The big interview: Tom Vickers talks to new Saints centre Burger Odendaal

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Burger Odendaal still has clear memories of his most recent Premiership outing.

And though it fills him with disappointment, it is also cause for plenty of excitement.

Odendaal was in the Wasps side when they were hit by a late Courtnall Skosan sucker punch, a try which earned Saints a thrilling 40-36 win at the CBS Arena back on October 9.

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That was to be the final outing for Wasps as the club was quickly suspended from the Gallagher Premiership after going into administration.

Burger Odendaal (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Burger Odendaal (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Burger Odendaal (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

It meant Odendaal, who had only joined the Coventry-based club that summer, was out of work.

But after a spell in Japan with Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, he's now back in England to play alongside some of the Saints players who inflicted that late loss on Wasps last season.

"I do enjoy running rugby and that (the Saints style) is a very exciting thing," Odendaal said.

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"My last game for Wasps was against Saints and we lost in the dying minutes of the game. They basically just ran us off the field!

"It's exciting to be part of this group."

Reflecting on the difficult days towards the end of his time at Wasps, Odendaal said: "To be honest, that was terrible. To this day, I still can't believe how everything turned out.

"We packed up everything in South Africa, moved over here, basically being ready for a two-year stint at Wasps, and it was three months exactly down the line when everything happened.

"It was a massive adjustment for us, just trying to find our feet.

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"Luckily I got the deal in Japan but we knew it was only short term so I'm very grateful to have the opportunity at Saints.

"We're really looking forward to being able to stay in a place for more than six months because we're so sick and tired of just living out of our suitcase!"

It has clearly been quite a ride for Odendaal, who has found a home in Abington and is now settling in at Saints after arriving at the club a few weeks ago.

But he hasn't been able to hit the ground running just yet as he is making his way back from shoulder surgery.

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"This is my third week and I'm still doing rehab after my shoulder surgery so it's a bit frustrating not being able to do all the team sessions and do all the training with the team, but luckily my rehab's going well so hopefully it won't be too long before I can do full contact with the team and do everything," Odendaal explained.

"I dislocated my shoulder and had a labrum tear so I had surgery to fix that. Hopefully it won't ever dislocate again.

"The injury happened when we played against Toyota Verblitz and I just got into an awkward tackle situation and dislocated my shoulder.

"That was back in March, and we had about four games left when that happened.

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"It wasn't the best send-off from Japan but it's rugby and there are only a couple of guys who go through seasons without any serious injuries.

"Before that, I hadn't really had a massive injury so it wasn't great getting it, but it's one of those things with rugby and anything can really happen.

"I started my rehab as quickly as possible back in SA. I flew back from Japan to get the surgery done in South Africa and I saw a guy there that I worked with at the Bulls. He opened up his own practice so I did my rehab with him.

"I wanted to get back to training as fast as possible and I thought I’d start doing contact stuff when I got here, but Saints said they want me to do strengthening to get my shoulder back stronger before I join the contact.

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"They said they wanted me to do a solid four-week block of strength stuff before I start doing contact.

"I have been joining the team with skills training and I actually did a bit of contact last week so it should only be a couple of weeks before I can join the team properly.

"The timing's not too bad because the season is starting a bit later this year.

"It's never a good thing having an injury but the timing actually wasn't too bad."

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Despite the fact it ended with an injury, Odendaal clearly enjoyed his stay in Japan, where he also spent some time with Kubota Spears back in 2018/19.

"Japan is awesome and it's an experience on its own.” said the 30-year-old centre. “You can't really compare Japan to anything else.

"I'm really grateful for the opportunity I had to have been there and experienced Japan and the culture and everything.

"The rugby is a lot faster because the Japanese guys aren't the biggest players so they aren't that physical and they try to speed up the game a lot.

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"It really has improved since I went there for the first time back in 2018 and they've got a couple of quality foreigners as well.

"Now there are so many guys who eligible to play for Japan so the rugby over there is really picking up.”

Now it’s back to the Premiership though, and Odendaal believes he can bring plenty of qualities to the Saints backline.

“Rugby always changes over the years and every season you can't really compare to the previous one so you have to evolve as a player,” he said.

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"I don't want to be known as just a ball carrier, I always work on my skills as well and hopefully I can be my own style of player.

"I don't really like it when people compare me to other players so I just try to be the best me that I can be.”

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