It’s not ideal being outside of South Africa and I’m unbelievably proud to call myself South African. Until you leave these shores, you never know what you’re missing, but I’m very happy where I am in France. The language is tough and sometimes if they talk too fast then you lose it, but luckily there are a lot of internationals at Toulon. It’s taught me to become a lot more independent. Driving on the right-hand side of the road takes some getting used to and I’ve stalled a couple of times! But staying on the French Riviera is pretty positive and a happy player is an in-form player.
It was a pretty special end to the season in France after I was a bit frustrated at the beginning. I was injured after the Rugby Championship, four months out, and then I was injured again on the end-of-year tour for another two weeks. So to come back and play a part in the finals was very special.
It was fantastic playing alongside Jonny Wilkinson and seeing the way he bowed out, there was no better way to end his career.
Those successes must fill you with a lot of confidence for the season ahead?
We have a lot to build on but there’s been a change in format in the Heineken Cup plus the Top 14 is 28 games against tough opposition every week. I went over to France to win trophies and I didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it did. So the foundation has been laid, I have a couple of years left with Toulon and I hope to contribute to even more trophies.
Was it a tough challenge coming to France and playing in those finals in your first season over there?
Experience plays a big part. I’ve played 90-odd Tests, so you learn how to bring something else out on the big occasions. Plus I had 11 amazing seasons in South Africa, good and bad times, and winning trophies from the Vodacom Cup to Currie Cup, SuperRugby and the Tri-Nations.
So I was happy to experience something different in France, I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut, you want to learn how to deal with new environments and challenges.
What are your future ambitions in terms of South Africa?
I hope to play more than a hundred Tests for the Springboks, play international rugby for another year or two. There are those elusive couple of tries for the world record and I’d love to achieve 100 caps. To be part of the 2015 World Cup is the short-term goal. It has without a doubt been the proudest moments of my career to pull that jersey over my head, but a lot still has to happen for me to reach those landmarks. But I’m going to push myself harder and further.
What’s the mood like in the Springbok camp at the moment?
Heyneke Meyer and his team are working towards something special. There are very exciting youngsters in the team and old heads who know the ropes. I hope to contribute to that journey, there were those two losses to New Zealand last year and we hope to rectify that in the Rugby Championship.
This Springbok side is heading towards one of the best I’ve been involved with, the foundation has been laid and a great atmosphere has been created. This is one of the happiest teams I’ve been involved with, thanks to Heyneke Meyer, who has put the onus on the individual.
2009 was a phenomenal year and we’re growing ever closer to that with a mix of the older guys and the newer combinations. We’re definitely heading the right way, we can only get better because the competition for places is high. You’re not sure of getting your place back these days if you sit out.
Willie le Roux was sensational in the June Tests, what’s it like playing next to him?
Willie is very exciting. Three years ago we played against him at Western Province when he was playing for Boland and it’s fantastic how he has embraced his opportunity with the Cheetahs. Cornal Hendricks too, came from Sevens and has had a huge impact with the Cheetahs.
Willie is a fantastic playmaker, probably up there with the best one or two fullbacks in the world. Hopefully I can be at the end of a few more of his final passes!
What are your future goals with Toulon?
After 11 seasons in South Africa which were the best times of my life, I want to leave the Toulon jersey in a better shape than I found it. I want to give my most for Toulon and South Africa.
How is your relationship with Mourad Boudjellal?
Mourad must take a lot of the credit for our success. He has put a lot of money into Toulon, he’s a staunch Toulon rugby man and he backed players even though people thought they were at the end of their careers. He took Toulon up from the second division with players like Tana Umaga, Victor Matfield, George Gregan and Andrew Mehrtens and now he’s developed a side of world-beaters.
To be double champions is pretty special and he must take credit for that, without him it would not have happened.
Mourad does not speak that much English so we haven’t had many conversations, but he’s as passionate as you can get about rugby. He does the Pilou Pilou for us when things go well.
There was talk about you representing South Africa at the Commonwealth Games Sevens, what happened there?
I’m very disappointed I won’t be going to the Commonwealth Games, but I understand that I am contracted to Toulon and the Commonwealth Games are not in the Test window. But it would have been fantastic to be part of that.
I went to a couple of training sessions with the Springbok Sevens and I could see their passion and enthusiasm. I’m firmly behind them and they have more than enough talent to do very well.