TThere are many important topics to discuss with Faf de Klerk here, but first things first. Exactly how long is the diminutive blonde bombshell from South Africa waiting for the return of the hair salons? “It was a nightmare,” he replies, exhaling slowly. “I am so eager for them to reopen. I have almost always had long hair, but now it is too long. I’ve tried all kinds of things, tie it up, Alice bands, but it’s been annoying. I am very excited.”
It’s easy to understand Faf’s impatience, in every way, to revisit his roots. South Africa won the Rugby World Cup 17 months ago, since the Springboks have not played a single Test. The 29-year-old last saw his parents at home a year ago and has spent a winter confinement living alone in Manchester. Even his typically exuberant nature – “It’s been pretty tough” – has been sorely tested.
At last, however, there are rays of light. On the horizon is the British & Irish Lions tour, scheduled to take place in South Africa in July and August, and the world’s most recognizable scrum-half can’t wait. “At the moment, things are much more open there than here, but we don’t really know what is going to happen. It all depends on the South African government. “Fans or non-fans, the Boks are eager to show that their 2019 win was no fluke.” We want to show that we deserved it, that it wasn’t just the luck of the draw. “
And in the meantime, his club, Sale Sharks, are also desperate to prove a point, starting this weekend with the Champions Cup trip to West Wales to face the Scarlets. Win and, for the second time in the club’s history, you will participate in the round of 16 of the main club competition in Europe. As Sharks rugby director Alex Sanderson puts it bluntly: “Sale has always been the underdog. If we win, it’s because someone else played badly. I think we’re all a little sick and tired of it. “
The disappointments of last season, when the Sharks were forced out of the Premiership play-offs due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the team, also stoked the North and De Klerk fires, despite coming from Nelspruit. Instead of Northenden, he’s as motivated as anyone. “I definitely feel that way. The last three seasons we have been raising the bar, but we want to be a dominant force. We want to get away from all this ‘Sale is just a fighter northern side who plays tough rugby’ vibe. We want to take that label off our shoulders and be one of the great teams in the Premiership. “
Not that dagger-sharp De Klerk needs a second invitation to become a nuisance. However, perceptions can be misleading: a lot of laborious homework becomes the biggest irritant on the world rugby field. “I definitely look at the nine opponents and see if there are any traits that I can grasp to put him under pressure. Let’s say a nine tends to go off the base. If you change direction, maybe I could be in your eye line or get in your way. In attack, I will be watching to see if the flanks are slow at the base or if there is room in the backfield. Basically, I’m trying to figure out any advantage I can get. “
And if none of this works, maybe a little talk could do it. “Gloucester had a nine-year-old who tried to tell me something and then he kicked two balls directly into touch. That was a great opportunity just to say, ‘Yeah you wanted to tell me something and now look what happened!’ Some guys like to chat, but it can affect others. I try to play with that if I can. “Against which opponent do you most enjoy facing your wits?” Many nines prefer to get stuck in the bigger guys because they know they can’t do anything. But I love playing Danny Care because of the threat he poses. He’s always a challenging guy to play against. “
Gareth Davies, scrum half for Scarlets and Wales, should be considered forewarned. De Klerk may have won a World Cup, and stayed in his underwear to talk to Prince Harry afterward, but he’s still hungry for more. “You can’t just win a World Cup and then play rugby like you don’t know how to do it.” Despite standing only 5ft 7one/twoUp high, nothing fazes him – his mother, Corrie, describes him as “like a little Jack Russell but with the heart of a lion” – and his four years in England, he acknowledges, have made him even better. “It has definitely made me a better player. When I started here, I was not in the role that I have now of controlling the game and being a leader … that has definitely evolved my game a lot. If you have the mentality to try to improve yourself, I think you will always grow. “
In Sale they also know exactly how to make their South Africans feel like part of the family. The latest joyous squad initiative has been a series of “Pub Olympics” skills competitions to prepare for the reopening of the Beer Gardens in England on April 12, with the winners entitled to “a free piss” at their venue. choice. Despite Tom Curry’s controversial return from England service – “He needs to win something so they put him on the team he was leading” – De Klerk’s team is still on the hunt, albeit a narrow loss on the dart board. along with his neighbor and good friend Josh Beaumont has not helped their collective cause.
Heaven forbid her famous bleached hair – “I’m afraid I’ll lose some of my strength if she goes away” – get into her eyes at the wrong time, but the most immediate challenge is cutting Scarlets to size. Sale may be a bit lucky to remain involved after two early group losses, but a quarter-final against Gloucester or La Rochelle is only 80 minutes away.
“We are finally in a position to compete and that’s what’s exciting,” says De Klerk. “I think it will be very close to the quality of the test matches with the type of players that both teams have now.” Whenever you play a big game, it is rarely worth gambling against the smallest man on the field.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism