Schalk Brits admits the loss of fitness expert Aled Walters is a massive blow for the World Cup winning Springboks but a significant step forward for the ailing Leicester Tigers, who will now be under the control Steve Borthwick, his former Saracens roommate. Brits knows Walters and Borthwick extremely well and sees their recruitment as vital to Leicester’s bid to recapture former glories after recent damaging upheavals and the departure of England wing Jonny May back to Gloucester.
Tigers would currently be bottom of the suspended Premiership if Saracens had not already been relegated after their salary cap breaches.
Brits was part of the World Cup winning Springbok squad in Japan last year and believes Welshman Walters’ demanding fitness regime was key. “We wouldn’t have won the World Cup without Aled,” said Brits “He played a massive role in how far we got.”
Walters, who had worked with Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus at Munster, now takes that world-class understanding of strength and conditioning to Welford Road as head of physical performance to work alongside Borthwick, the former Saracens captain who is quitting his role as England forwards coach to return to the Gallagher Premiership which could restart in July – Government restrictions permitting.
The combination of Borthwick’s experience at test level allied to Walters understanding of how to physically get the best out of players could be the missing elements Leicester have struggled to find and both now join a reshaped coaching set up under Geordan Murphy, the director of rugby. Working with Borthwick will be Rob Taylor as attack coach, Mike Ford in charge of defence, Brett Deacon the breakdown and assistant forwards and defence coach plus Boris Stankovich, the scrum coach.
Brits told RugbyPass: “Leicester has an unbelievably proud history and for me coming from South Africa, Tigers was the club to beat. With Steve and Aled there they will instil a great work ethic and team culture to the boys. My perception is that Tigers would always push hard, but weren’t always clever in how they did it.
“All across the world people underestimate how him important your strength and conditioning coach is and you can tell a lot about the culture of a team in how they operate in the gym – the kind of vibe you have.
“Rassie had this incredible plan for how he wanted the Springboks to play but you have to have a great S&C coach to look at the stats and look after the players. When we ran too many metres Aled was the one who told Rassie we had to get off the pitch. The coach and the head of S&C have to be walking hand in hand and in my 20 years in the game I have experienced times when they haven’t and it was a nightmare. Going to Tiger is an unbelievable opportunity for Aled and it is a massive loss for South Africa.
“You earn the respect of players through your work ethic, always being on time, making sure the programme is ready and he was spot on for us. Aled knows what he is talking about and if you are not a South African our culture can be a bit tricky and he was completely embraced because he is such an awesome guy. Tigers have made two really great buys in Steve and Aled and they are a great combination.”
Having played alongside Borthwick for five years at Saracens, Brits has no doubt that the former England captain will make a real impact at Welford Road.” Steve was a fantastic captain but somehow became unpopular taking a lot of grief when he was captain of England. As a club captain, he was phenomenal.
“As people, me and Steve are opposites in how we prepare for games and we roomed together for a lot of the trips. Steve would prepare endlessly for the games and I would just rock up and play with a smile on my face because my job as a hooker was made easy by the amazing amount of work Steve did. He would look at the opposition for hours and then tell me where to throw the ball!
“Working under Eddie he has fined tuned those skills and is an incredible student of the game. His work ethic as a player was incredible and he would be doing pre-rehab then rehab because he was dedicated to being the very best he could be.”
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