England flanker Hendre Fourie admits his rugby career could have taken a very different turn were it not for the intervention of Rotherham coach Andre Bester.
Fourie was struggling to gain a contract with Eastern Province while playing in the Vodacom Cup and was considering using his degree to become a software engineer.
But a call from Bester persuaded Fourie to come over to Yorkshire in 2005. Fast forward five years and the 30-year-old was not only one of Leeds’ standout players in their successful battle against the drop but Fourie is also in the 44-man squad to tour Australia.
“To say this is a dream come true is an understatement,” said Fourie who became qualified to play for England on residential grounds earlier this year.
“I was seriously thinking about turning my back on rugby. I had a degree in Computer Software Development and was trying to motivate myself to go out and look for something.
“I was trying to get a contract with Eastern Province but that was not working out and I was resigning myself to getting a job as a software engineer.
“But then Andre Bester asked me to come over and at the time my options in South Africa weren’t great so I thought why not I have got nothing to lose.
“I came over for a season and have ended up staying five years.
“I never imagined I would end up being in an England squad but when David Strettle, who I played with at Rotherham, was called up I thought I could do it as well.
“I felt comfortable pulling on the Red Rose with the Saxons shirt so it is not an issue for me. I want to play at the highest possible level and England have given me that opportunity.
“I never got the chance to prove myself in the top tier of South African rugby.
“I suppose I am a late developer but I have worked hard every single day since I have been over here. I think the playing style here suits my game a bit better particularly in wet conditions.”
The retirement of Mike Catt should serve as a poignant reminder of the service foreign-born players have given to the Red Rose cause.
Fourie’s call-up is not just a vindication on a personal level but for all those involved in Leeds’ successful fight against relegation.
That though has not stopped a flood of talent including fly-half Joe Ford and flanker Callum Clark exiting Headingley but Fourie says he owes too much to coaching duo Neil Back and Andy Key to consider joining the exodus.
He said: “I have been transformed as a player compared to when I first came over.
“Andre introduced me to professionalism, Stuart Lancaster made me more of a leader and Andy Key and Neil Back have made a massive difference. I am physically plus mentally a better player since coming under their influence along with Steve Nance.
“It shows you don’t have to play for a massive club to be recognised as a good player. That is a big thing for me because it shows if I am performing well it does not matter what colour shirt I have on.
“I like to think I am an honorary Yorkshireman now. I have never lived anywhere else (in England) and don’t want to – I love it here. It is one of the reasons I want to stay at Leeds.”