Schalk Brits: Springboks can give even more hope with Laureus award
CAPE TOWN – As if actually winning the Rugby World Cup was not enough, the reception that the Springboks received back in South Africa upon their return ranks as “one of the most emotional weeks of my life,” says Schalk Brits.
Now finally retired and sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee beard, the 38-year-old hooker reflected on a memorable 2019 for the Boks ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, which will take place in Berlin on February 17.
The nominations will be announced on Wednesday, and the Springboks will be hoping to make the list for Team of the Year after an unforgettable last season in which they not only triumphed in Japan, but also won the Rugby Championship. They lost just one match – the World Cup opener to the All Blacks.
Brits is also a Laureus ambassador, and for the Boks to win the Team of the Year award in Berlin – they also won it in 2008 following their 2007 World Cup victory – would be the crowning glory on what has already been a fairytale ending to a lengthy rugby career.
“To be honest, we went into this World Cup in fifth or sixth place in the world ranking-wise. It was an unbelievable experience to, first of all, win the World Cup. But for us as a team, looking at each other and I can remember Rassie (Erasmus) speaking about our differences – how we can unite the country, that has only had bad news in the last year or what,” Brits said on a teleconference this week.
“It became a bigger cause than just winning a competition. That it can actually unify a country and give hope. That was, actually, I think the final push towards the end, what it can do for our country.
“To be nominated would be unbelievable. If we can give hope to a country like South Africa, and I guess all countries, that would be phenomenal.”
Seeing the first black Bok captain in Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup was an historic moment in South African rugby history, and for Brits, the celebrations that followed gave the team a true reflection of the impact they had made for the country as a whole.
“I actually haven’t (watched the World Cup final again). But what I can say as a player, I did not expect the kind of homecoming we had. It was one of the most emotional weeks of my life – not winning the trophy, but I truly saw what sport can do,” said Brits, who will begin his career in the corporate world with Remgro on Monday.
“I was 12 or 13 when we won the ’95 World Cup, and I can’t compare to that World Cup. But arriving at Oliver Tambo (International Airport in Johannesburg) and see thousands and thousands of people united was unbelievable.
“And then going on this trip through suburbs, cities, squatter camps and all kinds of places – and irrelevant of your religion and background, the colour of your skin, people united one team, and it was amazing to see.
“Nelson Mandela did say that ‘Sport has the power to unite’, and I truly saw it with my own eyes. I know that rugby is just a sport, but what I saw is that if you can unite as a team and a country, you can make special things happen.”
Apart from the Boks, another South African has already received a nomination for a Laureus award. Swimmer Natalie du Toit has made the list for the Laureus Sporting Moment of the last 20 years, in honour of the 20th anniversary of the awards.
Du Toit made history when she won two gold medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games after having her left leg amputated following a car accident in 2001.
She also became the first female amputee swimmer to qualify for the Olympics when she participated in the 2008 Beijing Games, and won 15 medals at the Paralympics.
* Sports fans can vote for their favourite sporting moment of the last 20 years on the Laureus website until February 16.