Cape Town - Johan Grobbelaar was on tour with the Springboks in Australia for so long that we wondered whether he had picked up an accent Down Under.
But for the Bulls hooker, born and raised in Paarl and living in Pretoria for the past six years, not a chance ...
“No, I spoke as little English as possible! Only spoke it in defence … So I didn’t pick up any accent – I am still an Afrikaner,” Grobbelaar said.
His first experience as part of the Bok squad was one to savour, though, despite not getting any game time in the Rugby Championship, with all of Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx and Joseph Dweba ahead of him in the hooker pecking order.
“It was a very good experience for me. I was a bit surprised when I got the call-up, but I was very excited and it was great to learn,” Grobbelaar said ahead of Friday’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Sharks in Durban.
“It was nice to see how the systems work and to meet everyone there, and to get perspectives from that point of view. I learnt a lot and it was a really good experience.
“Some of the games were decided by small margins, which we could’ve won as well. We lost those three Tests, which we hoped would’ve gone the other way. But to work with that group of guys – even though I didn’t play – to experience how they maintain their composure, and to still go and win that last Test (against the All Blacks) after so many weeks together on tour, in hotels together…
“It was tough, but the guys still stuck at it to win that last game. It’s not every day that you beat New Zealand away from home, so to be part of that was a big experience.”
Grobbelaar last played on July 30 when the Bulls beat Western Province 34-13 in a Currie Cup clash at Cape Town Stadium.
He was then called up to the Springbok squad, and hasn’t fed a line-out in a match since.
Four months is a long period without any action, so the Paarl Gym product is keen to get going again, especially now that he has had a taste of what it takes to become a Test player.
“That (Bok game time) comes in time – you can’t be in a hurry for it. You have to just do what you can do, and play good rugby weekend after weekend. Then, if you are in good form, and there’s a gap that opens at the Boks, then you can hopefully come into consideration,” Grobbelaar said.
“But there are many good hookers at the Boks at the moment, so I will have to wait for my chance.
“At this stage, I am looking forward to playing for the Bulls again, and to get some game time. I haven’t been on the field for a long time, so if I can just play consistently well weekend in and weekend out, then the chance at the Boks will come one day.”
The Bulls will also hope for a turnaround in fortunes after a tough four-match European tour, where they lost to Leinster, Connacht and Edinburgh, with a win over Cardiff their only success.
At least they will face familiar foes in the Sharks at Jonsson Kings Park on Friday.
“I think over the last while, we have just been playing against each other, and we knew each other well as South African teams, and you did what worked for you,” Grobbelaar said.
“When we started playing overseas against those clubs, you see that they have other methods and you have to adjust. The big thing is that they are a lot quicker, so I think we will have to pick up our game in that respect. We have definitely looked at a few things that are a bit different, and we will try to improve our play a bit.”