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FEATURE Pierre Schoeman: 'You have to give it your all. You have to add value. That’s how I see it.'

Pierre Schoeman: 'You have to give it your all. You have to add value. That’s how I see it.'
9 months ago

As Scotland prepare to fly out to their World Cup base in Nice on Sunday, a familiar mood of optimism pervades tartan ranks about what the next five weeks – or maybe six if they reach the quarter-finals, or maybe more, who knows? – might bring.

The talk is of having “a really good World Cup”, of “going in all guns blazing” and “creating something special”. A cynic might suggest we have heard it all before, even if there are reasons to believe this Scottish side are well capable of lobbing some grenades into the tournament’s ‘pool of death’.

Whether that buoyancy pervading the squad is justified, we will discover soon enough. If ever there is a team to puncture inflated expectations and turn dreams into nightmares, it is South Africa, Scotland’s opening opponents in Marseille on September 10.

Whoever you talk to though, the sense is this is a far happier camp than 2019 – at ease with each other, their game-plan and respective roles, even if internal competition for places remains fierce.

No wonder Gregor Townsend reported that training got a bit feisty last week with several players “pushing the edge” as Scotland prepared for their final warm-up Test against Georgia. Most of the squad have already spent a good chunk of the last three months together, with the Edinburgh contingent starting preparations for the tournament as long ago as May 29 – 14 long weeks ago.

With training generally restricted to short, sharp, high-intensity sessions of no more than an hour or two these days, that’s an awful lot of down-time once you’ve popped in the ice-bath for recovery.

In such an environment, it helps to have characters like Pierre Schoeman around. The rumbustious South Africa-born prop has become a cult figure in Scottish rugby since arriving at Edinburgh five years ago and qualifying for the national team through residency in 2021.

Since his debut in a 60-point rout of Tonga that autumn, which he marked with a try, Schoeman has started 20 of Scotland’s last 25 Tests and been a replacement in three more. The opening warm-up Test against Italy, and last Saturday’s send-off against Georgia, are the only matches he has not been involved in, the latter a sign of how important he has become as the Springboks showdown looms.

Pierre Schoeman
Schoeman has become a popular member of an improving Scotland squad (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Given the attritional nature of the set-piece and his relentless ball-carrying – the roars of ‘Schooo!’ every time he charges at the opposition are a constant feature of Edinburgh and Scotland matches – his durability, stamina and positivity make him a highly valuable asset to his adopted country.

Not just on the field either. Since Scotland started preparing for this World Cup, Schoeman has taken over from Jonny Gray – sadly ruled out of the tournament with a dislocated knee – as head of the squad’s ‘court sessions’.  For those of a certain vintage, think ‘Lord Chief Justice’ Keith Wood in the 1997 Living with Lions film, dispensing punishments for various misdemeanors – real or otherwise.

Except rather than ‘The Judge’, Schoeman calls himself ‘The General’, with another member of the front-row union, hooker Dave Cherry, as his deputy. “We are the jury,” Schoeman explains. “We’re responsible for dishing out fines – if you’re late, wearing the wrong kit, or doing the wrong protocols, so maybe you leave your plate on the table, or use a plastic bottle when you can use your YETI (reusable) bottle. You may not do it on purpose but if it doesn’t add value to our positive culture, if you step out of line, you face the consequences.”

So who have been the biggest culprits to date then? “The biggest fines so far have gone to the Fagerson brothers (Zander and Matt),” he reports. “There’s too many to list with those two. But I can tell you some inside info. There is one guy who has a free pass for life.  That’s Richie Gray. He is un-fineable! He sets the example. If you want to be successful in our protocol and our culture, you have to measure yourself against someone else, and we do that against Richie. He is the model.”

Let’s say you’re going to do a BBQ for the squad and instead of steak, you do medium-rare salmon or duck. That’s not going to roll well with the front-rowers, especially WP Nel.

As the most capped player – with 75 – in the party heading to France, perhaps it is no surprise the rest of the squad look up to the 6ft 10in Gray in more ways than one. But what if ‘General’ Schoeman, or ‘Sergeant Sloppy’ as he calls Cherry, step out of line themselves?

“You cannot fine yourself, but you can be back-stabbed by someone in the forwards! We have seen it a few times – on forms, in sessions, in other areas. Let’s say you’re going to do a BBQ for the squad and instead of steak, you do medium-rare salmon or duck. That’s not going to roll well with the front-rowers, especially WP Nel. So there’s a bit of snitching going on as well. But it’s good for us because it’s accountability.”

