Mind Games: ‘At the end of the day I’m no science rocket’

2013-10-28 10:00

At the Springbok press conference on the day before the Rugby World Cup final in Paris in 2007, there was a feeling of history in the air and the SuperSport crew decided we should get an interview with each of the 22 South African players – for posterity.

Bakkies Botha was on my list and as I waited for him to finish an interview with a French radio reporter I could not help but chuckle at the following exchange: “Bakkees, you and Veectorr have formed a formidable partnership. Eet is the power of the Spreengboks, no?”

To which the battle-scarred Bakkies replied in his inimitable way: “Ja, well, no definitely – Victor and I are in a relationship!”

The chronicles of the Springboks are full of delightful and amusing corruptions of English.

Once in New Zealand, Balie Swart returned to the Springbok hotel after having undergone a brain scan and was quizzed by the media. “Did they find anything?” asked a reporter, to which Balie, letting down prop forwards everywhere, replied: “No, nothing at all!”

Toks van der Linde, looking at a picture of Mikhail Gorbachev in a magazine during an overseas flight, enquired: “What’s that mark on his head?” “A birthmark,” came the reply. “Oh,” said Toks, “how long has he had it?”

Or Krynauw Otto being asked about the significance of being presented with a Springbok jersey before a test match. “You know, every time I receive this jersey, I get chicken pox all over my arms!”

On a tour to Argentina, team manager Jannie Engelbrecht, an Afrikaans speaker in a quandary about addressing a gathering of largely Spanish speakers at the South African consul general’s residence in Buenos Aires, came up with: “Because my Spanish is not so well, I will in English forward go!”

And one of Doc Craven’s favourites. During a tour, a lady mayor performed a ceremonial kickoff before the start of a match, and when she addressed the players and guests at the “onthaal” afterwards, delivered a classic: “I enjoyed myself so much today I think I must come on tour with you and kick all your balls off!”

Humorous and naughty remarks are part of the lore of rugby. As we come to the end of another domestic season, one thing that stands out is how badly coaches and players, and even some commentators, speak.

Clichés, stock phrases and direct translations abound. All games are going to be “crackers”, some or other team is “short on their heels”, players “stretch their legs for a try” and when you see a celebration, someone is bound to intone “that’s what it means to the players”.

Another favourite is “for all money”. “For all money that would have been a try”, or “he would have been in for all money”.

A typical interview goes something like this: “Well, ja, we’ll just take every game as it comes and, ja, just keep doing what we’ve been doing and, ja, at the end of the day, you know, ja, see that it’s in our own hands.” As they say in twitspeak, WTF!

Or, “we’re looking forward to it, hey.” or “the boys have been working hard, hey.” – the “hey” being especially prevalent among Natalians.

Players seem to preface every sentence with “like I said”, even though in some instances they haven’t as yet said anything, while all coaches take it “game for game”, and have “great respect” for their opponents.

Heyneke Meyer loves to throw in “we just want to make South Africa proud” – which was okay at the start of his career, but is wearing quite thin now that he has been in charge for more than 20 test matches.

Now, as a famous player once said to me, “I am no science rocket”. Isn’t it time coaches and players were given some elocution lessons and training in how to do an interview?

Nick Mallett seems to be everyone’s favourite pundit.

» dan.retief@citypress.co.za

» Talk to us: How can our players and coaches’ communication skills be improved?

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