“He’s quite an amusing fellow which is unusual for a South African. He’s got a good sense of humour,” is Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill’s jocular description of new prop Pierre Schoeman, which is borne out by an entertaining time spent in the ebullient loosehead’s company this week.
Far from the taciturn Afrikaaner stereotype, Schoeman has made an instant impact at his new club, is clearly loving life in the Scottish capital with his wife Charissa as shown by his engaging Twitter feed, and is adamant that the change in World Rugby’s residency rule to five years hasn’t dampened the 24-year-old from Pretoria’s desire to pull on a dark blue jersey one day.
Schoeman arrived in Scotland with a bit of a colourful back story after he was hit with a six-week ban for biting Melbourne Rebels player Richard Hardwick in Super Rugby over the summer, after he had already committed to moving to Edinburgh.
The lenient punishment meant he was able to hit the ground running and he has already impressed in the first three rounds of the Guinness Pro14. “It’s a great shift for me, especially in this time in my career as well – just after I bit the guy from the Rebels,” said the former Bulls man with a smile. Asked if he was worried Cockerill might tear up the contract after that rather unsavoury incident, the former South Africa Under-20 international breaks into another broad grin.
“No, because I knew he would have done maybe the same,” he said of his new boss before, perhaps prudently adding: “No, I’m joking.”
Cockerill clearly appreciates the cut of the front-rower’s jib but it is on the pitch that he has been most satisfied with the new acquisition. “He’s been good, he’s come in and worked very hard, he’s settled in very well and he cares about what he does,” said the coach.
Cockerill added: “If he was Scottish he’d be playing for Scotland wouldn’t he? He’s that good. He’s a bloody good player and he’s done very well.”
Schoeman admitted that the move to the northern hemisphere has been an eye-opener but a new chapter in his life and career he is enjoying immensely.
“I am very pleased but still have a lot to work on, especially the setpiece,” he said ahead of this weekend’s trip to face European and Pro14 champions Leinster in Dublin. “As Coach Cockers mentioned it is a lot more focused on the setpiece, especially the scrums and lineout attack and defence. Guys like WP [Nel] who has been here for years and years and have that experience, he can get the better of you at training. I have still a lot to work on but am very happy.
“I have been blown away by how professional they are. Shakes after training! There is a big emphasis on recovery as well.
“I won’t say I lacked it but I have learned a lot more. Like [Ireland’s South Africa-born back-rower] CJ Stander said after the Six Nations when he got player of the tournament or something. He said in South Africa he thought he was the top dog playing for the Bulls.
“Coming overseas he is going to show people but then he said when he got here he learned a lot over here. That is the same for me. I came here and I am still learning a lot.”
The boy who grew up in the South African capital, attending school a stone’s throw from Loftus Versfeld where he would later forge a pro rugby career, is also learning to love his new home city of the Scottish equivalent.
“Off the ball you have to enjoy it,” he said. “Rugby is our primary work and passion as well. It is a professional job.
“Now that I get the chance with the offer to play for Edinburgh and stay in Scotland I might as well make the best of it and enjoy the life, especially with my missus. We got married in June so that is quite nice. We went to the Castle and we have actually watched a TV series about Mary Queen of Scots so we are up to date with all the traditions!” Future training perhaps to follow in the footsteps of Nel and represent his adopted homeland one day?
“My focus is Edinburgh but for future sakes my aspiration is to play for Scotland if I am good enough at that time,” said Schoeman. “I will work hard for that. Especially under Cockers who brings the best out of all our players.
“If it takes five years then it takes five years. I am going to be here and would love to get a lot of caps like WP. If there is a twist or glitch in the thing [residency rule] stating [back to] three years that would be awesome. If it is five years then it is five years.”