PORTELIZABETH, South Africa (Reuters) – Prop Vincent Koch feared he had lost out on any further opportunity to play test rugby when South Africa introduced strict selection criteria for overseas-based players.
But an about-turn by the South African Rugby Union has allowed the Saracens prop to return to the Springboks, where he has a chance over the next fortnight to add to his nine caps.
Koch was a late call-up over the weekend for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against Australia at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and then the following weekend against world champions New Zealand in Pretoria.
In an attempt to reduce the number of Springboks heading to more lucrative leagues in Europe and Japan, SA Rugby last year introduced a rule that only overseas-based players with 30 caps or more would be eligible for Bok selection.
“When I signed to play overseas, that 30-cap rule wasn’t in place,” Koch told a news conference on Tuesday.
“It was implemented soon after. It made me sad to know that I might not play for the Boks again.
“As South African guys, that is our biggest dream as rugby players. So at the time, it was like my dream had disappeared. It was an emotional period for me.
“Life goes on, though, so I focussed on settling in Saracens. Luckily Rassie changed a few things when he returned.”
New coach Rassie Erasmus has made the rule redundant by turning to several overseas-based players to strengthen the South African side after two miserable years of form. Next year’s World Cup has been cited as a reason to relax the restriction.
The 28-year-old Koch made his last appearance for South Africa in an embarrassing loss to Italy in Florence in 2016.
“I see this as another opportunity, whether I’m playing for the team this Saturday or just having the chance to be back on the training field. I want to play for the green and gold again, and I will do everything I can to get that chance,” he added.
Koch said playing in England had greatly improved his game.
“I’ve grown mentally as well as physically since I moved overseas. They taught me to work harder and perhaps I wasn’t working as hard in the past.
“Whether it’s my scrummaging or my work off the ball, I’ve become a better player since making the shift.”
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)