When he turns up for the interview, Earl Rose entertains his passenger — puzzled teammate Jano Vermaak — by breaking into an impromptu little jig to some 1980s music in the Johannesburg Stadium parking lot.
That taken care of, he bounds into the Lions’ reception area like a long- lost son, before vainly trying to rile the team’s famously phlegmatic manager Mac Hendricks.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes in the Sunday Times that this bloke positively jumping out of his skin with effervescence isn’t the surly Earl Rose newspaper headlines have conditioned one to expect.
If his bad boy press is to be believed, Rose is supposed to be a girlfriend beater, a part-time drug dealer and the kind of guy who’s always one skeef look from a set-to.
The image comes from newspaper claims by his ex-girlfriend Yaadhna Singh that he repeatedly beat her in jealous rages last year; his allegedly being bust in possession of Schedule 5 drugs with teammate Rayno Benjamin; and a reported altercation with a Durban hotel doorman earlier this year.
Rose was cleared in the drugs matter, while Benjamin will appear in court. But it was still considered another black mark on Rose’s chequered career.
In trying to explain why he has dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons, the star flyhalf reckons some of it was lies and some of it was the truth, before settling for: “I don’t want to talk about it, I just want to put it all behind me.
“All I want to say is those things have taught me to act responsibly all the time. I’d like to think that I am now.”
Lions’ coach Eugene Eloff isn’t as backward in defending his player’s honour.
“The thing with the girlfriend was just bad publicity,” sayd Eloff. “The story of the drugs was a total set-up, that will soon come out (in court) in October.
“I know the kind of side people don’t see with Earl when he’s with his (twin) daughters, those kids are his passion. Like any player he pushed the boundaries in the beginning, but I’ve had no problems with him this year.”
It is the “new” Rose that has finally been attracting attention for performances on the field.
Going into yesterday’s game against the Sharks, the 24-year-old was the leading points scorer in the Absa Currie Cup with 161 points.
For a player capable of doing the sublime and the ludicrous within five minutes of each other, this is some achievement.
Even more remarkable is that he has scored them from flyhalf, the one position in which a player cannot hide in the game.
Rose credits his new-found consistency to the Lions coaches showing faith in him and his surprise call- up to the Springbok training group at the conclusion of the Super 14.
“I wasn’t the No 1 flyhalf or the No 1 fullback or the No 1 kicker in the team,” he says of his situation at the Lions.
“The coaches are finally believing in me and now I can believe in myself.”
Eloff has a simpler reason why the diminutive player has worked for him.
“He’s got the X-factor,” says Eloff. “That’s one of the reasons why I brought him up here, it was only a matter of time before he broke through that barrier, but he looks like he’s doing that now.
“The important thing is that he’s got the X-factor and all the teams that play against him will tell you. They’re not sure what he’s going to do next and that’s what I like in a flyhalf.”
And while Rose never got a look-in at the Bok team in May, he reckons just being invited changed the way he looked at his career.
“It was an honour just to be there,” he says, “For me it was more a mental boost. It was good for me to see what I had to do to be there.
“When I got back I just thought, ‘this is my year’. I took life for granted in the past but now I know I have to work harder for the things I want in life.”
The irony is that it is at flyhalf that the famously flaky Rose — he once conceded a try by trying to attack from behind his tryline — is succeeding.
Up until this year Rose, who played flyhalf and centre in the junior ranks, was seen as a fullback who could deputise at stand-off in first-class rugby.
His take on what his best position is does little to help the debate: “I just want to play. I see myself as a flyhalf because that’s what I’m focusing on now.
“I just want to play and prove myself by setting my goals and achieving them. I just want to keep striving for my goal of being a Springbok.”
Rose has certainly done the necessary work to improve, putting in additional defence and kicking sessions to go with his usual array of goose-steps and no-look off-loads.
His stated ambition to be a Springbok is often scoffed at in rugby circles because of his size. But the 1.80m, 83kg Rose is undeterred.
“That’s what they think, I just have to work harder at things. We’ve been playing against the smaller sides, the test is going to come now when we play the Sharks, Western Province, semifinals and finals.
“The critics can judge me on that. Size doesn’t matter, it’s only in SA that it’s an issue, (Dan) Carter, (Matt) Giteau and (Jonny) Wilkinson aren’t big guys but they do the job.”
Rose has the support of his coach: “I’m sure he’s going to surprise all those people. It is true that there’s a perception out there that a good big player is better than a good small one. This guy’s got so much natural talent I reckon he’s gonna go all the way.”
Over the next few weekends, Rose has the kind of critical Currie Cup games which separate the chancers from the real thing.
“This is what I live for, that’s what makes life exciting. It represents a test of the new me.”Tweet