SCHALK Brits has spent four months pleading with Saracens captain Steve Borthwick not to retire after today’s Aviva Premiership final.
Livewire Springboks hooker Brits believes gritty lock Borthwick is the “yin to my yang”, admitting the former England skipper will be all but irreplaceable at Allianz Park. Borthwick will wrap up 16 years of top-flight rugby in the Twickenham league battle against Northampton, before joining Japan’s coaching ranks full-time.
Mako Vunipola will miss today’s Premiership final, however, after failing to recover from knee trouble suffered in Saracens’ 23-6 Heineken Cup final defeat to Toulon.
Brits revealed workaholic Borthwick’s famed line-out obsession even extended to a Saracens bonding trip in Swiss ski resort Verbier. “We were rooming together and I came back late in the night after a few beers, and he had his laptop out watching line-outs,” Brits said. “I said, ‘hey man, give me a hug, I love you – put the laptop down’.
“He said ‘no way, I need to do this before I can have another beer tomorrow night’. I’ve never known a guy as diligent as Steve – it’s phenomenal. It’s one of the saddest times for me: he’s the yin to my yang.
“I’m the happy guy, he’s the serious guy. I’m the guy that makes jokes at line-out sessions and he doesn’t take the mick out of me – he just says ‘shut up, let’s just go do some line-outs’. As my captain, as a friend and a fellow rugby player, I’m going to miss him a lot.”
The South African continued: “I’ve been teasing him and I’ve been trying to get him to play for one more year, but he’s not budging. I’ve been doing that now for about four months, almost every day when I come in I say: ‘one more year, please’. And he’ll say ‘my body is done’ and he’s one guy who has put in everything that you can into the game. He’s one guy that’s taught me that work ethic is vital and his is second to none. You would only understand him when you work with him. He’s first in and last out every day and he’s put his heart and soul into this club and his rugby.”
Borthwick won 57 caps for England across ten years with Bath and six at Saracens. Brits said the grizzled operator’s homespun humility will ensure sentiment has no bearing in today’s showpiece contest, as Saracens chase their first league title since 2011.
“He never takes credit or talks about what he does,” Brits said. “He would give me a proper whack on the head if I said before this game, ‘boys, let’s do it for Steve’. He just gets his work done and I’ve learned so much from him, not just as a rugby player but as a person as well. I’ve got very good line-out stats, percentages of winning line-out ball, but I’ve only got a very small part to play in that. I just throw the ball in, but it’s Steve that makes the fantastic calls that make my stats look good.”
Former Australia coach Eddie Jones was responsible for recruiting Borthwick at Saracens in 2008, and the duo will reunite with Japan this summer.
Borthwick beat a nasty-looking pectoral problem to take part in last weekend’s Heineken Cup final against Toulon, only for Saracens to lose out 23-6. Brits admitted that European loss only adds to the pressure for the clash with Saints.
“I could try not to answer that question but, to be honest, the answer is yes, it is a bigger challenge after last weekend,” he said. “We had a very disappointing semi-final last year against Toulon, and we had a disappointing final this year.
“But I’m still proud of the boys for the way they conducted themselves. It didn’t go our way, but we kept fighting.”
Northampton may have lifted the Amlin Challenge Cup only a week ago but Stephen Myler insists the success of their season will be decided by today alone.
Saints are hoping to secure their first Aviva Premiership title. Last year was their only previous appearance in the final, losing heavily to Leicester, and Myler admits it is time for Northampton to be crowned English champions. “The league season is our acid test. We’ve progressed a lot this year, but it comes down to one day determining whether we’ve been successful or not,” he said.
“That’s a bit of a funny scenario to be in, but it’s what we must work hard for and we can do it. I believe it will come down to who plays best on the day. It’s one each between us and Saracens in the league and we’re expecting a tough battle. They have quality players, so I’m sure they’re professional enough to overcome losing in the Heineken Cup final last weekend and get back on page for this game.”