CAPE TOWN – A true son of the soil of the Cape Flats, Nizaam Carr admits he was “a bit emotional” as he waited for his flight to the UK at Cape Town International Airport on Monday night.
The 27-year-old loose forward has been overseas many times, and in fact enjoyed a fantastic three-month stint at Wasps at the end of last year.
But at that point, he knew he would come home for Super Rugby this season. This time around, there won’t be any return to Newlands – at least for Western Province or the Stormers.
Carr first became acquainted with rugby as a youngster at school in Mitchells Plain, and played for Collegians Rugby Club in Lentegeur.
Later he joined Primrose Rugby Club once his family moved to Rondebosch East, and he was spotted by Bishops scouts and offered a rugby scholarship.
He made all the WP and SA age-group teams, and graduated into the senior provincial ranks in 2011, with his Springbok debut in 2014 against Italy in Padova.
So, he’s sort of done everything he can in South Africa, and now at 27, he wants to broaden his horizons.
“I am a bit emotional as this is all I know. I was born here and grew up in Cape Town, and played all my rugby here. My family and friends are all here (at the airport),” Carr told IOL Sport.
“But it’s time to move on. It’s time to experience something different in my career. It’s difficult to get a move overseas as teams can buy any player they want.
“Wasps also bought Lima Sopoaga, so it is getting tougher and tougher to represent another team or get in because South Africa is… It’s great to be here and everything, but I think it is going to be tougher to move in future.”
Carr, though, won’t be entirely homesick at Wasps’ Ricoh Arena in Coventry, which is just over an hour’s train ride north-west of London – or a two-hour drive by car.
Fellow Springboks Willie le Roux, Juan de Jongh and Ashley Johnson are also part of coach Dai Young’s team – ironically, all three hail from the Western Cape (Le Roux: Strand, De Jongh: Wellington, Johnson: Wynberg in Cape Town), just like Carr.
Most importantly, his wife Aa’esha will be by his side too. “I’m excited about that. It’s been tough for her with me as a professional rugby player – you are always busy, you’re always doing functions,” Carr said.
“It’s not always easy with all the travelling, and I’m grateful to her. I’m glad that she’s coming with this time, she was also here for the last loan stint. Now she can make me nice food!
“I’m looking forward to being with them (Bok teammates) again. They made me feel very welcome, and that was part of the reason why I decided to sign – obviously I would be more comfortable with them around.
“It’s always nice if you can speak Afrikaans to your friends! That’s what I grew up with and know – whether I speak Kombuis Afrikaans or not! They showed me around, they showed me all the halaal places.”
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While Carr says he wanted to move on to a new challenge at Wasps, the environment created by Young and the club management gave some insight into why he would want to be in the UK.
Despite excelling for Wasps on a three-month loan deal, he soon cut a frustrated figure at the Stormers as he was gradually moved to the bench in favour of other loose forwards such as Cobus Wiese, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit playing as a flank.
Captain Siya Kolisi was entrenched at No 6 as well.
Of course, Robbie Fleck’s team won just six matches out of 16, and missed out on the playoffs in a season to forget.
One of the many strange decisions by Fleck was not employing Carr as the first-choice No 8 throughout the campaign, and he subsequently missed out on Bok selection as well.
In contrast, excitement has reached fever-pitch at Wasps, where they are awaiting the arrival of Carr and two other major signings, All Black flyhalf Lima Sopoaga from the Highlanders and England flank Brad Shields from the Hurricanes.
Carr spoke fondly about his time at the club previously.
“The first day I arrived there last season, the coach (Dai Young) told me to just play what I see and play what makes me happy. And he asked me how I do feel, and I said to him I like moving around in between the forwards and backs – wherever there’s space,” he said.
“I’m not a player where there needs to be too many rules or instructions, as I’m just there to play this nice game, this beautiful game, man. And that is what rugby is about – taking your opportunities, taking your chances, seeing the gaps and taking it, exploiting the spaces.
“That’s what I base my game on, and that’s what the coach told me: ‘Just go out and enjoy yourself.’
“And every week, there is a social for all the foreign players, as they don’t have their families with them as much. So we became a family ourselves, and that settled me in nicely.
“But it was just so nice from the club, in terms of welcoming me. Treating me as a human first, as a good friend, before I have to impress them on a rugby field. So, off the field, things were really nice.”
The five-cap Springbok loose forward said Young and the rest of the set-up encouraged him to play his natural game, which also suits the attacking style of the club.
“They base their game on flair, running type of rugby. And the interplay is always about keeping the ball alive, and that is what I thrive on,” Carr said.
“What’s nice is that a player will always try to put the next player into space. I think that is a world-class player – if he’s thinking about the next move, putting you into a better space.
“If you call for the ball or anything like that, then they will play you. They’re all about keeping the ball moving, as at the end of the day, the ball moves faster than anything. That is what the coaches are trying to implement in our mindsets, our psyche.
“If we don’t have to set up a ruck, then play it wide. But we also don’t shy away from getting stuck in when we have to, and we have the guys to do that. Playing against Saracens was one of the toughest games for me, as it was very physical and they like to run with the ball as well.”
It is being able to mix things up with his silky touches and getting stuck in on defence and at the breakdown that made Carr a Springbok in the first place.
With the World Cup coming up next year, now is the time to impress coach Rassie Erasmus.
And even though Carr is not in the national set-up at the moment, he still hopes to play Test rugby again.
Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk has proved that a move to the English Premiership can reinvigorate your international career, after he starred for the Sale Sharks last season.
“If you ever stop dreaming of becoming a Springbok, then you are not playing rugby for the proper reasons. You must want to always play for your country, and that will never die within me,” Carr said.
“But I’m not too worried about that, as I am focusing on what I can control now. Whatever happens afterwards will happen or not, but I will never give up on playing for the Boks.
“Especially with the 30-cap rule now scrapped, it is possible. It will always be in the back of your mind, but you have to focus on what’s in front of you and living in the moment.”
This is a bitter sweet moment for me. My time at Western Province/Stormers has come to an end. There are so many people I’ve met along the way who has had an immense impact in my life and my career and to them I’d like to say thank you. I’ll cherish those memories we’ve made forever. I was only 9 when I started representing Western Province and I always dreamt of representing the senior WP/Stormers team. I’d like to thank the staff, players and supporters of WP who has been through it all with me. It was an absolute honour to have represented WP for so many years and I sincerely hope I did this club proud. But now it’s time to embark on a new journey and I’m excited for what lies ahead for me @waspsrugby
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