Cape Town - Former Springbok coach PETER DE VILLIERS answers your questions. He talks transformation, explains why he has forgiven Bryce Lawrence and looks ahead to the Test at Newlands on Saturday.
Mark Fleming asked: Where are you working now?
Peter de Villiers: At UWC as their director of rugby. To date, my role has mostly consisted of putting structures in place and upskilling the coaches. The biggest tasks were getting the coaches to buy into something that didn’t previously exist and making the players believe in themselves.
John van den Berg asked: Your last fixture at the helm of the Springboks was the 9-11 loss to the Wallabies in the 2011 RWC quarter-final. Explain why it was the “cruellest ending imaginable.”
Peter de Villiers: Having devoted four years to my country, I wanted to be successful at a World Cup. However, it was not for personal gain but rather to show people in South Africa that anything is possible. I firmly believe that success is not meant for a select few. It was the cruellest ending imaginable because Bryce Lawrence was incompetent on the day and made bad decisions. But I have nothing against Bryce because if he was a cheat he would have had to pay his price. I believe that if I blame him and he’s already been forgiven then the curse will fall on me.
Dhirshan Gobind asked: As national coach, you won four out of 12 meetings with the Wallabies. Why where they tougher for your team to defeat than the All Blacks?
Peter de Villiers: I actually beat the All Blacks more times than I did the Wallabies. I feel this was down to a few reasons. First and foremost, every time they played against us, Australia always wanted to prove a point, while we lived in the past. I must admit that it was tough motivating our players when they faced the Wallabies because we believed we were better and more aggressive than them and didn’t realise that the gap was closing. They also possessed skilful players such as James O’Connor, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale, whom I believe out-thought us on the field of play.
Damien Bradley Stellenberg asked: How close was the 53-8 win over the Wallabies in 2008 to your vision in terms of attacking the gaps, passing the ball in contact and playing more instinctively?
Peter de Villiers: While that match was a step in the right direction, it was only closer to the Rugby World Cup in 2011 when the players began to grasp my philosophy. People may be surprised to learn that I didn’t want to play an all-out running game but rather wanted to equip players with the ability to create space and opportunities for their teammates. However, it proved a great challenge, as we’ve been brought up in this country not to think rugby but just to play to structures. Any team that is structure-driven has a complex because they believe that the scoreboard will define them. Slowly and subtly we changed beliefs and the players realised there was another way of doing things. You earn the right to run the ball, and earn the right to kick. If, for example, you go onto the field and say that you’re going to kick or run, then you are not playing the situation in front of you.
Michael Mbatha asked: You once described Ruan Pienaar as the “Tiger Woods of rugby”. Was he the most naturally gifted player you ever had the privilege of coaching?
Peter de Villiers: Yes. When Ruan played for the Springboks when I was coach, we normally scored three or more tries per match. He had the ability to create space, read the game and put other people into play. However, I regret the fact that I had a hand in damaging the career of the one player that I thought would make it big in world rugby. I felt he was best suited to play flyhalf, while then Sharks coach John Plumtree maintained that scrumhalf was his best position. The player was then caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Barry Colyn asked: What do you make of the current Springbok team and coach Heyneke Meyer?
Peter de Villiers: I believe that anybody who criticises Heyneke is wrong because he didn’t appoint himself. However, I do feel that we need to select the likes of Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh and Nizaam Carr. Those type of players would create gaps for their teammates to run into it and we’d actually be invincible. The best players don’t become Springboks, the best team become Springboks. At the moment, I believe that we are wrongly looking for the best players and, as a result, they are playing for themselves and not bringing the best out of each other. The likes of Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks aren’t playmakers but we continue to use them as such, which is a flawed approach.
Will Haggard asked: Rory Kockott has made France’s training squad. Is our loss the French’s gain?
Peter de Villiers: While Kockott is definitely one of the better scrumhalves in world rugby, I don’t think he would fit into the playing pattern the Springboks currently employ. At this point in time, I believe we don’t possess players in the team who would be able to bring out Kockott’s best abilities. In contrast, the French team understands how to play off a number nine and his game will grow.
Warren Boonzaaier asked: With Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar out injured, which scrumhalf in South Africa most excites you?
Peter de Villiers: Cobus Reinach is one of the better scrumhalves in this country and by now, I believe he should already have 10 Tests caps to his name. However, in my view, the last natural number nine we saw on our rugby fields was Ricky Januarie. He always kept the flankers honest and by doing so, the centres could run through the gaps. I don’t know what’s happening with our scrumhalves today because the majority seem to be more interested in off-the-ball incidents than actually winning the ball and playing it. They also appear to be two yards slower. But the crux of the matter is that our rugby doesn’t grant any scrumhalf the opportunity to organise and set up play.
Ivan Ingram asked: Do you think that race quotas are necessary, or is it a case of the selectors not applying their minds properly?
Peter de Villiers: True transformation has nothing to do with colour. I believe that we have to transform both our minds and hearts. We must break down the black versus white, rich versus poor and us versus them barrier which is holding us back. I feel humbled to have once been described as the “Mandela of rugby” but there can only be one Nelson Mandela. I want to be the best Peter de Villiers I can be and make a difference in people’s lives however and wherever I can.
Lee Park asked: What’s your outlook for the Newlands Test and where will the game be won?
Peter de Villiers: Owing to the Springboks’ physicality and defence I don’t see the Wallabies securing much first-phase ball on the front foot. If we look at the statistics from the Springboks last match in the Rugby Championship against the All Blacks, while New Zealand outclassed South Africa in almost every area of the game, or saving grace was our physical dominance which led to front-foot ball. While I expect much of the same against Australia, I have my doubts whether we’ll be able to fully capitalise on that front-foot ball. That said, I’m predicting the Springboks to win by a slender margin.
Braam van Straaten
Carel du Plessis
Joe van Niekerk