Former Springbok centre Jaque Fourie is to take on a player-coach role with the Western Force for the next two years as the franchise tries to rebuild after being cut from Super Rugby in 2017.
Fourie‚ 35‚ told Business Day he was only going to play a few games and was definitely not coming out of retirement.
His ambition is to become a rugby coach and the Force offered him a chance to cut his teeth as a defensive specialist.
On Tuesday, the Perth-based franchise announced they will play international matches against Fiji‚ Tonga‚ Samoa‚ Hong Kong‚ the Melbourne Rebels and the Crusaders under the banner World Series Rugby (WSL).
The initiative is a prelude to an official WSL tournament starting in 2019.
Fourie‚ capped 72 times by the Boks‚ is widely regarded as the country’s best centre in the post-isolation era. He played Test rugby for 11 years between 2003-2014 and rounded out his stellar career at Japan’s Kobelco Steelers. Although he scored 32 Test tries‚ which places him third on the all-time Bok scoring list behind Bryan Habana and Joost van der Westhuizen‚ he was always known as a defensive kingpin.
"I will play some exhibition matches, but this contract is for coaching‚" Fourie said. "Some reports suggest I’m coming out of retirement but I can assure you I definitely don’t need that. This is purely about getting my foot in the coaching door.
"The Force are ambitious and initially were going to launch the Indo-Pacific competition in 2019‚ but it has moved forward slightly now so they want me earlier. I will work with the team defensively‚ but they do want me to play in a few of the mat-ches this year.
"Peter Grant and my agent, Hilton Houghton, have been working closely with the Force, and that’s how this opportunity came about. I’m serious about coaching. It’s rugby‚ which is all I know. I have spent a year at home after returning from Japan and I’ve started itching to get involved again.
"Coaching defence is something that comes naturally to me because it was such a big part of playing outside centre and I’ve been doing some coaching already," he said.
Fourie will also be involved in coaching the Perth franchise in the domestic Australian National Rugby Championships later in 2018. With a three-year-old son‚ Fourie says he and his wife view this as an opportunity to gain experience and explore before settling in one place.
He has also been absorbing as much as he can from various mentors as he makes his transition from player to coach.
"Coaching is not easy‚ but luckily I’m learning from the best in [new Bok defence coach] Jacques Nienaber‚" Fourie said.
"I played under Jacques at the Stormers‚ and even at the Cats years ago when he was still the physio‚ which is where he star-ted to get involved in defence.
"I really enjoy his approach and the structures he puts in place. I also learnt a lot from [current US coach] Gary Gold, who was at Kobelco Steel in Japan. Technically, he is very good with defence."
The Force were cut from Super Rugby in 2017, when SA‚ New Zealand‚ Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar) agreed to reduce the tournament from 18 to 15 teams.
The Cheetahs and Southern Kings from SA were the other two teams dropped. But they negotiated a way into Europe’s PRO14 competition while the Force were cast adrift.
Billionaire Force owner Andrew Forrest promised he would find a way to keep rugby alive in Western Australia through an Asia-Pacific tournament incorporating Fiji‚ Samoa and Tonga.
Although the 2018 matches that will take place between May and August are friendlies‚ these are the first tentative steps to a competition that will run alongside Super Rugby.