x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Brits abroad go unnoticed

Schalk Brits has proven himself to be a "Superman" according to his coach at Saracens, but a national call-up from his native South Africa is unlikely to come anytime soon.

Schalk Brits, centre, and his work for Saracens has been ignored in his native South Africa.
Schalk Brits, centre, and his work for Saracens has been ignored in his native South Africa.

In a week when one was named England's Cricketer of the Year, and another produced the finest individual display in the history of Premiership rugby's Grand Finals, it would be glib to debate the impact of South Africans on English sport.

If the rules permit, which they do, then they are welcome. But the more pertinent question seems to be, why are players such as Jonathan Trott and Schalk Brits not appreciated in their home country?

Trott served far more than the minimum four-year residency term required in cricket to change his allegiance from South Africa to England.

Now, wearing the three lions on his chest rather than the protea, he has the second-best average of any batsman to have played more than 20 Test innings, behind only the great Sir Donald Bradman.

(Ironically, a great South African whose career was punctuated by their international exile, Graeme Pollock, is third).

Did no one in South Africa notice Trott could bat a bit?

The three Test matches Brits played for the Springboks before leaving for the UK mean that the extraordinary Saracens hooker will never follow suit and change his colours.

But he has been left in some sort of limbo, where his sublime displays in the English Premiership find no favour with his own national selectors. Of course, there are mitigating factors, such as the target system, the fact that he is playing in a suspicious foreign league rather than the Super 15, and that the World Cup-winning captain, John Smit, plays in his position.

Still, how is Brits not among South Africa's best three hookers, let alone their starting No 2?

The man is ridiculously talented. His coach at Saracens, Mark McCall, says "he plays like Superman".

Yet, in South Africa, he is regarded as just another everyman. One criticism he left Africa with was that his basics - line-out throwing and scrummaging - were not good enough.

Yet in last weekend's Premiership final win over Leicester, when he was not sidestepping wingers, claiming up-and-unders, and felling Samoan giants, he was hitting his jumpers with precision under intense pressure.

Why is he overlooked? Lucre is usually held up as a reason. The expatriated South Africans who change nations are often viewed as mercenaries, flying the flag for a better financial deal.

But Brits has not swapped allegiance. He deserves to be just as well off as any of South African rugby's Galacticos. And he is more than deserving of a few more Test caps, too.