Having had the chance to have a good chat with Ernst Joubert at Felsted School on a hot summers day as Saracens were preparing to play Essex Cricket Club, yes, at cricket! I was pleased to be asked to interview him just before he returned to South Africa to start that whole Life After Rugby thing.
The title is probably a tad misleading as Ernst had literally just played his last game for Saracens at Twickenham 2 days before, proudly leading out the team whose fortunes he’d seen transformed in his time at the club.
Ernst started his career with Saracens in 2009; we had that in common, except my relationship with the club is of course rather gentler in nature. My first season ticket buy was in 2009, with an offer of £89 it was rude not to! However I told Ernst about one game in particular where I’d sat shouting booooring at the top of my voice! The style of rugby being played that year was dull, with a capital D.
Six years on things have changed in a big way; clearly I watch this team with the eyes of a fan, but Saracens have become one of the teams in the Premiership that others strive to beat, at the time of writing they remain the only team unbeaten in the Northern Hemisphere this season.
So, to get to the man I’d come to interview, Ernst Joubert, his career with Saracens started and finished at Twickenham and in total he made 161 appearances. It’s plain that this softly spoken man is held in high regard by the club, his team mates and the fans. I was lucky to be in a position to learn more about him; we were slightly pushed for time so I had a few questions ready to ask.
What was your earliest rugby memory?
Playing with Dad in the garden hanging on his leg at 4 years old, Ernst recalled playing rugby every day with one of the workers son, in his words ‘Afrikaans kids definitely get a rugby ball’
At the age of 7 Ernst was playing games at Primary School, when he was 15 rugby turned professional, which gave possibilities past playing for the joy of it for those with an aptitude. He played both cricket and rugby at High School moving on to concentrate on rugby, playing for the first team.
Ernst had his first taste of English rugby at 18 when he had a spell over here, working in a warehouse and playing rugby for Cheltenham at weekends. Rather than try to head to professional rugby when he went home he went to university, gaining a degree in Management Accounting.
Ernst played in the U20 University side, moving into the first team. He progressed to the Western Province U21 side, then the 1st team playing Cup games for them. With his degree finished he played for Stellenbosch, having a particularly good game in front of the coach of the Lions, based in Johannesburg. Ernst was a Lions supporter, with a family history as his Grandad had played for them. The coach spoke to Ernst about making the move to Lions, disappearing after the match, however he phoned a few months later and the move was made.
We digressed rather as I wondered if Ernst had always been in the back row, he actually played as Centre for 3 years, before moving onto the Wing; that was a bit dull so he found himself in the Number 8 shirt as a teenager, playing in the pivotal role in his gap year at Cheltenham.
Can you name the one person who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
Ernst didn’t hesitate to name his Dad, he encouraged him and was fairly fanatical about the game and his son playing it. They talked through the ‘leadership stuff’ and in Ernst’s words ‘I always knew I could value his opinion’ His parents never missed a game.
What decided you to make the move to Saracens?
Having had a taste of rugby in England at an early age Ernst had always wanted to play rugby abroad, he’d imagined that might actually be in France however. The feeling at that time in South Africa was that as players get near to 30 clubs wanted them to retire, Ernst wanted to keep laying and do some travelling too.
Saracens trained at Stellenbosch in 2008, the Brendan Venter ‘thing’ was staring. One of the local coaches was a friend, Ernst said to him – ‘Tell the coach I’d like to play for Saracens’
Venter took him up on that wish and so a long relationship with Saracens started. Ernst’s decision to complete his degree allowed him to come to England, he needed either that or to have played for South Africa. The first he had, the second hadn’t happened.
What is your best club rugby memory?
A lot has changed for Saracens in the time Ernst has been at the club, this group of players have excelled time after time. For Ernst the best memory of all is wining the 2011 Premiership Final, he’d been captain the year before, a key playe that day, and again in his words, ‘it was an amazing experience’
He was captain on the day Saracens beat Leicester Tigers at Welford Road – famously telling Owen Farrell he wanted 50 points when the game was all but over. I was there that day and it’ll certainly be a memory I hold dear!
