Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach has scored some tremendous individual tries in the last year, but the newest member of the Springbok squad is adamant that those are not planned and he has just had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.
“The tries have been a team effort, I just finished them off,” Reinach said with a modesty that was almost as impressive as some of the moments of solo brilliance he has dazzled with for the Sharks.
“It’s never about me, for me it’s always about getting the ball out, getting quick ball for the team, which is very key to the way the Springboks want to play. I’ll never try and force a gap for myself,” he added.
Reinach is the son of the late Jaco Reinach, the last man to represent South Africa in both rugby and athletics. Jaco was the South African record-holder for the 400m (45.01) from April 1983 until 2011 when it was broken by LJ van Zyl, a three-time African champion and Olympian.
So it probably wasn’t a surprise that Cobus Reinach began his rugby career on the wing, but was moved to scrumhalf when he was deemed to be too small for the back three.
“I always played wing until U13 when I was told I was too small for that position – at all of 38kgs,” Reinach recalled.
“I had to adapt very quickly and I didn’t really have any role-models who were scrumhalves. So I used to watch George Gregan and Fourie du Preez a lot and copy what they did.”
The evergreen Du Preez is injured – out for the rest of the year – which has allowed Reinach to receive his first full call-up to the Springbok squad.
“It’s an exciting, amazing feeling to be around the Springboks. I’m having a good season, which helps, but the main part of being here is to learn. Fourie, Ruan Pienaar and Francois Hougaard are all world-class scrumhalves, but if you want to be the best, then you have to compete against the best,” Reinach said.
While the Sharks, with a conservative game plan and problems at flyhalf, often relied on Reinach’s individual brilliance to spark their attacking play, the Springboks have threats across the park and the 24-year-old knows he has to concentrate on slick service and the one area of his game that has shown signs of weakness – his tactical kicking.
“There are always areas to improve. My passing from both left and right hand is fine, but I’m working on my weak foot.
“At the Sharks, we have a big tactical kicking game and if it doesn’t go your way on the day then you’re in trouble. We weren’t good enough in the SuperRugby semi-final, but the Springboks don’t play the same type of rugby – they run a bit more and they kick and exit their own half differently,” Reinach said.
Reinach junior was just six years old when his father died in a car accident, aquaplaning off the road near Kroonstad and hitting a tree in January 1997, but it is clear Jaco’s legacy lives on strongly in his son.
Apart from being a world-class athlete, denied an international stage due to Apartheid, Jaco Reinach was an exceptional wing who was unfortunate to only play four times for the Springboks. He was at his peak in the mid-1980s, but that was the era of Ray Mordt and Michael and Carel du Plessis and he played in just one series – against the 1986 New Zealand Cavaliers. Reinach snr scored two tries, one of them a memorable effort from the halfway line in the 33-18 victory at Loftus Versfeld.
When Cobus makes his bow on the international stage (it will surely be sooner rather than later), it will be an emotional time for the Grey Bloem product.
“Even though he was not there, my dad was definitely the biggest influence on my career. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I watched the Battle of the Giants video of the Springboks’ series against the New Zealand Cavaliers over and over and just to see him run was brilliant. I think I’m quite quick but not as quick as him, especially not off the mark!
“When I saw my name in the Springbok squad, I was so happy. But I’m going to try and keep the emotion out of it until I get in the team. After I’ve played my first game, then I think I will be emotional,” Reinach said with refreshing candour.
There are a million different ways to play rugby and, while there is a hint of contrasting philosophies when it comes to Jake White and Heyneke Meyer, Reinach welcomes all the input at this early stage of his career.
“Every coach has his own idea of how to play, so I’ve picked up a few ideas along the way. That’s how my game will grow up, that’s how I will be able to do everything. With experience and game time, my decision-making will get better and better, but I also don’t want to lose my instinctive moves,” he said.
The instinctive moments of brilliance are what most people will notice; but the best teams have scrumhalves who also do the basics faultlessly, unnoticed, much like a wicketkeeper in cricket.
Scrumhalves need to have their fingers on the pulse of play, they dictate the tempo and flow of the game.
In Cobus Reinach, the Springboks have someone with the skills to grow into that role … with a bit of magic on the side.