After five years playing rugby in the UK, Carlos Spencer has decided to return to playing Super Rugby, as it was announced in January that he will take up a two year deal with the Johannesburg based Lions in the Super 14.
Spencer, now 34, will join the side in a role which will eventually see him being a player-coach, where he will look to guide and mentor young backline players for not only the Super 14, but the Currie Cup as well.
The former All Blacks flyhalf has been playing in England since 2005, when he first left the Auckland Blues to play with Northampton Saints before later moving to Gloucester. In December the Lions contacted him, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“Things didn’t go as well as I’d have liked with the clubs in England on a rugby level because the style of rugby they play hasn’t always suited me, Spencer said.
“The opportunity to come to the Lions arose very quickly – I got the call just before Christmas. Once it came up I was bloody excited by the prospect and, in a matter of weeks, the deal was done.
Spencer had hinted at a move back to the Blues, but the NZRU, who contracts all the players in New Zealand, didnt see any All Black potential for the 35 times capped player, so the Auckland side instead signed Stephen Brett at flyhalf.
“We had little talks but that’s all it was, small talk,” Spencer said. “We put out a hint that I was quite keen to come back but, you know, there was no keen interest from back home so we flagged it.
“I wasn’t too disappointed. I always said when I left New Zealand that it was unlikely that I would ever go back and play so it’s just one of those things. One door closes and another one opens.”
With Dick Muir, Springbok Assistant Coach, now in charge at the Lions, they will be looking to play an expansive game, which will naturally suit Spencer.
“He looks excellent in training and in control of the backs. We signed him for a specific reason and we’re expecting a lot from him in the coming weeks,” said Muir.
“Dick and I have talked about it and being at high altitude we can afford to throw the ball around,” Spencer said. “With teams coming from Australasia, the idea is to run these guys around when they come to Ellis Park. An expansive game will suit us to try tire them out, and Im excited about that.”
Hes only had a few training sessions so far, and will play his first match warmup match on Friday in Witbank. Hes been impressed with what hes already seen at the Lions though.
“The skill levels of the South African players has changed over the past few years. Thats the reason why a South African side has won the Super 14 twice in three years. After my first training session with the Lions, the skills were great, especially among the young guys.”
“To get a coaching job during the Currie Cup was a bonus. That’s pretty much what attracted me to going back to Super 14 – to play the rugby and to get that coaching experience.
“It was absolutely perfect timing for me. I’m coming towards the end of my career and to have another season of Super 14 and do some coaching is ideal.”
He admitted that there is still quite a difference in approaches when it comes to the game in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
“Definitely, the mindset is very different in the Super 14 and it is something I am looking forward to. I think I have the mindset that comes along with the Super 14. I like to play rugby and enjoy myself.
“I don’t think I will have a problem fitting into that at all,” Spencer added.
While Spencer is now older and perhaps not as sharp as when he last played Super Rugby, he himself insists that hes fit enough and in good shape. Hell no doubt still have some tricks up his sleeve, and his presence will do great things towards getting bums on seats around the country.
This tribute video covers Spencers career pretty much up until when he finished with the All Blacks and the Super 12. Many of you may have seen some of the footage around, but its worth a watch and something that probably should have been in the RD archives sooner.