With 14 months having passed since their Rugby World Cup 2019 victory over England, Faf de Klerk admits he cannot wait to run out in a Springbok jersey again.
De Klerk won the last of his 30 caps in Yokohama on 2 November, 2019, when South Africa were crowned world champions for the third time.
Since then the 29-year-old scrum-half has continued to play club rugby for Sale Sharks in the English Premiership and captained the side for the first time in the league in last weekend’s narrow win at Gloucester.
But the coronavirus pandemic has denied him and his Springbok team-mates the chance to remind the world what they are made of.
“We as players, we’re still in (chat) groups together, and we really want to play together and see each other again and have that same feeling that we had post-World Cup of that family environment,” he said.
“But there’s also that understanding that we need to accept what’s going on in the world and not be selfish and say, ‘I want to play’, because there are bigger things to consider.
“I think we have handled it well but it is frustrating that it’s over a year since we played. It is definitely something I have been looking forward to for a long time.”
Ready for the challenge
With the start date of the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa (3 July) now under review, there is still much uncertainty about when the Springboks will actually take to the field again.
But De Klerk says the players are making sure they are ready for whenever the call comes.
“They (the South Africa Rugby Union) are in constant chats with the players to keep us in the loop and give us some pointers on our play and to ask how we are doing. But it is so difficult because, literally within a week, everything changes.
“I have heard they might move the Lions tests to a later date but, hopefully, that doesn’t happen.
“I don’t know what it is going to look like, it might be a case of where we rock up and we have a few weeks together and we need to play.
“We are aware of that possibility and we, as players, will have to prepare as well as we can and be mentally and physically ready for the challenge.
“If things go wrong, we can’t use a lack of time to prepare as an excuse. I think that is on both sides of the ball.”
De Klerk says the meticulous approach of new Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber will ensure they are ready for any eventuality.
Nienaber replaced Rassie Erasmus at the end of Rugby World Cup 2019 but has had to wait patiently for his first match in charge.
“I think he is buzzing to go. Knowing Jacques, he has prepared every single thing you can think of. He’s rugby mad and the work he does behind the scenes is massive.”
The bigger picture
Waiting so long to run out as world champions is uncharted territory for the Springboks.
Barely a couple of months had passed by when South Africa were back in action again, in the first test of the professional era, following their first Rugby World Cup triumph in 1995.
And, in 2007, the turnaround from winning their second title was even shorter – 35 days – with Wales again providing the opposition.
By contrast, it seems an age ago that De Klerk was posing with the Webb Ellis Cup in his budgie smugglers.
However, he understands these are unprecedented times, where everyone’s health and wellbeing has to take priority.
“When it comes to player safety and family safety and stuff like that, you can’t just think from a South African perspective, ‘we need to play’, you also need to think about safety,” he pointed out.
“We all love the game but there’s a bigger love; you don’t want to lose someone close to you because of a rash decision.”