Rudy Paige, Garth April finding fresh direction with Sunwolves in Super Rugby

Garth April is "happy to be back and playing the game I love". Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Two of South Africa's forgotten rugby sons have found a new lease of life after their careers took turns for the worse.

Garth April and Rudy Paige are playing for the Sunwolves in this year's Super Rugby competition, and they have seemingly found a place where they are happy and flourishing.

April, 28, was injured for the best part of 2019 after signing with the Bulls at the beginning of the season. He could not fulfil his contractual obligations having returned to South Africa with a shoulder injury sustained in his second year with NTT Communication Shining Arcs in the Japanese Top League.

Paige, on the other hand, has taken an even more circuitous route back to Super Rugby.

The former Springboks scrum-half, who played 13 Tests for South Africa, making his debut off the bench against the U.S. at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, left the Bulls in 2017; he had made 48 appearances for the Pretoria-based franchise, but then coach John Mitchell did not offer him a new contract.

Paige, now 30, moved to play for the Cheetahs in the SuperSport Challenge, and later in the Pro14 competition that features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales as well as South Africa. He then spent five months of last year at French club Clermont Auvergne, as a medical joker, before joining the Sunwolves for their Super Rugby swansong. The Japanese franchise won't be playing in the Southern Hemisphere competition as of 2021.

"Clermont was a great experience for me and did wonders for my career," Paige told ESPN about his stint with the two-time champions in the French Top 14 competition.

"When you have played at the highest level you constantly want to be tested against the best, and I got the opportunity to express myself again which was great."

April, meanwhile, spent most of his time last season recovering from his shoulder injury in his hometown of Wellington.

"It was a frustrating year for me with the injuries and all, but that's all part of the game," April told ESPN. "I had to adapt to not being on the park, but I'm happy to be back and play the game I love."

The duo made an immediate impact on debut for the Sunwolves, with Paige providing clean and crisp service to April at flyhalf, and the former Sharks utility back scoring a try and kicking four conversions and a penalty as the Japan-based side defeated Melbourne Rebels 36-27.

"Rudy got injured in the second half, but things went well for us as a halfback pairing," April said.

"We talk Afrikaans when we communicate with each other, and we also stay together which helps in building our relationship and understanding.

"The reality is that no one is giving us [Sunwolves] a chance, and that motivates me personally. We are not here merely to make up the numbers, and we're putting heart and soul into this competition. I also enjoy partnering with Rudy, and we will get better as a halfback pairing as the competition goes on."

Paige missed the Sunwolves subsequent defeat by the Chiefs, with an ankle injury, but will be back in the team that faces Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.

"It's been a bit of a stop-start affair for me after I hurt my ankle in the second half against the Rebels, but I'm happy to be back this weekend and continue my partnership with Garth," Paige said.

"We get along really well, and once we get used to the pace of the game here we will become even better as a 9 and 10 combination.

"We are enjoying Japan although it's a bit cold at the moment, but loving the people, the culture and the country thus far. I had my family here for two weeks which was great, but now I'll be without them for eight weeks which is tough for all of us especially with the little one [Rose] only a year-and-five-months old."

Paige hasn't played for South Africa since the Springboks' end-of-year tour in 2017, and he has basically put his Boks dreams to bed.

"Listen, I will never say no to a Springbok call-up but I doubt that it's gonna happen again.

"We have good youngsters at the moment so I think that horse has bolted for me.

"But in saying that, if and when such a call comes, I will never turn it down. I've been part of the set-up and I loved being a Springbok."

April is in the same position as his halves partner.

He was the named in Allister Coetzee's first Springboks training squad in 2016, but Patrick Lambie was first-choice flyhalf with Elton Jantjies the reserve pivot for the former coach's first Test in charge of the Boks.

The now-retired Lambie suffered a concussion in a horror collision with C.J. Stander in the Test, against Ireland at Newlands, and Coetzee, then, was reluctant to select April on the bench for the next Test. He called up veteran Morne Steyn, instead, and relegated April to play for South Africa 'A' against the England Saxons; April was never again called up to a Boks squad again, and the fire no longer burns within.

"To be honest, that is not on my mind at all," April said.

"I am 100% focussed on the Sunwolves and our Super Rugby campaign, and not even thinking about the Boks. I was out of action for the whole of last year, and I am enjoying the running rugby, the culture and the country, so I am honestly not thinking about or worrying about things I can't control."