Man mountain prop Vincent Koch is itching to pull on a Springbok jersey again after being thrown a lifeline by coach Rassie Erasmus ahead of Saturday’s Test against Australia.
The Saracens star joined the Boks on Monday and he could be catapulted into action against the Wallabies in front of a capacity 46,000 crowd at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Koch, 28, said he thought his Bok career might be over when SA Rugby ruled that only overseas-based players with 30 or more caps would be considered for selection. He is delighted to be one of the beneficiaries of the scrapping of the 30-cap rule.
The front rower won the most recent of his nine Springbok caps in 2015.
"When I signed for Saracens that 30-cap rule was not in place," Koch said. "But it did come shortly afterwards and that made me sad, to be honest. I thought I might not play for the Springboks again. As a South African you want to play for the Springboks and that dream almost disappeared.
"So it was quite an emotional time. But … I was settled there and just enjoying my rugby. Luckily, when Rassie came back he did change things and that gave me another opportunity.
"I am under contract at Saracens for another four years."
Koch said he had been welcomed into the Bok setup.
"It is an honour to be back and I did not expect it. The guys and coaches have welcomed me with open arms. I want to pull on that green-and-gold jersey again and make the fans proud," he said.
The prop said it had been difficult for him watching the Boks while he was in England.
"Sure, it has been emotional watching the Boks win and lose while I was overseas. I know nobody goes out to lose and everyone goes out on the pitch to fight hard. So it has been a roller-coaster ride for me as a fan and old player. When the guys lose we feel it as well because we are all brothers.
"As a South African you keep on watching the games even if you are abroad. After the win over New Zealand the Bok environment is amazing and the energy levels are up there.
"They are more motivated as well, so slotting in for me has been easy."
Koch says the strong competition for places in the team is good and will help players take their game to the next level.
"This competition is a good thing. The tightheads we have at the moment are world class and any coach would like to have that problem. We will push ourselves to the next level. We are all mates and want to do our best for each other."
Koch says it will be no problem slotting into the Bok side if the call comes to pack down against the Wallabies.
"You fall into the structure and we are all professionals. The structure they put out for the Springboks is quite simple. We know we want to dominate.
"So it is easy to fall in with the other guys when you come in because you know what they want and expect."
Koch says his game has improved since he moved overseas. "This is my third season overseas and I have definitely grown as a player. Both mentally and physically I have became more mature," he said. "At Saracens they taught me to work harder, and maybe I was lacking that aspect and they brought it out in me. I have become a better player."