Rugby15 Exclusive: 15 Minutes with the original “Pocket-Rocket” – Brent Russell

Jul 4 • Blitz Bokke, General News, International, National, Sevens Rugby, Super Rugby, Super Rugby News • 4979 Views • Comments Off on Rugby15 Exclusive: 15 Minutes with the original “Pocket-Rocket” – Brent Russell

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Brent Russell in full flight during his Saracens days before plying his trade in France. Photo by Getty Images.

The original “Pocket-Rocket” Brent Russell is considered by many to be the first breed of a new smaller than average, dynamic rugby player. His smaller stature gave him the added advantage of explosive speed and a low centre of gravity, which in return gave him one the most unpredictable sidesteps in World Rugby. More recently players such as André Taylor of the Hurricanes and Gio Aplon of the Stormers have set the rugby world alight with their super-exciting brand of rugby.

Brent Russell was born on 5 March 1980 in Port Elizabeth. He’s a “utility back” player (he can play at fullback, flyhalf or wing) and currently plays in the French Top 14 for Clermont. Before playing in France, he moved to Western Province after getting little game for the Sharks during the 2005/2006 season. During the 2007/2008 season he played for Saracens in England before making the trip across the English Channel to pursue his career at Clermont.

He played in both the ABSA Currie Cup and Super 14 while at the Sharks. Russell represented South Africa, during which time he was capped twenty-three times for the Springboks. He made four appearances at flyhalf, seven at fullback, nine on the wing and two at centre before rounding off the full set when he made an appearance as a replacement scrumhalf in November 2004 against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Russell also featured for the Springbok Sevens team (Blitz Bokke), where the national selectors spotted his talent and quickly moved him into International Rugby for the Boks in 2002. He is described by many as an agile and creative player with great speed and acceleration.

Brent took some time out of his hectic schedule and afforded us the opportunity to catch up with him while back in South Africa.

15: You’ve been plying your trade overseas (in France) for four years now. Are you quite settled and enjoying playing rugby in France?

BR: Yes, very much so. I love the lifestyle, opportunity to learn a new culture and new way of life. It’s a different type and style of rugby. There’s not as much pressure on a player as in South Africa and Southern Hemisphere rugby. I’m really enjoying it.

15: Do you think you’ll ever return to play for a club/franchise in South Africa?

BR: I will consider it, if the opportunities are right. To be honest, I’m past that stage. It depends on what type of rugby I’m expected to play. I don’t know if I’m going to play Super Rugby again, I don’t know if I’m cut out for that.  I’m enjoying the opportunities presented to me in France.

15: You joined a host of your former Sharks teammates in the John Smit World XV for John Smit’s testimonial at Kings Park against the Sharks. What was it like playing with your former teammates?

BR: Ja, it was very nice. It was a nice experience to be back and playing at Kings Park again and seeing some faces I played with over five years ago. I have some very fond memories of playing with the likes of John and Butchie (Butch James). It was very nice catching up and playing a game with them. So, it was a fun day out altogether.

15: The result might not have gone the way of Barney’s Army, but the atmosphere and the match itself was thoroughly enjoyed by all who watched either at the stadium or on television. What thoughts/feelings/emotions were you going through your mind upon your return to Mr Price Kings Park Stadium?

BR:  Because it was not a professional game, it was purely enjoyment. There was no pressure on us, but obviously we all wanted to play well for John’s sake. There weren’t really emotions; it was more a case of you couldn’t believe you were on Kings Park one more time. It was all about playing for Barney.

15: What is or has been the most challenging aspect for you as a South African playing rugby in France?

BR: Firstly it’s the Language. It takes about three or four years before you start understanding it. From that side it does take a little time. Secondly the weather – The Northern Hemisphere just doesn’t get warmer for months at time. Playing in -8 degree Celsius weather takes a lot of getting used to and it does affect the way you play. There are a lot of factors, but life over there has been very good to us.

15: What have been some of your biggest highlights/memorable moments in France?

BR: Having won the French Top14 with Clermont has definitely been a highlight.

15: Have you embraced all things French – the language, food and lifestyle or are you still getting used to it all?

BR: Yes, we’ve settled down nicely in France and we’re living the lifestyle.

15: You’re known to be a very versatile player – do you now have a set position you play at Clermont?

BR: In Clermont they play me a lot on wing. In South Africa I played a lot at fullback before I was moved to wing. I get a few games at flyhalf and I enjoy that. I prefer playing flyhalf or fullback, at wing you don’t get the touches you want and you’re not always involved in the game. I’ve always preferred being part of the game.

15: While in South Africa, you’ve been part of the Investec International Rugby Academy at Northwood High. Which specialist area has been your focus during the course of this week?

BR: I’ve been invited as a wing and fullback specialist.

15: The Investec International Rugby Academy is highly acclaimed and extremely popular. What were your thoughts of the coaching sessions, player analysis and panel discussions?

BR: Really good, I really think it’s a good concept. It’s good to give back to the rugby faithful who have always been there to support you. It’s also really good for them to meet the professionals. It’s been a very good turnout by a lot of professional coaches and players and it will really benefit the game of rugby.

15: How beneficial would you say courses such as these are for young rugby players?

BR: It’s always a great opportunity for the youngsters to learn from those that have been there and done it. It will only benefit rugby’s next generation.

15: Are South African coaches too worried about the size of a player instead of the player’s abilities?

BR: It depends; different coaches have certain types of players they would like to play. I do believe a lot of coaches are obsessed with size, although sometimes I do see the benefits of playing a big player if you’re playing that game plan. Gio Aplon of the Stormers is quite a lot smaller than I am and he has proven himself. It just goes to show a smaller player can play good rugby. You just have to be able to hold your own.

About the Investec International Rugby Academy:

The Investec International Rugby Academy is a gathering of the world’s greatest rugby talent who share their knowledge in a hands-on approach. Rugby is constantly evolving and with that comes the need for high performance rugby tuition. In order for players and coaches to remain at rugby’s cutting edge, they need to stay in touch with the latest techniques, playing styles and learn skills to assist with their mental fitness and development to take their talent to the next level. The IIRA SA harnesses the formula, credibility and success of the IIRA NZ and capitalises on the demand for higher learning and rugby tuition in SA. Dick Muir, former Springbok assistant coach and former Sharks coach, is the course facilitator and Managing Director of IIRA SA.

Interview conducted by Morgan Piek/ Rugby15.

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