Rugby
John Goliath, Rugby Editor, KweséESPN 22d

Emotional Vincent Koch ready to live his dream again

Vincent Koch admits it was tough watching the Springboks' struggles over the last few years. It was even harder knowing that he couldn't do anything to help.

The explosive tighthead prop left South African shores in 2016 for Saracens in England after making his debut for the Springboks in 2015, following a stellar Super Rugby season with the Stormers. But shortly after moving to the United Kingdom, SA Rugby decided that only overseas-based players with 30 Tests or more will be eligible to play for the Boks.

Koch thought his dream of wearing the green and gold was over. But he knew he had to get over the disappointment quickly if he wanted to make a name for himself in the English Premiership.

A couple of years later, though, Koch is back in the Springbok fold after the overseas rule was scrapped by SA Rugby and following a couple of tremendous displays for Saracens.

Watching him smile and joke at a press conference ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship clash with the Wallabies, it was clear that Koch is taking it all. It means a lot "to be back with my brothers".

"There were rumours that the 30-cap rule will be enforced before I decided to leave for Saracens. When I signed that rule didn't apply yet, but it did come in later. That made me very sad, to be honest, knowing that I might not play for the Springboks again," Koch told media on Tuesday.

"As a South African, you want to play for the Springboks and to believe that the dream had disappeared was quite an emotional time for me. Life went on, though. I settled in England and just enjoyed my rugby.

"Luckily, when Rassie came back he changed things and now I have another opportunity to live my dream."

Koch says he has learned a lot about the game and himself in England over the last couple of years. This is becoming a trend as far as props are concerned, as his former Stormers teammate also said that scrumming against some of the meanest and toughest front-rankers in the northern hemisphere really helped to improve his game.

The 28-year-old Koch says the biggest aspect of his game that has improved is his work rate, especially off the ball. It's something that all South African players have had to improve over the last few years, as they were far behind the likes of New Zealand and England.

"It's my third season overseas now and I feel that I have definitely grown as a player, mentally and physically," said Koch, who is still contracted to Saracens until 2022.

"I became more mature and what I learned with that side is to work harder. I think that is something that I lacked in the past. I'm working a lot harder off the ball.

Koch comes back into the South African side after the historic win in Wellington over the All Blacks. It was a brutal encounter that caused many fans, especially Koch, to go through different emotions.

It was the kind of rollercoaster ride which the Springboks have been on over the last few years, mixing top performances with utterly poor ones on a week-by-week basis.

"Beating the All Blacks was obviously very emotional, but seeing the team lose is also quite emotional. I know no one goes out to lose and the guys really work hard and fight hard on the pitch," Koch said.

"It's been a rollercoaster as a fan and as an ex-Springbok. When the guys lost or it didn't go their way on the weekend, I was really sad. I felt for them on the pitch.

"As a South African you keep on following the Springboks even though you are abroad. Of course after the great game against New Zealand, it's great coming into such an amazing environment.

"The guys' energy levels are right up there, and they are a bit more motivated as well. So, for me slotting in has been easy."

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