- Leicester Tigers No 8 Jasper Wiese talks about settling into life in the UK and what it would mean to realise his dream of playing for the Springboks against the British and Irish Lions.
- The ex-Cheetahs loose forward, who cut his teeth playing in the Free State, explains why the time was right to leave and how he expects Juarno Augustus to fare over in England.
- He also assesses the incumbent Springbok backrow and touches on the comparisons which have been drawn between himself and Duane Vermeulen who he rates as the game's best.
Sport24 asked: Why did you decide to leave South African rugby?
Jasper Wiese: I definitely felt it was time for a new adventure. After school, I was at the Cheetahs for six years. When I signed with the Cheetahs I didn't know that they would end up getting axed from the PR014. To be honest, for me as a person and for my game, I really felt like I needed a change. I had been there my whole life and to experience something different has definitely helped me to grow as a person and a player. The same can happen for Juarno Augustus who has signed for Northampton Saints. My older brother Cobus always spoke about Trokkie during their time together at Western Province and the Stormers. I have met Juarno and he is a very good guy. He's a very hard player and I think he will do well with the Saints. He's a very physical guy, so will definitely be up for the challenge over here. I know Trokkie has been at Western Province for six years and sometimes you just need a change of scenery for yourself as an individual. It's good to leave to grow as a player and person and see a bit of a different environment. It's important not to get too stuck in one place.
Sport24 asked: Is money the motivating factor in moving north?
Jasper Wiese: Different people have different perspectives of the game. Some players only do it for the money and if they're good, hats off to them as that's their motivation. I can't judge anybody for their decisions or what they do. I would like to believe that most of the time money is not the motivation for doing something... On a personal front, I have to wake myself up sometimes because there are times when I think I'm in a bit of a haze or a dream. So few people in the world get to do what they really love and for me it's a massive privilege to play rugby. Growing up as a kid in South Africa everybody's dream is to play rugby. To be honest, I didn't have that expectation when I started playing but it's definitely a bonus that I got it. I try to make the most of it every time I take the field. It's funny because my father really doesn't watch rugby and isn't a big fan. I think the sporting side of it comes from my mother. My dad gave us the build and my mom gave us the sporting genetics. She also cheered for us at every game and motivated us play to our full potential.
Sport24 asked: How have you settled in at Leicester Tigers?
Jasper Wiese: When I came over to the UK I had to isolate for 14 days in a hotel and then on my last day I came into contact with somebody who had COVID-19, so had to isolate for another 10 days! However, as soon as my fiance Anja came over everything sorted itself out... It's really nice that my brother is also playing in the Premiership. I've been up to Manchester once or twice to visit Cobus and we're closer in the UK than we ever were in South Africa. Cobus and I are a year and six months apart, so growing up there was a lot of sibling rivalry. I think it shaped both of us into the men we are today. At some stage maybe we took the rivalry too far sometimes but I have to give it to him. He stepped up a few times and all credit to him - he's worked hard and is also bearing the fruits. Even at junior level, we never got a chance to play together. If the opportunity presents itself in the future, I would love to play with him. It would be a huge privilege but as yet we haven't had the opportunity. He signed with the Stormers in 2015 and I was already contracted at the Cheetahs, so never got the chance to play together. I won't lie - after my under-21 year I really wanted to go down to Cape Town to the Stormers but the opportunity never came my way to settle in there or get a contract. So I basically just put me head down at the Cheetahs and tried to get into the first team.
Sport24 asked: How are you handling the media attention?
Jasper Wiese: To be honest, I would rather have the attention on someone else! I can't take credit for all of that (the success) because the coaches and the players at the club helped me a lot to get to where I am today. All the coaches have been pushing me and it's really all credit to them for believing in me and giving me a chance to play. We have Aled Walters at the Tigers as our strength and conditioning coach and having previously worked with the Springboks you can see why the guys' fitness levels were so good. In terms of transition, the difference is that the game is more physical in the north than the south. In South Africa, you have a bit more running rugby but for a forward playing in the northern hemisphere, it's a bit more physical upfront. You have many more physical confrontations, so it's quite nice! I have to say I feel it on a Sunday if I've played on a Saturday. The body is definitely sore but I'm not complaining. I am playing and enjoying my rugby at the moment.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to be linked with the Springboks?
