By Neale Harvey
Saracens prop Vincent Koch would relish doing battle with the “enemy” from within his own club this summer after revealing he has held talks with South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus over a return to national colours.
Koch, one of the best tightheads in the Premiership, won the last of nine caps against Italy in November 2016, since when a ‘30-cap’ rule introduced for overseas based players has precluded him from selection.
However, with new boss Erasmus cutting through the red tape in a bid to restore South Africa to the pinnacle of Test rugby, Koch could line up alongside Faf De Klerk (Sale) and Juan De Jongh (Wasps) against England this June.
Koch, fit again after a ten-week ankle injury lay-off, told TRP: “Rassie and I had a conversation two or three months ago in which he asked if I was keen to play for South Africa again, which obviously I am.
“After that I picked up a syndesmosis injury so my full focus right now is on Saracens and winning the Premiership. But if Rassie is opening things up and we do get selected again, the guys in Europe will contribute 100 per cent.
“When I left South Africa the rule came in which definitely affected me emotionally and it was sad that I was missing out. One thing South Africans love is playing for the jersey and I want to make the country proud again.
“We need to turn things around before next year’s World Cup. We’re a proud country that’s always been competing at the top level and it’s been sad seeing our decline but, hopefully, we can begin that process this summer.
“Rassie’s the perfect guy to do it and although I’ve never worked with him, I’m good mates with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger who have, and they say he’s a very good, technical coach who I’d enjoy working with.”
A full-on three-Test series against England this summer could see Koch doing battle against club colleagues Mako and Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Jamie George and Nick Isiekwe as the Springboks aim to restore pride.
He quipped: “On the pitch we’d be enemies but that’s what’s great about rugby – you battle, shake hands and then have a drink.
“The English boys have been giving me some banter, but it will be a brilliant series and the South African boys based in England would bring something different with knowing them so well.
“We know how they play, what England’s game plan is and we could definitely manipulate that to South Africa’s advantage.”
With a home semi-final booked, former Bulls and Stormers man Koch, 28, is desperate to win his first Premiership title.
He said: “We messed up the semi-final against Exeter last year but we’ve worked really hard to get a home game this year and I’m so excited about this now. I just want to contribute and, hopefully, end this season on a big high.”
With rampaging No.8 Billy Vunipola set to feature despite suffering a minor hamstring strain last week, Koch added: “It’s great having Billy back, not just for the physicality he brings but his calmness and leadership qualities.
“It might not be much fun facing him in June, if selected, but right now I’m just glad I’m playing alongside him at Saracens.”