Welcome home, Boks

2011-10-11 00:00

AN emotional Peter de Villiers has retracted his resignation as Springbok coach, but said he would be out of a job at the end of the year.

The Springboks, in controversial fashion, made a quarter-final exit from the Rugby World Cup at the weekend and were surprised that several thousand supporters turned up at O.R. Tambo International Airport to welcome the senior players and management home yesterday.

De Villiers said after the 11-9 defeat to the Wallabies in Wellington that “the journey is over for me”, but yesterday he said he had not quit the job.

“I never resigned,” he told reporters.

“I just said it was the end of the road for me. There is one logical thing. I had a four-year contract and I knew this day would come. But my contract ends in two months’ time at the end of December and then I won’t have a job.”

De Villiers said he had been approached by players about their future with the Springboks.

“I could not give them answers, because I did not know what mine was,” said De Villiers.

While there is some confusion, at least in De Villiers’ mind, about his future, a number of senior Springboks are retiring.

Among them John Smit and Victor Matfield, and De Villiers, close to tears, paid glowing tribute to the two Bok stalwarts and thanked them warmly for their strong support.

Smit, who earlier described Matfield as “possibly the greatest Springbok ever”, said the squad had set goals which “we did not achieve”.

“We’ve had to put on some brave faces and it’s been an emotional two days. But I don’t want to let this loss be a reflection of the last 10 or 11 years. It’s been a wonderful ride and I have no regrets,” Smit said.

Matfield agreed.

“There are no regrets, we did everything we could. There’s no thoughts of ‘if we had done that little thing differently we could have won the World Cup’. We never gave up,” Matfield said.

Smit said the future for Springbok rugby was exceptionally bright.

“I really believe in the guys in the ranks; they’ve been able to learn as much as possible from us guys who are leaving, even if it’s just seeing how we react in certain situations.

“You’ve got to be excited about the Springbok team that will play next year. There will just be a couple of guys missing and the core will still be there. It’s a dream place to be for a Springbok fan,” Smit said.

Smit , with a smile, had a dig at referee Bryce Lawrence and said he was pleased that he would not bump into the New Zealand referee again.

“Bryce is not difficult to communicate with. He just doesn’t seem to listen very well. The one positive is that I won’t ever have to be reffed by him again.”

Assistant Bok coach Gary Gold said the way the RWC had ended for the retiring senior Boks (Smit, Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Danie Rossouw) was “the biggest injustice in sport”.

“People don’t understand what these guys bring to the sport, to the Springbok brand and their country. These guys give their heart and soul,” Gold said.

Gold said he understood the public’s frustration and anger at the early exit, but added that he was satisfied that the Boks did everything right in their preparation and in the game.

“There will be a lot of people back home who are angry, and a lot of people who over the years have disagreed with what we have done and that’s understandable. But sitting here, unemotionally and without bias, I believe this team could have won the World Cup,” Gold said.

While most South African commentators tempered their comments about Lawrence’s refereeing with criticism of the Boks’ inability to take their scoring chances, Mark Reason, writing in London’s Telegraph yesterday, did not pull his punches.

He wrote that Lawrence had reduced the breakdown to a farce.

“Mr Bryce Lawrence, the son of an official, is rated rather highly by those in charge of the whistle-blowers. But a lot of players and fans have absolutely no idea why. He made a complete hash of the game between Australia and South Africa and the Springboks will be furious.

“They identified the breakdown as a crucial area of the match beforehand, but they did expect there to be some sort of reffing.

“The South Africans thought that the tackler would have to release the ball carrier. They thought that the offside line would be respected. They thought that men would have to stay on their feet. Instead it was a complete shambles.

“What could have been a great game of rugby turned into a mess, because Lawrence did not rule the breakdown. South Africa will feel cheated. And they have every right to complain.”

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