United Rugby Championship: Brok Harris relishing second Stormers stint after plans to retire in 2021

United Rugby Championship URC Brok Harris Stormers Sharks Credit: Alamy
United Rugby Championship URC Brok Harris Stormers Sharks Credit: Alamy

Veteran prop Brok Harris thought his playing days were over when he left the Dragons in June 2021, but he now has his sights set on retaining the United Rugby Championship crown.

Harris became a cult hero at Rodney Parade during his time with the Dragons, playing over 140 games for the Welsh side between 2014 and 2021.

‘I thought my playing days were gone’

When he returned to South Africa, Harris had no intentions of continuing his playing career. He was 36, after all, but after talks with Stormers head coach John Dobson, he was ready to lace up his boots again.

“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.”

Dragons days

20 months on from rejoining the Stormers, Harris is a first-team regular again for the Cape-based side. The now 38-year-old continues to impress on both sides of the scrum.

It wasn’t long until Harris returned to Rodney Parade to tackle his former employers.

The prop said that the welcome he got from the fans at his old stomping ground was “unbelievable” and spoke fondly of his time at the side.

“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?’,” he said.

“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 a 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.”

Pain of 2010 and glory in 2022

After that victory, the Stormers went from strength to strength, earning a home URC final against the Bulls.

It wasn’t the first time the two rivals had met in a tournament’s showpiece event as they clashed in the Super Rugby Final back in 2010. Harris was among the only three players to play both fixtures, alongside Deon Fourie and Morne Steyn (Bulls).

In 2010, the Stormers were on the losing end of the result, and he was far happier with the script this time.

“I was fortunate enough to play in the 2010 Super Rugby final against the Bulls at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto,” he said.

“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.”

Back-to-back titles

The Stormers are in second place on the overall table and are on course for a home quarter-final in the URC.

Harris says the Stormers have a big “emphasis” on defending the title.

“When we started off this season, that was the big aim, not to be a one-hit wonder,” he added.

“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.”

Harris is now operating in a player-coach role for the Stormers and is enjoying 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.”

The United Rugby Championship is back in full swing this weekend, and the Stormers are in action against coastal rivals, the Sharks, on Saturday. 

READ MORE: Inconsistent Sharks face a daunting task against high-riding Stormers

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