IT’S pronounced Skooman, he tells us, not Shoeman, but he doesn’t mind when people get it wrong because everyone has been so welcoming since he came here. And that, in a sentence, is what 24-year-old Pierre Schoeman is like in person: no matter how intimidating a man of his ursine bulk may be to opponents, off the field at events such as this press conference he is easygoing, affable and good-humoured.
If he is surprised by how quickly Edinburgh fans have taken to him, he shouldn’t be. We may not have quite the same obsession with scrummaging as his native South Africa, but we certainly appreciate a prop who likes to go on the odd rampage in open play, and the loosehead has done that a few times since joining in the summer on a three-year contract.
He insists that so far the Edinburgh fans have only seen a glimpse of what he can do, and that he still has a lot to learn. Indeed, given the age at which front-row players usually mature, Schoeman is probably right to surmise that he is perhaps five years or so away from reaching his peak – and the interesting thing about that time scale is that, as things stand, it is in five years that he will have the chance to realise his major ambition in the sport and represent Scotland.
To date, he has only turned out against his adoptive country at under-20 level at the Junior World Cup, in a pretty straightforward victory for the South Africans. But when he was weighing up the offer from Edinburgh, a big factor in his decision was the possibility of becoming eligible to play for Scotland on residency grounds. With team-mate Willem Nel having trodden that path before him, Schoeman knows it is a viable option for him – one that he is committed to taking.
“My focus is on Edinburgh Rugby now, but for future’s sake my aspirations and dreams is to play for Scotland if I’m good enough at that time,” he explains. “I’ll work hard for that, especially with coach Cockers who brings the best out of all our players.
“If it takes five years then it takes five years. I’m going to be here with a lot of caps like WP Nel. If there’s a twist or a glitch in the thing stating three years will be fine, that will also be awesome. If not, if it’s five years, then it’s five years, mate. I’ll just wait it out and commit to Edinburgh and after that play international if I’m good enough.
“I’m from Pretoria, mate, from the Bulls country. My high school is actually just across from Loftus Versfeld, which is home of the Blue Bulls. I could just walk over there.
“It was difficult to leave. My junior aspiration was to play 10 years there – if you’re good enough play for the Springboks as well, settle in Pretoria on the farms having a good time. But I got the offer from coach Cockers and Edinburgh and it was awesome, also from the Scottish Rugby Union.”
You ain’t seen nothing yet
The impact that Schoeman has made in such a short time shows just why Richard Cockerill was so keen to sign him, and he admits to being satisfied with his early performances. But he insists that, far from coming over from South Africa thinking he knew everything there is to know about front-row play, he has a lot to learn. He mentions Nel again – despite the fact that they are on different sides of the front row, Schoeman obviously looks up to the tighthead – but he also mentions another countryman as someone whose journey to Europe can serve as an example to him.
“I am very pleased, but there’s still a lot to work on, especially the set piece. As Cockers mentioned it is a lot more focused on the set piece, especially the scrums and lineout attack and defence.
“Guys like WP, who have been here for years and years and have that experience, can help you – but he also gets the better of you at training. So there’s still a lot to work on, but I’m very happy with joining the boys and with their work ethic and professionalism. I’ve been blown away by how professional they are.
“I won’t say I lacked that [professionalism], but you always learned a lot more. CJ Stander said just after the Six Nations, when he got player of the year or something – he actually said in South Africa he thought like he was the top dog playing for the Bulls, and coming overseas he’s going to show people. But then he said that’s when he actually learned the most, going to Ireland and learning a lot over there.
“I think that’s the same for me. I came here and I’m still learning a lot, improving a lot.”
So he is convinced it was the right career move, and it came at the right time of life for him as well – he got married shortly before coming to Scotland, and, as is evident from his Twitter account, he and his wife Charissa are enjoying life in their new city. “Yeah mate, off the ball you have to enjoy it,” he says. “Now that I get the chance with the offer to play for Edinburgh and stay in Scotland I might as well make the best of it and enjoy the life, especially with my missus. We got married in June so that’s quite nice. We went to the castle, and we’ve actually watched the series Queen Mary of Scots so we’re up to date with the tactics and all the traditions and statistics.
“It’s a great shift for me, especially in this time in my career as well – just after I bit the guy from the Rebels.”
Bite was worse than the bark
Ah yes, biting the guy from the Rebels – Richard Hardwick by name. When it happened back in April there was some speculation, even though he only received a six-week ban for the offence, that Edinburgh would end their interest because of his indiscipline. He insists, however, that he never worried that Cockerill would tear up his draft contract.
“No, because I knew he would have done maybe the same! No, I’m joking.”
With Schoeman’s media duties over, it is time for Cockerill to chat to the press, and it seems only right to ask him about his new signing. He has a gentle jibe at the prop, but leaves us in no doubt about how impressed he has been by the new man’s start.
“He’s been good,” the coach says. “He’s come in and worked very hard, he’s settled in very well and he cares about what he does. His set-piece has been very good; so’s his ball carry.
“He works very hard defensively and he’s quite an amusing fellow, which is unusual for a South African. He’s got a good sense of humour.
“So, he’s a good man, he’s played really well. If he was Scottish he’d be playing for Scotland, wouldn’t he? He’s that good. He’s a bloody good player and he’s done very well.”
Schoeman will be Scottish, in rugby terms at least, if he stays here long enough. And if Cockerill thinks he’s a bloody good player now, we are surely entitled to speculate feverishly about exactly how much better he might be come 2023.