The Welsh rugby favourite enjoying unexpected glory back in South Africa
When Brok Harris parted company with the Dragons in June 2021, he thought that was the end of his playing days.
After all, he was 36 and he’d put in a long old shift at the scrummaging coal-face.
But some 20 months on, he is a BKT United Rugby Championship title winner and still going strong as a first-team regular with the DHL Stormers.
Far from putting his feet up, the 38-year-old prop now has his sights set on retaining the BKT URC crown, with his immediate focus being Saturday’s South African derby against the Cell C Sharks in Cape Town.
It is proving to be a real Indian summer for the front row warhorse from the Gauteng Province.
“When I left the Dragons, we just decided as a family we would rather go back home. I thought my playing days were gone, 100 per cent,” he explains.
“I was looking to transition into the coaching side because I had done my level 3 badges in Wales.
“So the plan was to come back, spend some quality time with the family and then look for a coaching opportunity somewhere in South Africa.
“But then I met with John Dobson (head coach) and Greg Hechter (high performance manager) at the DHL Stormers.
“They said they knew I wanted to go into the coaching side of it, but Steven Kitshoff was with the Springboks, while they also had injuries, and they felt they needed some experience just to guide the young guys through the start of the first BKT URC season.
“I said I was keen to still play, if they were willing to give me the opportunity. So they said ‘Right, listen, you’ve got five weeks to do a pre-season on your own’ and that’s not fun!
“They gave me a six month contract and now I am still playing! It’s been a really nice one.”
As fate would have it, just weeks into his second playing spell with the DHL Stormers, Harris found himself back at Rodney Parade for a meeting with Dragons RFC, for whom he had made 143 appearances over seven years, establishing himself as a fans favourite.
“The welcome I got was unbelievable. Some of the guys still tell the story of me running out first. They were like ‘How does that happen?’
“I look back on my time at the Dragons fondly. It was harsh at times on-field. Having five coaches in eight seasons says it all basically.
“You can’t ever build something if you don’t have consistent coaching staff. You are trying to build something and then a new one comes in and he tries his way. It always felt like a rebuilding thing.
“But off the field, fans-wise, I was really happy that I could play my rugby in Newport and I was so grateful for all the loyal supporters coming in, win or lose. It was really, really good. So fond memories. It was a big part of my rugby career.
“I am just grateful they accepted me back the way they did with such a warm welcome and it was our first ever BKT URC win as well.”
Strength to strength
From that landmark victory, the DHL Stormers went from strength to strength, ultimately winning the BKT URC title with victory over the Vodacom Bulls in the final in Cape Town, where Harris came off the bench to share in the triumph.
“I was fortunate enough to play in the 2010 Super Rugby final against the Bulls at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way on the day. Then 12 years after that, coming back to South Africa, having not really been focused on playing, and winning the title is just unbelievable. You couldn’t have written it any better.
“The first year South Africa are in the BKT URC and it’s a Stormers-Bulls final in Cape Town and we won it. It’s a big story to write.”
Harris is very familiar with the European opposition the league provides, from his time in the PRO12/14 with the Dragons, but what have his team-mates made of it?
“They are loving the competition,” he says. “You can experience Italy, you can go to Scotland, Ireland, Wales. For guys that have been in Super Rugby for a little bit, they are now changing across over to BKT URC to see the northern hemisphere. In terms of playing styles, they were used to New Zealand style and Australian style.
“Now you get all the different playing styles and different coaching philosophies in Europe. For rugby and for us as South Africans, it’s a really good thing to experience.”
The DHL Stormers are making a very decent fist of their defence of the BKT URC title. They lie second in the table, with only Leinster above them, and are firmly on course for a home quarter-final in the play-offs.
“When we started off this season, that was the big aim, not to be a one-hit wonder,” said Harris.
“The emphasis is on trying to win the title again and just push our standards.
“Leinster haven’t lost a game yet so it’s going to be tough, but we just focus on ourselves. We have the slogan to make Cape Town smile. It’s not just us, it’s the broader community.”
Now attention turns to Saturday’s re-match with Cell C Sharks who the DHL Stormers beat 46-19 in Durban at the start of last month.
“I think the crowd will be massive, especially after our result a few weeks ago,” said loosehead Harris.
“The faithful Stormers and Sharks supporters will definitely come and support us and it’s going to be a huge game.
“All the derbies, when you are playing against your fellow countrymen, it’s just that extra hype and extra motivation to try and get out on top. I think it will be very spicy.”
Harris, who is now also providing input on the coaching side, is clearly relishing the surprise extension to his playing career.
“It was unexpected, so I just cherish every moment. There is no pressure for me. That is probably the big thing. I am enjoying every minute of it. That’s probably showing.
“It’s just nice, realising you could have been done and now you are still doing what you love, playing, and coaching as well. That’s a nice feeling. I am very privileged.”
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