Hendre Fourie flourishes far away from his native land
Expatriates the world over could relate to much of Hendre Fourie's story.
You set off with a time frame in mind - a year, maybe, or 18 months - as to how long you expect to stay away from home.
Then you start to realise you actually quite enjoy the job and the lifestyle is not so bad, and all those promises you made to the family about not staying away forever start to look like a bit of a fib.
Then you end up playing international rugby union for your adopted country and have the chance to play at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, the world's most rugby-centric nation.
We have all been there, haven't we?
"I got the offer to go to the UK, and I thought I would try it for a year and hopefully my experience would help me when I got back," Fourie, the England flanker, says.
"I am still here, though."
Fourie, who should get the chance to further his claim to a place in England's World Cup squad when they face Wales again this weekend, initially made the move away from his native South Africa as he struggled to make the grade in rugby at all.
As he struggled in his attempts to make it with the Free State Cheetahs, the South African provincial side, he was surviving on game fees alone. But bills needed to be paid, and he was faced with a decision to quit chasing his dream of playing rugby professionally and get a proper job.
So he opted to defer his decision and travel instead. He was offered the chance to play for Rotherham, a national league club in England, who spent one season in the Premiership, but he still had to find ways of putting bread on the table.
To supplement his rugby, he first served as a teaching assistant, and later, in his second season with the north of England club, studied for a post graduate certificate in education.
It left him suitably "tooled up," as he puts it, for a career after rugby, but also allowed him to extend his visa in the UK, buying him valuable time to crack English rugby.
"I went to the gym by 6.30am, was at school by 8.30am, finished school at 3.30pm, then started training at 5pm," he says of his start in England.
"Training was only three days per week, then the weekends playing, but being on your feet all day, then having to go home and do lesson planning for the next day, it really took it out of you ... I just wish I had done my studying in the first year so I could sort out my visa quicker."
Even if Lewis Moody, the captain elect, does recover from the injury he sustained in England's first World Cup warm-up match on Saturday, Fourie seems likely to be one of the battery of England back-rowers on the plane to New Zealand.
His ascent over the four seasons since he joined Leeds Carnegie, the Premiership side, has been rapid, which begs the question - why has it taken until the age of 31 for his talents to be noticed?
Fourie says his cause has been helped by some influential support in recent times.
For example, when Neil Back, his coach at Leeds, speaks about open-side play, people tend to listen, he says.
"He's got an X factor other players haven't got, which you need in an elite international team," Back was quoted as saying in the lead up to Fourie's Test debut against New Zealand.
"While people have this vision [Fourie] is just a guy who is hard over the ball, he can do lots of other good things as well," John Wells, the England forwards coach, has said on the same topic.
Given the elaborate journey he has made to get this far in the game, Fourie has probably given up guessing what might happen to him next.
Despite the competition for places in England's training squad, he has allowed himself to indulge in little forward-thinking.
"I do think about it, while I'm lying awake just before I fall to sleep at night - picturing myself jogging on there, singing the anthem with the World Cup badge on the jersey, and the little cup on the shirt for the 2003 win," he says.
"If it is anything like running on to the field for your first Test, it will be amazing. The World Cup will have that little bit extra, because it is the biggest thing any player in the world can achieve.
"It will be a dream come true to do that, and I want to do as much as I can possibly do to get on that plane."
FOURIE GIVES BACK CREDIT
LONDON // With five remnants of the 2003 Rugby World Cup victory vying for a place at this year's competition, England still retain a strong link to their greatest triumph on a rugby field.
The lineage does not stop at Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody, Steve Thompson, Mike Tindall and Simon Shaw, however.
That five now call Martin Johnson "boss", and the 2003 captain is not the only member of that squad who has brought his influence to bear on the current vintage.
Hendre Fourie credits Neil Back, the open-side flanker in England's outstanding back row eight years ago, with turning him from a teacher-come-rugby player into an England international forward. Back was his coach at Leeds Carnegie before both departed at the end of last season, and Fourie said it great to have an authoritative voice on hand to explain such a technical position.
"With Neil Back's stature, as one of the best open-sides in England history, why wouldn't you listen to him?" Fourie said.
"The players on the pitch, and the coaches, know exactly what is going on, but the people on the terraces or watching on TV don't really see or recognise what you actually do.
"They don't see you slowing the ball down, giving your team the chance to set the defence, or turning the ball over. That is why you need somebody to give you a little bit of a boost. It really helps."
Published: August 9, 2011 04:00 AM