Schoeman, a noted fan of ‘braiis’ who sold his beef and biltong business to team-mate Nel two years ago, talks appreciatively about a BBQ the squad enjoyed in the south of France recently during a recce to the hotel where they will be billeted for the next few weeks. “It was magnificent after a tough week of pre-season. We have a dietician and a chef so they advised on the fat intake, the carbs and so on.”

Pierre Schoemann
Schoeman’s carries in the tight have helped give Scotland front foot ball (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

While his distinctive Afrikaans accent delivers all this with deadpan humour, there is the zeal of the converted about Schoeman’s passion for not just the ‘responsibility’ of his new role, but his own part in Scotland’s journey to this World Cup over the last couple of years.

“It’s very exciting, a massive honour and a privilege,” he says. “There are a lot of legends who have worn this jersey before me, and a lot who will wear it after me. So I am full of pride and confidence to represent this jersey, this nation. It is a massive responsibility as well, so you have to be focused on the job in hand and you have to do your role within the team, whether that is metaphorically or physically – you have to give it your all.  You have to add value, that’s how I see it. You don’t have to do anything extra flash, you just have to be yourself, but you have to add value, go the extra mile for this jersey, for your team-mates, for the country.”

It’s fair to say Schoeman, 29, has added plenty of value to Scotland, and he is full of praise for the “professionalism, hard work and cohesion” he finds in camp. “It is one of the best management teams I have been involved with – the leadership in the group, the confidence, but also the humility,” he explains. “We are all together, no matter the individual or collective success. We are all the same band of brothers, with proper Scottish banter. The cohesion and connectiveness is the best I have been part of.”

He agrees that the recent double-header against hosts France – a stunning comeback from 21-3 down to win 25-21 at Murrayfield, then recovering from 27-10 down to level at 27-27 before losing to a late penalty in Saint Etienne – has bolstered belief that Scotland can live with the elite.

RG Snyman was a fellow alumni of the Afrikaanse Hoer Seunskool (high school) in Pretoria he attended. He played junior rugby with Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane and Manie Libbok at the Bulls, and with Jesse Kriel and Andre Esterhuizen for South Africa’s Under-20s side

“That gives us a lot of confidence – seeing the good stuff but knowing there is still more to come,” Schoeman said. “‘Pull the trigger’ is the phrase we use sometimes. There are still times when the execution can be better, when we know the ‘pull the trigger’ moment is going to happen. That is where the confidence comes from. We know what we are capable of, individually and collectively.”

That confidence will face a litmus test at the Stade Velodrome when the Scots tackle a South Africa side in ominous form after their crushing recent victories over Wales and New Zealand. Schoeman faced the Springboks in just his third Test – a 30-15 defeat at Murrayfield when the visitors pulled away in the final quarter after an even first hour – and could encounter several former colleagues.

RG Snyman was a fellow alumni of the Afrikaanse Hoer Seunskool (high school) in Pretoria he attended. He played junior rugby with Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane and Manie Libbok at the Bulls, and with Jesse Kriel and Andre Esterhuizen for South Africa’s Under-20s side.

Malcolm Marx
Schoeman played schoolboy rugby against Malcolm Marx growing up in South Africa, as Scotland will soon face them in Marseille (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

“It will be massive,” Schoeman said.  “When I was in the Under-20s, my first game in that U20 World Cup in New Zealand (in 2014) was against Scotland. Now, if selected, my first game at a World Cup will be for Scotland against South Africa. It is almost like a salmon swimming upstream against the grain. I am massively excited for that opportunity if selected.

“We are very confident. You can’t go with half-belief, or disbelief or doubt. You have the fear of failure but that fuels us to go full out. But it comes with responsibility. You have to deliver and execute in big moments against quality sides who are equally as hungry for success as you are, so you have to be on top of your game.”

When the battle starts raging, you can bet ‘General’ Schoeman will be leading from the front.

Comments

1 Comment
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Flankly 294 days ago

Schoeman, and his compatriot forwards, will need to play their backs into the game against SA. I mean against both the starting Bok pack and the finishing pack.

It's the best Scotland team we have seen forever, but we have not seen them face a shutdown pack for 80 minutes. As NZ discovered, it does not matter what you have in the backfield if you can't create a platform.

For the Boks this is the key game to make the QF round. They can afford to lose to Ireland if they beat everyone else. So Scotland has to be the target.

The Scots should expect a full-bore Bok performance.

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