South Africa’s World Cup winner Faf De Klerk says playing his club rugby in England has helped take his game to a new level.
The 28-year-old scrum-half played a key role in the Springboks’ successful World Cup campaign, culminating in a 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama three weeks ago, but suggests that would not have been possible without his stint at Sale.
De Klerk took a huge gamble by signing for the Premiership club ahead of the 2017-18 season because at the time it made him ineligible for his country but a change in the rules paved the way for his recall and he has not looked back since.
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And, as he prepares to return for the Sharks’ Heineken Champions Cup clash with La Rochelle at the AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday, De Klerk insists there is more to come from him.
“I always think you can improve,” he said. “There’s never been a time when you can say anything is perfect.
“Hopefully I can get even better for the club. I’ve spoken about how Sale handed me a lot more responsibility.
“The conditions in England are up and down and you need to learn to play in all sorts of conditions. Learning to adapt quickly was a massive part of that,
“I’ve learned a lot more skills, game-management and things like that – back in South Africa, I wouldn’t have refined those skills so much. It’s helped me a lot.”
The Springboks returned to South Africa to a heroes’ welcome and six days of celebrations which will live with De Klerk forever.
“I can’t really describe it,” he said. “When we got off the plane, it was amazing.
“It felt like everyone in South Africa was there. It was amazing to be a part of it and amazing to see what it means to them all.
“To see people crying, people uniting and all types of races coming together was incredible.
“You could see it in their eyes, how much it meant to them. There were people who didn’t have television sets to watch the games but they found a way.
“A lot of people said it was similar to the 1995 World Cup win but, in a sense, it’s almost bigger for what it means to people.
“So many of us came from humble beginnings and to get to this now it shows that it can give a lot of hope to a lot of youngsters, that you can come from poverty and make it. To inspire people is the main thing.”
De Klerk, along with England flanker Tom Curry, will be back down to earth on Sunday when they pull on their club shirts but the South African does not expect to have any problem readjusting as he sets his sights on more silverware.
“Not difficult at all,” he said. “We’ve got different goals here and different standards we want to get to.
“We want to be a top-four side in all competitions and that’s a new goal for me. We want to win the Premiership.
“Our focus shifts to that quite quickly. We play this weekend and I’m back to it and hopefully I can add to the team.
“I need to add to the team because that’s why I’m here and there are new goals for me now.”
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