Yannick Bru says he has been struck by the passion for rugby in South Africa after taking up a coaching role with Cell C Sharks ahead of this campaign.

The former France hooker, who lifted the Heineken Cup with Stade Toulousain in 2003 and 2005, as well as the Challenge Cup in 1998, made the switch to the Durban–based side after a four-year spell as Aviron Bayonnais head coach.

With Cell C Sharks one of four South African teams competing in the Heineken Champions Cup for this first time this season, Bru’s experience of EPCR competitions will be a huge boost to their hopes.

After taking on the position of breakdown coach, Bru, who also spent time as a forwards coach with Toulouse and the French national team, has explained how rugby is ingrained in South African culture.

“I had already been marked by the humility and simplicity of people, as well as the search for efficiency in their training,” the 49-year-old told EPCR.

“I came back in 2018 and then in 2020. I have forged a relationship of trust and friendship with the Cell C Sharks.

“Rugby is central to South Africa. This is something very, very serious. First of all, because the Springboks are the symbol of the unity of the nation.

“Rugby also occupies a huge place in schools, on the Anglo-Saxon model. It’s a family-friendly event that mixes education and rugby.

“When rugby is played at the professional level, it’s a national affair. Rugby is present every day, 24 hours a day. It’s not just a passion, it’s a central business.”

Bru, who featured 72 times in EPCR competitions between 1997 and 2007, also highlighted the mix of cultures in South Africa, as well as the nation’s natural beauty, both of which will be showcased in this season’s Heineken Champions and EPCR Challenge Cup.

“I was struck by the cultural richness of this country,” he added. “Many ethnic groups are mixed. Here in Durban [there is a] mix [of] Zulu and Xhosa cultures.

“It’s enriching on a daily basis and rugby brings these cultures together, with also the Afrikan culture more common in the north. This diversity is very positive.

“We are lucky to be on the edge of the ocean. We are struck by the beauty of this country, the landscapes, the warmth. People live to the rhythm of the sun. It gives an extraordinary cocktail.”

Bru will be looking to help Cell C Sharks get off to a positive start in Heineken Champions Cup Pool A when they host Harlequins on December 10.