Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Sharks flyhalf and full-time Harlequins recruit TIM SWIEL on life in London, why he has time for Jake White and the SA conference decider at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: You have signed for Harlequins on permanent basis after a successful four-month loan spell. What most excites you about the move to Twickenham Stoop?
Tim Swiel: During my time on loan, I was very impressed with the set-up at the club and the amazing support base. Along with a raft of talented youngsters rising through the ranks, Harlequins have made some big-name signings in Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts, James Horwill and Tim Visser, which will delight the supporters. I look forward to linking up with my new teammates when the season starts. My stint at Harlequins was a great learning curve, and I believe that joining the club on a full-time contract will allow me to further develop my game. It was very nice of Conor O’Shea to describe me as “a young player with a huge amount of potential” but I have to prove myself upon my return.
Sport24 asked: What is life like for a South African rugby player plying his trade in London?
Tim Swiel: While I’m the only South African at Harlequins, London certainly enjoys South African rugby players. Saracens bears testament to that – they have almost 30 000 South Africans on their books. But all jokes aside, London is a great city. I stayed in the capital while on a school exchange programme in Grade 10 and made a number of good connections, which bodes well for me living on my own. During my loan spell, I stayed with outgoing Harlequins stalwart George Robson and he was my adopted father in England. George and his wife Bantika really looked after me, but with George heading to France, I’m now ready to fend for myself. I believe it’s important to experience a new environment. It’s a life journey any individual needs to take in order to discover all-round balance.
Sport24 asked: How would you describe the club’s playing philosophy and your own style of play?
Tim Swiel: Conor serves as the Director of Rugby at Harlequins and, as a former backline player himself, advocates an innovative, attacking brand of rugby which suits my playing style. I would describe myself as an attack-minded player with a penchant for taking the ball to the line and putting my teammates into space. As a flyhalf, you have to possess a very good understanding of the game in terms of when to do what. In the past, a lot of the time I wanted to run the ball from my own goal-line, but due to my experience in England, I’ve learned that it’s important to vary my game.
Sport24 asked: How have you balanced work and play during your off-season in Cape Town?
Tim Swiel: The off-season has allowed me time to reflect and spend quality time with family and friends. However, it has not been a holiday. It entails early morning wakeups and cardio work in the gym. Whenever I’m back in town, I also train at the Pride Fighting Academy. I work out with EFC Africa fighters Don Madge and Irshaad Sayed. MMA comprises of boxing, grappling and wrestling, which improves my strength and helps in terms of my contact skills. I have been handed a great opportunity at ‘Quins and hopefully the training I’ve done will pay off when I take to the field. As a professional rugby player, I’ve learned that preparation is key to attainting consistent performance.
Sport24 asked: You ruled yourself out of selection for the 2013 Junior World Championship. At the time, why did you describe it as the hardest decision you have ever had to make?
Tim Swiel: It was a really difficult decision because all I wanted to do was to play for the Baby Boks that year, but I was advised that if I did so, I would be ineligible to represent another international team. Having now left South African rugby and signed for Harlequins, in retrospect, maybe it was a good decision. I was born in Somerset and hold a British passport. I am England-qualified, but I’m not looking too far into the future. I will enjoy every day as it comes and see where the road takes me.
Sport24 asked: Jake White took you to the Sharks. Why did you enjoy playing under his tutelage?
Tim Swiel: Under Jake, I learned a lot about discipline and preparing for games. He has an analytical mind and always has a plan and sticks to it. He knows how to win and, at the end of the day, isn’t winning what most coaches want? If Jake was still in Durban, I reckon the Sharks would be much higher on the log owing to the continuity he would have brought through. It’s sad the Sharks haven’t had a good season, but it’s difficult when there is a turnaround of coaches. When you restructure, it takes time to gel as a unit. However, Gary Gold is a good coach and needs to be given a season or two to fully imprint his philosophy. While Western Province fell at the final hurdle to the Pumas in the Vodacom Cup final, John Dobson and Dawie Snyman have shown the value of continuity. I really developed as a player under Dobbo and, for me, Dawie is the most underrated backline coach in SA.
Sport24 asked: With the World Cup fast approaching do Lambie and Pollard have the inside lane?
Tim Swiel: I agree the battle at ten between Lambie and Pollard is an exciting one, but I wouldn’t count out Elton Jantjies. Owing to the fact the Lions are playing the most attacking brand of rugby, Jantjies is the form flyhalf in South Africa. It will be interesting to see who Heyneke Meyer selects at Number 10. Lambie brings tactical attributes to the game, whereas Pollard is a more physical flyhalf.
Sport24 asked: Aside from injuries, what has led to young players being given more opportunities?
Tim Swiel: With a player exodus on the horizon, the reality is younger players are getting more opportunities within South African rugby than ever before, which is really positive. The reason I believe the likes of Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie are Springbok greats is because they were given a chance at a young age at international level. Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende are playing really well and are the in-form players at the moment. In my opinion, they should be given an opportunity to test themselves at the highest level, so that in 10 years’ time they too are legends of the game.
Sport24 asked: Which three celebrities would you invite over for dinner and what’s on the menu?
Tim Swiel: I would have Cheryl Cole over because she is beautiful. I would also extend an invitation to David Beckham, so I can make some more connections in London, and a seat would be reserved for American comedian Kevin Hart who would provide the in-house entertainment. I would prepare a traditional South African braai in the English winter, and Drake would be the evening’s soundtrack.
Sport24 asked: The Stormers host the Lions in what is set to be a conference decider. Your call?
Tim Swiel: Both the Lions and Stormers are playing really good rugby at the moment, and their last encounter was a very tight affair. The Lions play with more finesse on attack and focus on getting the ball wider. The fact that their wingers are scoring the tries is a good sign. However, the Stormers are a well-structured side, and if they come out on top in the set-piece battle they should win the clash.
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