

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