Rugby World Cup winner Faf de Klerk is arguably the most recognisable man from this year’s tournament, so BBC Sport sat down with the South Africa scrum-half and bombarded him with as many quick-fire questions as we could in half-an-hour…
Only one place to start – those dressing-room photos after the Rugby World Cup final win over England. Why were you wearing pants with the South Africa flag on?
They are actually swimming trunks. The whole team were sent a pair with the South Africa flag on. I’ve been playing with them on for about three years. They are just really comfy.
Are they lucky pants?
Ha. I’d say they were lucky in terms of me getting to meet Prince Harry and raising awareness of testicular cancer – but I don’t take things into the games that are lucky, like special pants or socks. I do think a lot of people would like to have them now, though.
Meeting Prince Harry in your pants must have been quite a strange experience.
There were actually quite a few of us in our underwear. I think he enjoyed the players just accepting him as one of the boys, not making any special arrangements for him. We had a nice chat and he was just a down-to-earth decent guy. It’s always nice to see a person in such a position being down to earth.
We’ve seen your South Africa team-mates stripping down to their pants for the Faf Challenge – tell me about that.
A charity approached me to help raise awareness for testicular cancer and there are now some great photos of famous South Africans in their pants helping to spread the word. It’s all about upping your ball skills!
The homecoming at the airport after you won the World Cup – Wow!
Yeah, we did not expect that. We expected a few, but not thousands. It was just so special. We felt bad just running through the crowds at the airport with police because we wanted to stop and greet everyone, but it’s just impossible and we would never have get out of there. But it was very special, seeing what it meant to the people at home.
And what about the open top bus victory parade?
It was just insane. We obviously didn’t get a sense of the support at home when we were in Japan. It felt like the whole country was out to support us that day, just to see a few guys on top of a bus waving at them. It was insane. I never expected it.
There is a clip of a boy crying, who threw his boot up to be signed, that must have been moving for you?
Yeah, but that’s just one instance. That obviously meant a lot to him. Old people, young people, people of all races, crying, screaming, it was magical to see. There are a lot of troubles in South Africa, but that day, everybody just got along, and it felt like everything was perfect in South Africa. It was so special and I will always keep it with me.
You talk about the troubles and tensions in South Africa. Do you think the World Cup win will have a big impact on the country in that sense?
I really hope it does – but being ultra-critical, it probably won’t. But what I know is that there are people in the right positions now, especially on the rugby side. With coach Rassie [Erasmus] going [back] to [concentrate full-time on his role as] director of rugby, he made us a promise that he’ll make sure that things will move forward for the better. They are going to put a lot more work into developing rugby and giving opportunities to people who are not that privileged. The popularity of rugby definitely grew in South Africa over the World Cup, and sport has great power, so hopefully it will make some difference. Even if it’s just 1%, it’s a bit of a change.
You’re always smiling, you’ve got lots of energy, and like being the centre of attention. Is this how you’ve always been, or is this just a recent thing?
I’ve always had lots of energy; it’s just been about channelling it in the right way. I know I can be annoying, but that’s just my way and hopefully more people than not like my personality. But I think it’s good to have a fresh look on life, especially when the weather gets a bit grim over here.
Do you feel like a kid living out your dream?
That’s exactly the best way to put it. We all say we enjoy playing rugby, but most guys don’t really show it – and some guys I don’t think actually enjoy it. So every time I arrive in the morning, I’ve always got a smile on my face. Once I lose that enjoyment, I will stop playing.
When you were younger, you were often overlooked because of your height – how did that feel?
It was disappointing but luckily I have great parents who have always supported me. South African rugby players are notoriously big and some coaches just got stuck in that mindset and decided I wouldn’t make it because of my height and that was that. It didn’t matter how big I got physically. But it just gave me the motivation to prove them wrong, as I’ve always believed in myself.
You made your Springboks debut in 2016 – when they had a dreadful year. You lost eight of your first 11 games, were sin-binned against Wales and then dropped. Did you think: That’s it, I’m done – I’ll never play for my country again?
There were a lot of problems within the squad, a lot of new players, a lot of new management – we never had structure; there wasn’t clear direction as to how we should play. It’s funny, though, because I always thought I’d be involved and that I was good enough. But being dropped gave me the opportunity to come to Sale.
When you joined Sale in 2017, the selection rules at the time meant you wouldn’t be eligible for South Africa. Was it a hard decision?
