Willem Alberts of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B match between SA and United States of America. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/ STEVE HAAG
Willem Alberts of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B match between SA and United States of America. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/ STEVE HAAG

Willem Alberts admits returning from France was never a fait accompli.

The barrel-chested Bok flank had made Paris his home since 2015, so when the Lions came knocking he and his wife were more than a little apprehensive.

Though the original plan was to come back to SA, he considered French citizenship once his time at Stade Francais was winding down. He had his reasons.

“Abroad the only news you get about SA is negative. We enjoyed our life there. The state looks after its people‚” he said.

“But then we got excited about seeing family‚ friends and the wonderful natural scenery SA has to offer. It is one of the best countries in the world, with lots of problems. Every place has its problems.”

After struggling initially to get through the culture shock‚ France and Paris in particular had grown on Alberts.

He had relocated to France at the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup but admits it wasn’t his first-choice destination.

He‚ however‚ had mates in Paris‚ not least Gerhardt Mostert, who had previously been a teammate at the Lions and Sharks.

“I got a good offer from Stade Francais. Gerhardt was there and he could speak French and he was settled in.

“In 2013 I visited him after an end-of-year tour and I liked his lifestyle. I thought it might be nice for my family too.”

Alberts and his family had “a rough start” to life in Paris.

“It was often a struggle with the administration of the club to get things done.

“Lisa, our daughter, was just under two and a half when we moved. Because of medical reasons, my wife would not get pregnant again, but in the most romantic city in the world Nicolene was expecting again.

“She started falling ill again and we figured she should return to SA with Lisa because we didn’t have a support structure.

“Then I was alone. I got another crack at playing for the Boks in 2016, which got me home and I got to spend time with the family. Ameli was born here‚” said Alberts.

He played the last of his 43 Tests in the defeat to Italy in Florence that year.

The family reunited in Meudon‚ a southwest suburb on the fringes of Paris. “We had a good life there. It was a privilege to live there‚” said Alberts.

Alberts said his body feels great. He is busy restoring his fitness but needs no reminding he turns 36 in May.

“I feel good. But there are some mornings when you have to get up [and] you realise rugby has taken its toll a bit. The new challenge also brings fresh energy.

“I’m very excited. There is a lot of positivity here and I wish I was 10 years younger.

“It is good to be back at the Lions because this is where I gave my first steps as a professional player. Way back Ian MacDonald and Timmy Goodwin gave belief in me when not even I did. It worked out and it is very special to be back here and to give back.”