South African Sowerby feels right at home in his adopted surroundings
Published 01/05/2010 | 05:00
They don't really know what to make of Shaun Sowerby back home in his old country. He's 31, plays for one of the best clubs in the world, yet he hasn't featured in an international squad for nigh on eight years.
But, you see, the old country is not his home anymore. Talk to South Africans and they will haughtily declare that the bustling No 8 is more French than the French themselves.
After all, the majority of his professional career has been spent in France -- three years with Stade Francais since leaving his captaincy of the Natal Sharks in 2004 before linking up with Les Toulousains.
Had Sowerby not received his solitary cap against Samoa in 2002, some of his compatriots say snidely, he would rather have declared for his adopted country under IRB residency rules.
"I suppose I'm almost six years here," Sowerby muses. "And I've really enjoyed every minute of it, it's been great. I wouldn't say I've become as French as the French themselves though."
Eager to probe whether any truth lay in the thoughts of his detached compatriots, you mention that Trevor Brennan, with whom he will share a drink in victory or defeat today in De Danu, was similarly dispatched to the margins when his French connection was ignorantly perceived as a reason to terminate his Irish career.
"Does Trevor feel he's more French than the French? I'm not too sure about that. As far as the rest of my career goes, I'm hoping to finish here in Toulouse. I never wanted to shut any doors but when I left South Africa, I never saw myself returning to my home country. I wanted to experience something different in terms of competition and I've enjoyed it more here."
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has said that he will be using the June 5 Test against Wales to look at a number of overseas-based players to see if they still had anything to offer ahead of the 2011 World Cup.
Sowerby's team-mate Daan Human has already received a letter in the post, and he could be joined by a host of stars including Joe van Niekerk (Toulon), Francois Steyn (Racing Metro) and Butch James (Bath) among others.
He has been quoted as saying he would have preferred to hand back his cap if it meant he had the chance to play for France. A prickly answer to a prickly questioner in his younger days, you reckon.
"Sure, you could qualify after the three years. But it's purely speculation. Again, it's been said and it hasn't happened. It would have been a very difficult decision to make anyway even if I did qualify. It can't be that easy to play for a second country so maybe in a way I've been fortunate not to be confronted with that dilemma."