Time for P. Divvy to deliver

2010-10-02 00:00

IT is just so difficult to get good help these days.

Ask the SA Rugby Union. They can’t find anyone willing (or brave enough) to help bail out their world champion Springboks after their dreadful international campaign this year. Instead they this week committed themselves, even if half-heartedly, to the present coaching staff of Peter de Villiers, Gary Gold and Dick Muir.

The Boks have lost seven out of 13 Test matches since winning the 2009 Tri-Nations and three of their victories have been against Italy. There was just one win from six internationals in this year’s Tri-Nations as De Villiers made as many embarrassing mistakes on the field as he did off it.

The Bok coach not only defied logic — and his own selectors — in his Test choices, but he also ignored Saru’s advice to button his lip and was twice summoned to disciplinary hearings following public statements. Overseas journalists, in particular, have had a field day. A De Villiers media conference is not one to be missed.

Dismayed South African rugby supporters were hoping that the Saru review committee would this week bring some sanity to the game, providing logical and positive solutions to the Boks’ coaching problems. Instead they kindly and meekly patted De Villiers on the back and told him to press on. De Villiers, it seems, has a free passage to the World Cup in New Zealand next year though others in his management team seem certain to walk the plank for his failings.

Saru said they would be considering other “options” in assisting the team in their preparations for the looming grand slam tour of the UK, and their chief priority is providing De Villiers with qualified back-up.

Which is easier said than done. No one, it seems, wants to hitch his wagon to De Villiers’s coaching circus.

Former All Black coach John Mitchell, who has turned the Lions into a rugby team these past two months, confirmed he had refused to join the Bok coaching team while Rassie Erasmus, a director with Western Province and Heyneke Meyer, in the same role at the Blue Bulls, have both also indicated that they are unavailable.

And, in a move that will leave Gold and Muir feeling decidedly edgy and vulnerable, De Villiers this week apparently tried to persuade the coaches of Province and the Bulls, Allister Coetzee and Frans Ludeke, to become his assistants in place of Muir and Gold.

Again the offers have apparently been snubbed with both coaches unwilling to sacrifice steady day jobs for a short-term Bok contract.

And so, between them, Saru and De Villiers have steadily, and unsuccessfully, worked their way through the leading rugby coaches in South Africa, though the Sharks’ John Plumtree, in charge of the most successful Currie Cup team this season, must be wondering what he has done wrong.

It seems De Villiers’s reliance on a player-driven system of coaching has marginalised his assistants, Gold and Muir, and they are first in the firing line.

It is significant that the retention of De Villiers has brought some delight. New Zealanders, who see the Springboks as their most testing hurdle on the way to a home World Cup triumph, are celebrating their good fortune.

The NZ Herald, the newspaper with the largest circulation in New Zealand, this week carried a front-page picture of their captain Richie McCaw under the headline, “All Blacks’ World Cup bonus — Springboks reappoint coach”.

Writer Wynne Gray suggests New Zealanders should “raise a glass to the good fortune of P Divvy”.

The Boks had the worst attacking and defensive record in the Tri-Nations; they seemed uncertain whether to inject new blood or stay with the old; their selection was poor and they were slow to adapt to the changing game and the laws.

De Villiers was involved in public spats with Frans Steyn and tried to defend the indefensible. Former Wallaby skipper Nick Farr-Jones labelled De Villiers as unpredictable and a liability, and the Bok coach was described as a “clown” by coaches and commentators.

When New Zealand and Australia asked to investigate De Villiers’s rantings, Saru boss Oregan Hoskins described it as “a declaration of war”.

Gray, tongue firmly in his cheek, says New Zealand and Australia were “foolish”.

“Why would New Zealand and Australia want a struggling Springbok coach removed? P Divvy is the best ally the Tri-Nations sides have for next year’s series and subsequent World Cup.”

Luckily, says Gray, Saru came to the same conclusion and De Villiers was reappointed for the UK tour and unless there is “a massive meltdown on that trip, he will be in charge for the World Cup in New Zealand”.

“Now, you Brits, go easy on P Divvy. He’s a good bloke, misunderstood. He’s bringing over a composite side to tackle the grand slam, cut him some slack … enjoy the journey because there will be a few laughs along the way,” concludes Gray.

But South Africans are no longer smiling because they are no longer winning. And when the New Zealanders celebrate the reappointment of the Springbok coach, then we know we are in trouble.

It is against this backdrop that De Villiers takes a young squad on the most demanding of tours at the end of an impossibly long year of rugby.

Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland — fresh, enthusiastic and at home — are waiting and the South African rugby public, wary and weary after the year’s failures, will be watching De Villiers’s every move.

He needs the Boks to win on tour to save his own head, but, ironically, he has committed himself to leaving behind 13 of his most experienced players to rest. Those who have helped run the De Villiers show, senior players like John Smit, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, will be at home — along with the country’s leading coaches.

De Villiers may have to do this largely on his own and convince the many sceptics that he can coach and lead. It is sink or swim time for the Bok coach.

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