Like any other foreigner, Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman was keen to see a bit more of Scotland outside the capital where he lives and works. He and his wife hired a car and set off, along with fellow South Africans Jaco van der Walt and his missus.
“I asked Ben Toolis, ‘mate, where in Scotland can you see a waterfall?’,” Schoeman picks up the story. “He’s very adventurous, coming from Australia, they like the outdoor stuff.
“He just looked at me. When me and my missus went to Glencoe with Jaco and his missus we saw like 3,000 waterfalls on the first day and I understood why he had looked at me like that.”
Just months after joining the club, the short, stocky prop has already established himself as a cult hero to the Edinburgh faithful while proving his worth on the field. The Afrikaners don’t enjoy a reputation as a happy-go-lucky lot but Schoeman does his level best to redress the balance. He is engaging, intelligent and, yes, good fun.
Trawl through YouTube and you will find him singing a version of Smokie’s “Alice” to his team-mates in the Bulls before a big match. It’s in Afrikaans but he has written new words (I think) to motivate his team. His wedding to a childhood sweetheart was officiated by former Springbok’s No.8 Pierre Spies, now an ordained minister, and the event was televised in South Africa. With the decision to move already made, the wedding also featured a lone piper. Schoeman was part of South Africa’s rugby royalty so the move to Scotland is a strange one.
Most rugby refugees emigrate because they had little or no prospect of advancement in the land of their birth but Schoeman was linked to the Springboks last season and, still only 24, he has time on his side. The decision to up sticks may have been caused by a six week ban he coped for biting, which spoiled any immediate Springboks’ dreams.
With the stated aim of qualifying for Scotland, Schoeman has been doing his stuff in the Guinness Pro14 and next weekend he gets his first taste of the European Champions Cup after missing the first two rounds thanks to another red card (of which more later). On Friday night Edinburgh host Newcastle Falcons who top Pool 5 with two wins from two and these are the sort of big European clashes that must have tempted him north.
“Yes, exactly,” he confirms. “Look at the first two friendlies I played, against Bath and Newcastle, they played a fast brand of rugby so playing Newcastle again will be good while we will have the Scottish [international] boys back as well and leadership in the lineout and the set piece. I am looking forward to that, I like playing the big teams.
“Juan [Socino] played there [Newcastle] for three or four years and told me what a beautiful place it is and the club has a good spirit and the ground is phenomenal so I am looking forward to that. And they have some quality players. As a group they are doing very well and in the European Championship they are in a good spot as well.
“It’s a massive thing for the Scottish boys to play in the Champions Cup. You see it here and with the boys like Huw Jones at Glasgow. There are only two clubs in Scotland and there are a lot of offers coming from French clubs, Premiership clubs, attracting these boys.”
Like everyone else, Schoeman suspects that Fijian breakaway Viliame Mata will be difficult to keep from French clubs and he admits frustration in missing Edinburgh’s opening two rounds in Europe when they surprised even themselves with the quality of performance. The South African was sitting out a four week ban for the use of an elbow on Leinster’s Dan Leavy.
It was the sort of incident that might have slipped under the radar a year or so back but the recent crackdown means that anything on/near the head/neck now demands the scrutiny of the match officials. Schoeman believes they have a way to go.
“I think I have seen maybe 100 plus incidents since, that weren’t even given as an offence!” says the prop. “If you take this [past] week into consideration [at the Dragons] I got a fist, an elbow and a forearm to the head and I didn’t pass out luckily so there was no attention and that could have been minimum a yellow card.
“Look, it is easy to say that rugby has gone soft, I know the concussion protocol and post-concussion syndrome, there has to be more attention paid to the head and neck injuries, but these incidents happen so frequently. If you just pause and play [the video] you can probably find 50-plus incidents in a match. If you go ‘slow mo’ how many firsts and elbows there are in ‘D’ [defence] and in attack… there are a lot.
“The big confusion is can you fend when you are sweating and you can’t grip a guy here on the neck or the collarbone area and if you slip where must you put your arm? Maybe we should tackle like Owen Farrell without any arms? I mean where should you put your arm if you are carrying? If you run with the ball, does it count if you strike a guy with this elbow [carrying the ball] then? Where else must you put your elbow? Must you run like this [he tucks his arm down beside his body] with your arm?
“So the guys are a bit scared about that, it is just whether they catch you or not and for me it is ’50-50’ and also it is difficult to always blame the ref because it is also difficult for them because they have to implement things and they can’t be looking at 30 players the whole time.”
And when the officials do see something they can turn a blind eye when it suits. Schoeman doesn’t comment on his mate Siya Kolisi’s head butt but he did meet up for a meal with his Bokke mates including the skipper when they visited Edinburgh a few weeks back.
“Those boys love Edinburgh, love Scotland,” he says. “Half of them would live here any given day they like it so much.” Half of them already do.
After back-to-back games against the Falcons, Edinburgh must face old rivals Glasgow Warriors twice in the December derbies, so the next four games will go a long way to determining the success or otherwise of this season. Schoeman likens the 1872 Cup rivalry to the Bulls/Stormers clash back home and dismisses the charge that he lacks competition for that loosehead berth.
“Rory Sutherland is one of the most powerful, elusive and explosive props I’ve seen in my life. Allan Dell’s scrum technique is the best I’ve seen.”
Schoeman is a character, a more than useful player and, since he has set his cap on an international appearance for Scotland, he can’t be poached by English/French clubs without giving up on the Test dream.
For five years Murrayfield are able to pay the foursquare Saffa less than he could command abroad with little prospect of him leaving. Scottish Rugby fought hard against the five year residential rule, only to discover it suits them quite nicely.