What is your worst rugby memory?
Ernst immediately thought of the knee injuries he suffered while at Saracens, same injury to both!
But when I related a story told by a Quins player he recounted an injury that could well have put paid to his rugby playing days very early on. Having signed with the Lions, with only one of the coaches having seen him play, he joined them to train in the January. He felt a click in his groin, which it turned out was an injury known as Gilmores groin.
He was out for 10 weeks, then another 10 weeks without being able to introduce anything as light as jogging. 6 months later, he was still injured and still at the no jogging stage, he had 3 operations in all and with a further 6 months on the clock was seeing no improvement. Ernst was training as he could, but that was clearly very restricted and feeling pretty bad about being out of action. He had a meeting with the coach telling him, ‘I’ll give it 4 weeks and if theres no improvement I’ll retire’
He went to see the man who would save his career Dr Ron Holder, a South African Chiropractor and Applied Kinesiologist, 18 months after the 1st operation Ernst spent 10 minutes in his office, an office with a bed, the Yellow Pages, tape and scissors. Dr Holder found the weak spot, and applied his magic in the form of pieces of the Yellow Pages, as Ernst walked out he was able to jog, he was back playing rugby within 2 weeks!
It’s well worth reading more about Dr Holder’s method, here
Which fellow Saracens player do you most admire?
This is a close knit group of men, Ernst’s initial response was that he admires all of them, when pushed however one man came to the fore. None other than Sunshine on Legs as I like to call him, Schalk Brits – the two had first played together in 1998, takin their partnership to University as well. It was plain to see the regard Ernst has for this throughly delightful man.
Which International player do you most admire?
This wasn’t a popular question with Ernst and he was slightly reluctant to answer, however with the recent loss of the great Jonah Lomu, it was inevitable considering that he’d be at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final, that Lomu should come to mind. In Ernst’s eyes together with the rest of the rugby world he changed the game incredibly.
What are your future plans?
Ernst and his lovely family were heading home that week, taking a well earned holiday for a month. The new year brings a new challenge with a Year’s contract with Remgro Limited an investment company, where he’ll start to put his degree to work, exciting times with new challenges. I’m certain he’ll meet those challenges with the same determination he’s shown in his rugby career.
What exactly is the 678 Testimonial?
In Ernst’s words? ‘All about Loose Forwards and a good time, a celebration of 2 careers come to an end, with friends and family there to celebrate’ Ernst and his wife will be flying back over for the event on March 24th, they plan to bring Ernst’s Mum too. So yes, a family affair along with Jacques Burger and his family and friends,but also a chance to raise money for some great causes.
Space for Giants – http://spaceforgiants.org
Henry Fraser Trust – http://www.henryfraser.org
And Khulani through Sport/Kayamandi – through the Saracens Sports Foundation.
Ernst with Alison and Debbie – 2 of the team arranging the 678 Dinner
A few details below –
678 TESTIMONIAL DINNER
NO BACKS ALLOWED!
678 PACKAGE DETAILS
There will be a limited number of 678 packages available.
- One table of 10 hosted by one of our 678 players in attendance
- Pre event VIP private drinks reception with your host
- Photos with your host, signed, personalized & presented to your guests beforeleaving
- Prime positioned table
- 3 course meal by award winning chef
- Exclusive gift for each guest
- Unlimited fine wine throughout the meal
- Half page advert in the souvenir programme678 PACKAGE is £2,950 + VATPLATINUM PACKAGE DETAILS
- One table of 10
- Complimentary drinks reception
- 3 course meal by award winning chef
- Half bottle of fine wine per guest
- Exclusive gift per guest
- Company logo in the event programmePLATINUM PACKAGE is £1,950 + VAT
Contact Alison for more detail at