CAPE TOWN – Pierre Spies says he “thought a lot about this day” after officially announcing his retirement from rugby on Sunday.
The 32-year-old former Springbok No 8 took to social media to let the world know that he was quitting the game he loved, after his contract with French club Montpellier was not renewed at the end of the season in June.
Spies played in 53 Tests for the Boks between 2006 and 2013, with the 2009 British and Irish Lions series win and the Tri-Nations title in the same year the obvious highlights.
Spies played in three positions in Test rugby – No 8 (48 matches), flank (four) and one at wing against the Lions in 2009, and formed a world-class loose trio with Schalk Burger and Juan Smith.
“As a professional rugby player, I have thought a lot about this day. It is a moment every player is destined for, and yet you cannot control how and when you accommodate it in your life,” Spies said.
“Much speculation has been going around the past two months about my rugby career and the way forward.
“This statement confirms my retirement from all forms of rugby. It has been a wonderful journey and one I will remember for the rest of my days, but it is the end of a chapter in my life.
“It is impossible to give credit to all people who contributed towards my career, and please do not see an omission of any name as an absence of gratefulness on my part.”
Spies went on to thank his wife Juanné – with whom he has three children – for “being absolutely incredible from start to finish”, as well his father Pierre Senior, who also played for Northern Transvaal and passed away when his son was just 19.
Apart from his mother and the rest of his family, he thanked his Springbok coaches Jake White, Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer.
He also paid tribute to Bulls mentors Ashley Evert, Nico Serfontein, Meyer – “who had huge faith in me as a youngster” – John McFarland, Basil Carzis, Johann van Graan, Pieter Rossouw and Frans Ludeke, whom he described as “being a rock and a man I have huge respect for, still the only SA coach to win the Super Rugby twice”.
To the Bok coaches, he said: “Jake White, under who I became a Bok, who brought back many traditions in the Bok environment. Peter de Villiers, who did an amazing job in creating a team culture and again Heyneke Meyer, under who I played my last Test.”
Spies – who had been changed from a powerful wing to a No 8 after school – was a hero to many and the ultimate “muscle man”, although he was criticised at times for not being physical enough when the going got tough.
But there can be no doubt that Pierre Spies in full flight with ball-in-hand was a sight to behold.
He made his debut in that horror show 49-0 defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane in 2006, and also had the misfortune of being withdrawn from the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad due to blood clots on his lungs.
However, he was a force when carrying the ball and outstanding at the back of the lineout for province and country, and was instrumental in the Bulls’ three Super Rugby titles.
MyPlayers national player relationship manager Isma-eel Dollie – also Spies’ vice-captain in the South African Under-21 team that reached the final of the 2006 World Championship under coach Peter de Villiers – described the ex-Bulls skipper as a “special human being”.
“Pierre epitomised true character, both on and off the field, and his work ethic is second to none,” Dollie told Independent Media on Sunday.
Spies said that he could’ve carried on playing rugby, having turned 32 in June this year, but decided on another path going forward.
“I could’ve continued playing rugby, but I’ve decided to stop my career because I believe it’s the right time to start the next chapter of my life.
“There are many things which motivate me to make a decision like this – family, faith, future, and my purpose. I believe I can make an impact in this world and have a passion for sharing my faith, encouraging youth and caring for the poor and broken in society.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life filled with excitement and wonder – and I believe the best is yet to come!”
Go well, Pierre Johan Spies, and thanks for the memories…