Former Lions Super Rugby defence coach Joey Mongalo’s successful appeal of his indecent assault conviction in Australia has opened a window for his sensational return to the franchise, just months after his contract was not renewed.
Mongalo, who was told his contract would not be renewed late last year because he was found guilty of sexual assault by an Australian magistrate’s court in April entered into talks with the Lions to discuss a coaching role within the union.
The 35-year-old has already been replaced as defence coach by former SA Schools coach Sean Erasmus in the Super Rugby management team announced last week, but, with the guilty verdict that effectively lost him his job being overturned, it makes sense that reinstatement is a topic of discussion.
While hopeful of resuming his career as a coach at first-class level, Mongalo, who is currently assisting Wits University as defence coach, isn’t looking too far ahead.
But he has started his own coaches coaching company and has enrolled for a part-time master’s degree in industrial psychology.
“Being found not guilty potentially opens a door for me to go back,” Mongalo said cautiously. He reiterated that the lack of performance in a 10-year stint that yielded three trophies from “four or five” finals at the Lions couldn’t have contributed to his axing.
“Winning the appeal opens what could have otherwise been a closed door, not just with the Lions, but with anybody else interested in my services.”
Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli confirmed the talks were ongoing: “I’m glad that he’s won his appeal. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy developing Joey, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach.
“We’re talking about [his] potential involvement at the Lions again. In what capacity can only stem from the conversations we’re having.”
Straeuli intimated that the guilty verdict had been instrumental when it came to the union’s decision not to retain Mongalo’s services.
“Last year, we were in the media for all the wrong reasons, and this year we have an opportunity to focus on the main thing – which is the rugby. It was an important case for us because the Lions do not stand for any abuse in any way, shape or form.”
Mongalo’s axing left the Lions without a single black coach in its Super Rugby coaching team, with the only position realistically available to him now being head coach of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge team.
Asked what the difference was in the magistrate’s court and the supreme court’s findings, Mongalo said: “The first judge was judging towards the accuser and it felt to me like this judge [the supreme court judge] was willing to engage my side of the story.
“In his judgment, he said nothing in my version of the story was ever challenged, and he kept asking why certain things had not been addressed by the magistrate. I felt vindicated as a person who, from day one, told a story, kept to it and had somebody else say my evidence was the truth.”
Surprisingly, given that he lost his job in the process, Mongalo said he didn’t feel robbed: “I’m an optimistic person by nature and I was looking at the future with doubt, not knowing which way it would go.
“I can look at the future with massive optimism and excitement now because I’m free to express myself as a coach and as a person again without having to constantly look over my shoulder. So, on a personal level, I’m relieved.”
Mongalo said he had had to fight hard to compartmentalise and deal with his day-to-day life and his woes while he dealt with the 20-month ordeal – stretching from when he was charged to his acquittal.
While he wouldn’t go into details about what actually happened on the evening he ended up being accused of indecent assault, Mongalo – who is known to be a man of faith – said he was in the process of regaining his wife’s trust after getting himself into that position.
“I’m disappointed to be associated with something like this because it goes against how I want to live my life,” he said.
“It’s been a challenge [at home], but [we are] in the midst of unity. To contextualise it, our daughter was conceived and born during that time.
“I had to share the nature of the offence with my wife and, based on that, she said: ‘I back the character of my husband.’ But, obviously, it is about relationships and people, so we’re still working at it – you earn trust and respect back.
“I’m on that journey and I’m continuously trying to be the husband I promised to be to her, and the father I promised to be to my daughter. So we are people who are mending [our relationship].”