‘Never think you’re the big dog because they fall the hardest’

For their son's first birthday party, Vincent Koch and his wife Jandri dressed up as the iconic characters from the Pixar film, The Incredibles. Aside from wearing a tight red jumpsuit, this was an easy cosplay for the Springboks and Sharks mainstay.

Outwardly, he looks very similar to Mr. Incredible. The thick, round jaw is located below the thin mouth. His hooded eyes crinkle when he smiles. His blond locks, which taper off slightly at the edges of his head, are a carbon copy of his doppelgänger. Then of course there are the meaty arms, rock-like shoulders and wine-barrel trunks that could just as easily protect against an evil gamma ray gun as they stabilize a scrum.

However, there is one major difference between the two – aside from being a computer-rendered character – and that is in their motivations. In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible sought fame and glory, even putting his family's safety at risk for one last moment in the spotlight. By contrast, Koch completely rejects any praise, as if the mere mention of his superhero likeness is his kryptonite.

“No. “I'm certainly not a star,” Koch says firmly in the late afternoon sunshine at the Lensbury Hotel in southwest London, leaning forward in his chair as all elite-level props seem to do. He laughs as he shrugs off the mention. His personal medal collection includes two World Cups, two Champions Cups, two Premier League championships and a British and Irish Lions Series.

Vincent Koch says it is essential that the Sharks show the wider rugby community that they can thrive at club level (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“I was in a pretty good team to be honest,” he said, but failed to point out that you would have to be very useful to play for Rassie Erasmus' South Africa side or Mark McCall's Saracens side. “I think it's different for someone who's nervous. You can't think you're the guy because the next guy is going to do it.” [come along and teach] You have other things.

“I learned the hard way. When I was a kid, I thought I was the man and I quickly felt humbled. My approach from then on was to always stay humble, work hard, and never take things for granted. For me that's the biggest thing. Don't think Never be the big dog, because they are the ones who fall the hardest. Just do what you have to do and keep serving.

The hardest lesson Koch learned when he was twenty-one years old. After graduating from the University of Pretoria, where he represented the famous Tuks First XV, he was a member of the Blue Bulls Academy. After a brief hiatus due to a minor injury, he returned to camp bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to find that he had been left out of the group.

If it wasn't for my brother I wouldn't be playing rugby today. I called him and told him I wanted to quit, so he spoke in a way that made sense in my head.

“I still thought I was good enough to be there, but I got a call from the coach telling me they weren’t going to give me a contract,” Koch recalls. “I thought they would give me a contract for sure and I couldn't understand why I was being cut. If it wasn't for my brother I wouldn't be playing rugby today. I phoned him and told him I wanted to quit, so he talked some sense into my head.”

Looking back at this World Cup winner 13 years later, this crisis of confidence seems incomprehensible. Koch calmed down, reset himself and found a new home with the Pumas, a relatively small north-eastern league that had been punching above its weight long before their impressive Currie Cup win in 2022. He was here between 2012 and 2012. In 2016, Koch surrendered and gained a reputation as a disruptor and tireless operator of freedom. A Super Rugby debut for the Stormers in 2015 as well as a Springboks debut that year, as a substitute for Jannie du Plessis in a 20-27 loss to New Zealand in Johannesburg, saw childhood milestones reached.

Vincent Koch
Koch is no stranger to London and raising titles, as he did with Muslims over the course of six years (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Then came a move to Saracens in 2016 where he helped an already dynasty powerhouse loot silver and gold as if they were marauding pirates on the high seas. In his first year he lifted the Champions Cup. The following season he won the Premier League. A year later, another league win and another European crown were complemented by a World Cup victory. Even when Saracens were relegated in 2020 following a salary cap breach, he remained in charge, playing 10 matches as Saracens regained their place in the English Premier League, making his 100th appearance for the club in the second leg of the final against them. Ealing.

“It's just that I'm doing my job,” he says, emphasizing humility. “For me, it's all about the team, it's not about myself or the titles. Of course, it's always good to see and have them, but for me, how can I serve the team?

You never hear someone happy about losing. It doesn't always look great but that's not why we play the game.

At the end of our conversation he left a slip. “Winning is addictive,” he says, momentarily allowing himself to be immersed in the intoxicating glow of victory. “It's a feeling you can't describe. It's a feeling you want to feel every week. I would say I hate losing more than I like winning.”

that is it. The chink in the armor. The gap in the defense line. He agrees that winning machines are driven by a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie, but there is also a degree of cruelty. That no matter what happens in 80 minutes, only one outcome is acceptable.

“We don't care how we do it,” he explains, drawing a link between Springboks and Muslim mentalities. “You never hear someone be happy about losing. It doesn't always sound great, but that's not why we play this game.”

Vincent Koch
Koch has been part of the famous 'Bomb Squad' during the past two World Cup campaigns (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

And on Friday night he will have another chance to win another major title. The Sharks – their team for less than a full campaign – have been woeful in URC but have a chance for redemption in a game they should really win. Gloucester will know they have every chance of pulling off an upset, but a Sharks side packed with World Cup winners will start as clear favorites in the Challenge Cup final.

Koch will not be drawn into small talk and knows he is praising his opponents, highlighting their ability to counter-attack from broken plays. Instead, he takes us back inside the camp and emphasizes the importance of blocking out outside noise.

Our season at URC wasn't great, so we set ourselves Challenge Cup goals. We did well in the pool and then decided to take this seriously, so to get to the final is unbelievable. It's huge.

“We can't be bothered by rumors or noise from outside. You always get that. For us, it's internal, and we don't really care about the outside world. We scored goals and said we want to play in the final.

“Our season at URC wasn't great, so we set ourselves goals for the Challenge Cup. We did well in the pool and then decided to take this seriously, so to get to the final is unbelievable. It's huge. Of course you started playing rugby because you love “The game, but there's something special about the finals. You work hard all year to lift the trophy. That drives me.”

Vincent Koch
Koch and his Springboks teammates have too much experience in the game to topple Gloucester (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Before he heads off to get more calories, Koch is keen to talk about the importance of the game to South African rugby as a whole. “Our biggest motivation is the Springboks, but I think this is very similar to that,” he says. “The Sharks haven't won anything at international level yet. The South African team hasn't done that [won a European title]. It's for us, it's for the Sharks, it's for our fans and of course playing at international level. We want to go out and raise the cup and say again that this was for South Africa.

Another winner's medal sitting in the locker back home would be an incredible achievement and one befitting a man who holds the title of superhero, no matter how much he tries to downplay it.


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