There wasn’t a lot of positivity amongst any of the South African contingent at the post-match press conference at Murrayfield on Saturday. Having just watched the Boks lose unexpectedly to Scotland – and dish up some utter dross in the process – smiles and laughs were thin on the ground.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I ran into none other than our very own “Big Vic”, Sharks flanker Willem Alberts, after the official interview were over. If ever there was a man who must know the meaning of mixed emotions, it’s the massive former Monument back-rower, whose personal test career could not have started better – thanks to two tries in as many appearances. The Boks, as a team, are not coming up to scratch on this tour, but one thing that cannot be faulted is Alberts’ personal contribution, form or (most importantly), aptitude for test rugby. Once the regular crew of “seasoned” journos took their dictaphones off in the direction of Bismarck du Plessis, Alberts appeared to heave a sigh of relief and was quite surprised when I not only addressed him as “Vic”, but also introduced myself as a long-time Facebook friend/stalker as well as Sharks fan of some repute.
“Hey Rob!”, exclaimed the big man, a broad smile cracking his previously sombre face as he realised he was in the presence of a friend. “It’s nice to finally meet you”.
Mixed emotions indeed – the necessary and appropriate level of contrition given that he had, unfortunately, just played a part in one of the Springboks more ignominious defeats in recent years, but also an undisguised sparkle in his eyes in recognition of the dramatic upward swing in his personal fortunes since making the move to the Sharks at the beginning of the season. This time last year, Alberts, as a Lions player, had seen his team miss out on the semi-finals of the Currie Cup and was as far from a Bok cap as I am. A short 12 months later and he has a Currie Cup winners medal, two test caps and a pair of tries to go with them.
“That’s a record I’m going to try and keep up,” he reveals when we discuss his try-scoring exploits, even though he will concede that the effort against Scotland was a rather fortuitous one, Alberts pouncing on a wayward lineout through meant for Victor Matfield and barrelling over the line while the Scots’ attention was elsewhere. Not that it matters, of course – you take your test tries from whence they come. You get the feeling, though, that Vic is not one to complain about his lot in life anyway, realising how truly blessed he is to be where he is – enjoying the opportunity of a lifetime. “Ja, things are going so well, hey,” he confirms, “I wouldn’t change anything at all”.
There is a sense of frustration, though, that the Boks aren’t playing to their strengths. “We could probably keep the ball in hand more and try to get over the advantage line,” is his guarded response to the question. “We’re also hoping that the three Sharks loose forwards might be able to play together against the Barbarians. We understand each other well and are a good combination, so maybe the coaches will think it’s worth a try.” Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to get into that in any more detail, as Alberts had to leave to attend the post-match meeting. “I’ll probably be forced to have a drink for that try,” he concedes, not looking as though it was a punishment that he wouldn’t enjoy!
I had to fire a parting shot, of course, so I asked Willem whether Robert Gumede had approached him yet, regarding a move back to the Lions. “There isn’t a big enough cheque in the world,” was his response.Tweet