Looks like a job for Superman

As Schalk Brits apologises for his barely audible voice, explaining that he has had the flu all week, it is impossible not to think one thing: maybe he isn’t Superman after all?

That may be hyperbolic, but Brits is building a compelling body of evidence to support the joke Saracens supporters make that Superman wears Schalk Brits pyjamas in bed.

A qualified accountant, he has done more than any other player to transform Saracens from serial also-rans to Aviva Premiership champions in 2011 and a side ready to take on the elite.

His outstanding performance in that final against Leicester defied belief, with Austin Healy saying he could be an international-class centre if it wasn’t for the fact he plays with No. 2 on his back.

But it’s not just on the rugby pitch where Brits excels. At the start of October he was given a weekend off from Saracens. Looking for something to do, Brits headed up to St Andrew’s to take part in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

When he returned to the club, all he could talk about was the missed putt on the 18th that cost him a birdie. Apparently a round of one-under-par wasn’t good enough.

In fact, it should be easy to dislike Brits — but it’s impossible not to warm to him.

The heart and soul of the Saracens dressing room, it is instructive how heartfelt the congratulations were from his team-mates when he was recalled by South Africa for last month’s tour of Europe after a four-year absence from the international game. Armed with an infectious laugh that booms out even when he feels like Hell — and unfortunately, Munster fans, he expects to have fully recovered before tomorrow’s huge Heineken Cup clash in Watford — it is clear why he is perhaps the most popular player in English rugby.

“Oh man, Dougie!” comes the laugh when I remind him about the tackle from Doug Howlett that cut him in two during Munster’s 15-9 victory at Thomond Park on Saturday.

“He was my room-mate when we were playing for the Barbarians a couple of years ago. All my mates have been sending me video clips of it “You know what, though, it looks worse than it was — mind you, I might not run straight at him again this Sunday.”

And it’s fair to say that Brits thoroughly enjoyed the Thomond experience. A player who likes a joke with the crowd, it seems incongruous to have him stationed at Vicarage Road, one of rugby’s most soulless outposts.

Fortunately, Saracens are moving into their new home, the Allianz Park, early next year. Such a move means continued involvement in the Heineken Cup is vital for the club.

“Mate, I would kiss my own arse to play in front of a crowd like they’ve got at Thomond Park every week,” came the response with a naughty chuckle.

“It’s probably one of the best places I’ve played rugby at. It was special, and it’s very intimidating for the opposition.

“And for us, it’s been a long wait to get a ground we can call our own. The team is getting there. It was great to win the Premiership but now we want to be the best in Europe and win silverware in the Heineken Cup.

“We know we have the squad to do it and it’s about delivering performances week-in week-out.

“When I came to Saracens in 2009 one of the reasons was that they hadn’t been successful.

“Look at the Leinster boys — they’ll go down as club legends for what they’ve done in the Heineken Cup. That was my ambition, that was what I wanted to do here.

“I believe our squad is as good as it’s ever been, and now we want to play some decent rugger.”

And both Brits and Saracens have earned the right to play. Written off in South Africa as too small to be a hooker, Brits is getting the better of his personal battle with World Cup winning skipper John Smit, who has joined him in north London.

Having escaped from Thomond with a losing bonus point, Sarries are equally aware their Heineken Cup fate is in their own hands.

“We want to play to our potential against Munster this time,” says Brits. “I personally didn’t play at my best and I need to pick up my own game.

“It wasn’t a good day at the office as we gave away too many penalties and Munster make you pay for that. But we can put things right this time around. As for me, when I came to England it was a fact that a lot of people said I wouldn’t make it as a player. It was a challenge for me to say: ‘I want to go to England, I want to learn how to scrum properly.’ ”

I thought I was pretty good, but I have survived and learnt here.”

Too right he has. If Munster are to get past Saracens, they need to stop Superman.


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