CAPE TOWN – Former Springbok lock Andries Bekker is set to move straight into a coaching role with Japanese club, the Kobelco Steelers, after ending his playing career earlier this year.
In an interview with SA Rugby magazine, Bekker reflects fondly on his time with the Boks and his twilight years in Japan, where he insists he played some of his best rugby.
Bekker formally announced his retirement from rugby in January, having become something of a cult figure in the Japanese Top League since leaving the Stormers and South Africa in 2013.
"It’s been a bloody good ride," he said when looking back on a career that has spanned over a decade. "I played first-class rugby for 15 years … the last five in Japan were the best I had.
"I met so many players from different cultures – New Zealand, Tonga, Japan, Australia, South Korea. I made awesome friends and even went to South Korea last year for a weekend. It helped that the semi-pro nature of the league meant that many guys would do gym in the morning, head to the office and then train in the evening."
Bekker's time in Japan proved to be the perfect tonic for a player who admits he had hoped to feature more than just 29 times for the Springboks.
"I made my peace with it," he reflected philosophically. "I had a really good time under Peter de Villiers, and playing with guys like John Smit and Victor Matfield. It was tough leaving it behind.
"My biggest regret was not looking after my body a lot better. I played with injuries, but when you’re young, you just wanna play. I’d do it the same way again if I could, though. I’ve loved my rugby."
Although Bekker has now hung up his boots, he will remain involved in the game as he will return to Japan in April to work as an assistant coach to Wayne Smith.
And for the big man from South Africa, Japan has become his home.
"Everyone is so friendly. There’s always a little Japanese guy running around trying to help foreigners. It’s beautiful, with lots to do and see."
African News Agency (ANA)