Jasper Wiese: I would be lying if I said playing for the Springboks wasn't always a dream. When I came over to Leicester I knew it would be more difficult because I knew that they pick players in South Africa first. I didn't really think the opportunity would come to be honest. I just came over to the UK and thoughts to myself, "I'll just try to do the best I can at the club and see what happens." At the moment, I'm not trying to get ahead of myself or thinking too much about the Springboks. If I get the opportunity it will be a massive privilege and I don't think I can put into words what it would mean to represent my country. Rassie Erasmus has brought a lot of heart back into the Springboks. I think the environment has changed a bit - it's not all about rugby and is about you as a person as well. During the World Cup, you could see that the guys actually cared for each other no matter the outcome. It was always about the team and players rather than the result. On all the alignment camps, Jacques Nienaber has given a clear vision to the players in terms of what they want to do. It's about being the best you can be and basically doing everything for the collective. At the Springboks, he's stressed it's not about individuals but the team, which is the most important thing... The Boks haven't played since the 2019 World Cup final but I think once you get the guys together and they play a game or two as a unit, you'll get a feel for who you're playing with. You then have a proper understanding of what you have to do going forward. I think the games against Georgia (which are slated for the weekends of 2/3 July and 9/10 July) will be a good test for us ahead of the Lions series.
Sport24 asked: How do you rate the incumbent Springbok backrow?
Jasper Wiese: The World Cup-winning Springbok backrow of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen is a quality one. They are class guys on and off the field. I have never had the chance to meet any of them but the way they performed at the World Cup you can't say they shouldn't have been there. All three of them played exceptionally well. I don't know what to make of the comparisons being drawn between my game and Duane's but if you want to measure yourself against someone you always need to take the best guy in order to do that. Duane is definitely one of the best players out there. When he started coming into the ranks and playing professionally you could always see he handled himself in a way that people feared him. It was the way he was on the field and how he carried himself into contact. That is a huge learning anybody can take to make it a little bit personal for yourself. I love a good physical confrontation if I'm being honest. I like it when I get to measure myself against someone that is at international standard. It's a good measuring point for yourself to see where you are as a player. Duane is definitely the best No.8 in the modern game.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the British & Irish Lions 37-man squad?
Jasper Wiese: Some of the boys in the (Leicester Tigers) camp were a bit shocked with a few of the calls in the backline for the British & Irish Lions' squad but some of the forwards, who worked really hard during the Premiership season have been rewarded. Toby Faletau and Sam Simmonds have been impressive. Hamish Watson is also a phenomenal player and it's unbelievable how he plays with so much heart. If people want to say he's too small for international rugby it's up to them. Personally speaking, I can't really change someone's perception of me until I prove them wrong. It's always good to prove somebody wrong... I don't know what CJ Stander's current situation is (as he retired from playing for Ireland) but if I was a British Lions coach, I would definitely have picked him for the tour. Billy Vunipola is also unlucky to have missed out. England weren't that good in the Six Nations but if you are going on individual performances, I think he played really well. He is very abrasive and always up for physical confrontation. He loves a good carry and getting into contact.
Sport24 asked: Your thoughts ahead of the Challenge Cup final?
Jasper Wiese: This week we are just focusing on Harlequins at home and will then shift our focus to the Challenge Cup final against Montpellier next week. It's very exciting to have a final coming up. The last time Leicester were in a final was in 2009. Club captain Tom Youngs said he played in so many finals he thought it was a given. However, he know realises it's a privilege to be in a position to play a final. It's a massive honour to be playing for some silverware and not something we are taking lightly. Montpellier is a quality side but if you play together and stick to your guns then any team is beatable. They have got a lot of South African boys in their team and I see Handre Pollard is back as well. As a collective, we're really looking forward to testing ourselves against a quality outfit.