No. I always wanted to play in the UK or France. I felt I was falling out of favour and then the opportunity came out of the blue, so I felt I had nothing to lose coming here but a lot to gain. I knew I couldn’t play for the Springboks for the next two-and-a-bit years but I could be selected for the World Cup if I played well enough and that was always my goal.
What have you learned most from playing in England?
To adapt while the game is going on. The weather doesn’t always allow you just to run with the ball. The wind might change, it might start raining. I learned the running game in South Africa and the more nitty gritty stuff over here, so I think I’m now well rounded when it comes to playing styles.
What’s so special about Sale? It seems like one big family.
Dimes [Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby] is family orientated. He wants a tight-knit group. He wants to be involved in your life if you’d like him to be. The club really go out of their way to make it as comfortable as possible for us. We have socials, parties. If we play in France, they’ll give us a few days off for team bonding. So we spend a lot of “off time” together.
I know you enjoy going to the countryside. Does that remind you of being in South Africa?
Yes definitely. I’d like to do it more often, but it’s a case of weather permitting. We’ve been on some team bonding trips in the countryside – walking in the Lake District and shooting in the Peak District. I love nature, getting out there just relaxes you. I love being out in the open and the wild. It reminds me of home and grounds me a bit.
It must be really tough with your girlfriend being in South Africa?
Yeah, it’s been really tough but finally we’ve decided that she’s going to move here next year, which will make things easier. We usually meet up every four to six weeks and spend two weeks together. We message a lot and speak a lot over the phone; she’s not too keen on FaceTime, but I force her to do it. We’ve obviously had some troubles over the two years as all couples do. She studied for six years to be a pharmacist, so she didn’t just want to give it up. She would have to do another two-year course to carry on being a pharmacist in the UK – so if we decide to stay here longer, she’ll do it, but to begin with she’ll do something else.
What is your favourite English phrase?
“Simply lovely” is probably my favourite. That’s quite nice; I like that one.
Any English traditions or habits you’ve picked up?
Coffee dates. The English are always going for a coffee. If a new coffee shop opens up, a few of us will go and check it out. I also drink a lot more tea since I’ve been here. I’ve had a few Sunday roasts but we also like a good roast in South Africa, so that’s not so strange for me.
I understand your dad emails Sale’s press officer asking for videos of all your games – is he your biggest fan?
Well, a lot of people tell me they are my biggest fan, ha! But him and my mother are for sure. They love to watch my games. Especially when I was a kid, they’d make so much effort to be at all my games. Even now as an adult, it means a lot for me for them to be there.
I know you’re a man of meticulous detail. Are you a perfectionist?
No, I’m not a perfectionist. I just like to do a lot of work off the field. I watch our own matches to see how both myself and the team can improve, and I’ll watch a few games to look at the number nine and 10 that I’m going to play against, looking at any weaknesses or strengths so once I go out there, I know what they are going to do.
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Is it true you keep a notebook to help you prepare for games?
Yeah. On the bus on the way to the games, I’ll read through my notebook and write down a few goals that I want to achieve in the game. It’s something I’ve learned to do, and it definitely works, because if I pick up on something that I need to remember and I write it down, then when I read it on the day of the game, I don’t forget it.
So you’ve won the World Cup and many think you’re the best scrum-half in the world – where do you go next?
I love the game and I always want to improve. Just because you’ve won the World Cup, it doesn’t mean you’re the perfect player. There are always things to work on. In my eyes, I’ll never be the best in something. We’ve got a lot of goals at Sale that we haven’t reached yet. I want to win a Premiership and a Champions Cup. I also want to inspire kids to come to the club. Even if I won everything, I’d still want to improve. And maybe another World Cup in four years time, that would be amazing… if I’m still around! There’s also the [British and Irish] Lions tour [to South Africa in 2021] coming up; that would be great if I get the opportunity to play in that.
I spotted on Twitter that someone had tweeted saying you look like Prince Charming from Shrek – do you get that a lot?
Ha. Yeah I get that a lot and also Lord Farquaad, the little guy from Shrek, just because he’s short, but I don’t think I look like him. But yeah, I get a few good memes from fans. They’re funny and I think I’ve got a good sense of humour.
Finally what are your three pieces of advice for kids wanting to be the next Faf de Klerk?
1 – Don’t let anyone get you down, no matter how negative they are towards you.
2 – Work really really hard. Even if you can do 1% more than the next guy… it might make things take a bit longer, but it’ll be worth it.
3 – Believe in yourself. Constantly talk to yourself and tell yourself you can do it.
Faf de Klerk was speaking to BBC Sport’s Henry Ditchfield.
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