I hope Peter de Villiers won’t mind my calling him a colourful chap. Mention of colour is such a touchy thing.
In this instance, I pay him a compliment. I think the world of rugby is in need of colourful guys. Being colourful sometimes helps ease the pain.
I read someone describing him as arrogant. How does he respond? Perhaps as arrogantly as some of the many people who like to tell him what he should say and do.
Rodney Hartman writes in the Sunday Independent that some of the best rugby coaches I have known have demonstrated a degree of arrogance. Not all of them have been colourful.
I have yet to meet him, but I know I will. Then I shall write something further because I cannot judge a man’s character before I have looked him in the eye.
In the meantime, I’ll tell you what I think. The man they call “Piet Snor” is being projected as some sort of common curiosity, a homespun court jester.
For reasons unfathomable, people wish to poke fun at him. Like Bottom the weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he is their “rude mechanical in charge of a crew of patches”.
They hope he will play into their hands and, when he doesn’t, they invent something to suggest that he has.
We are told that part of a recent televised media conference was bleeped out to protect a sensitive public. He was apparently delivering a biblical analogy in which he used a few swear words.
You might call it colourful language, but in this case he was trying to make a telling point. The words he used were in Afrikaans.
When Afrikaners want to make a telling point, they do it beautifully with the use of strong language. Unfortunately, the nation missed the point, or at least those who can understand Afrikaans.
People want to make our Springbok coach something he isn’t. They want him to be something else. What do they want him to be? I guess they want him to be a good Springbok coach and, for South Africans, that means not losing.
His predecessor lost a few, but he was an articulate man who could talk a hole through a brick wall. From his encyclopaedic mind he trotted out facts and statistics and comparative studies with the alacrity of a university don.
Nothing wrong with that; he brought home the World Cup. He also got some material help from an Australian backline coach called Eddie Jones, but no one accused Jake White of not being his own man.
Now the whispering campaign is that De Villiers has an assistant coach called Dick Muir who is effectively running the show. If this is true, why aren’t our backs scoring as many tries as before? Muir is the backline coach.
A week ago, a New Zealand newspaper sent a reporter to Cape Town to get up close and personal with the Springbok coach.
Toby Robson of the Sunday Star Times explained: “My mission was to observe De Villiers in action, try to get a gauge on whether the 51-year-old is in control of his team, or a political appointment to appease the coloured quota.”
Robson found him in Tygerberg, the club where he once coached, putting the Boks through their paces: “Arms gesticulating, his moustache bouncing on his upper lip, the former halfback moves from player to player, often jogging, always talking, always watching. If De Villiers is a puppet, as former All Blacks prop Craig Dowd infamously labelled him, then whoever’s holding the strings is busy.”
One rugby writer told me that De Villiers was a clown. That was before he took the team to New Zealand. If a clown can become the first Springbok coach to win in Dunedin’s House of Pain, then I say bring on the clowns.
But the people don’t think that De Villiers is a real Springbok coach. They think he is something else, something they choose to make of him.
In his perspective on De Villiers, Robson writes: “[His] comments are sometimes comical, often difficult to interpret, but are elements of the South African media twisting them to suit?
A day after the training I’ve attended, he is quoted by an Afrikaans paper as saying the All Blacks are cheats at lineout and scrum time.
“Even the All Blacks coaching staff are starting to wonder what’s going on. Graham Henry [New Zealand's chief coach] says: ‘I just wonder whether some of the quotes that Peter makes are actually truthful, whether he has actually made those statements. I’d like him to make them [the quotes] to me, before I know they are truthful, before I make any comment about them’.”
Another rugby writer told me the players “love” De Villiers, but do they respect him as a coach?
Robson again: “The noise of the screaming locals [at Tygerberg] means there’s no chance of hearing what De Villiers is saying, but his entire squad has surrounded him and are intently listening to his message.
They’re either good actors or they are listening. Lock Victor Matfield steps in when De Villiers is finished and appears to expand on his point. His coach nods in approval, barks some instructions and they are back into it.”
Then, alas, they went out and scored zip against the All Blacks at Newlands, the first time South Africa had gone pointless at home since 1903. People called it a joke but De Villiers didn’t think so. No serious coach would.
Two years ago, White’s Springboks were humiliated 49-0 by the Wallabies in Brisbane. A year later, they won the World Cup. Some people thought that was a joke, too.Tweet