Keith Andrews chats to Sport24

Keith Andrews (Gallo Images)
Keith Andrews (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok and Western Province prop KEITH ANDREWS talks about Johan Goosen coming out of ‘retirement’, the oval game bleeding money and power-hungry men in suits.

Sport24 asked: Is Thelo Wakefield responsible for the Stormers’ current woes?

Keith Andrews: Wakefield should ultimately be held accountable because he is the head of the organisation. In terms of on the field, the Super Rugby season is effectively over for the Stormers after their hiding against the Lions in Johannesburg last Saturday. I believe it’s back to the drawing board for 2019. It’s time for some changes from top to bottom because the union simply isn’t performing optimally. Off the field, WP Rugby finds itself in a diabolical situation. Rugby in the Western Province is in a drastic state, with crowd attendance figures on the decline and court cases against the union still running. The team is also not winning and, unless you’re winning, the bottom line is that you don’t get bums on seats. Wakefield, the failed President of WP Rugby, needs to step down! He does not have the acumen to correct the union and, if he is still there in two years’ time, the union will be in exactly the same position. I can’t see it changing at all. I also wonder how director of rugby Gert Smal feels about not being backed by his president. It really irritated me when Smal selected John Mitchell to succeed Eddie Jones, only for Wakefield to veto the decision after hearing from the likes of Kevin de Klerk and Oregan Hoskins. The sad thing for me is when a president doesn’t believe in his director of rugby and goes over his head. Smal is technically the man who should be in charge of appointments and player recruitment. However, at WP you have the president stepping on his toes, which is unacceptable. Wakefield hasn’t played rugby at a high level, yet calls all the shots. Owing to the Mitchell non-appointment, there must be a confidence issue between the two men. Gert is an astute rugby man and, still to this day, I feel sorry for him that he was not backed by his president.

Sport24 asked: The local game is bleeding money. What do you make of the mess?

Keith Andrews: We are experiencing desperate financial times. If you look at the large amount of contracted players within South Africa and the spectator numbers, which are decreasing all the time, it’s really worrying. The huge stadiums that we boast have to be paid for and need to be filled. If you look at the South African model, the majority of our unions are in a diabolical situation. In terms of SA Rugby, two years of financial losses have added up to nearly R60m. I believe English and European clubs boast the best model - their stadiums aren’t that big and are always full. The support base and overall package is effective and completely different to the SA model. Clubs in the UK seem to be managing their finances pretty well in terms of balancing the books. However, it’s not to say that European clubs aren’t feeling the fiscal pinch as well. Saracens have been fortunate that they have had big backers in Johann Rupert and Nigel Wray, but even they have lost more than R260m over the last four years. (Rupert recently sold his 50% stake in the club to his fellow investor, Wray). There is obviously an end to the money pit, and austerity measures have to be put in place to survive. It’s a worry globally and it begs the question - do we have too many contracted players around the world, and are we paying them too much money?

Sport24 asked: What’s your take on Johan Goosen’s imminent return to the field?

Keith Andrews: Goosen retired and now he’s suddenly coming back to play for the Cheetahs in the PRO14, with a move to Montpellier reportedly on the cards in two months’ time. Goosen coming out of ‘retirement’ is a shocking decision to be honest, and it’s true when they say that a leopard never changes its spots. Having had the pleasure of playing rugby in France, Goosen will be very unpopular with Montpellier fans as well those from Racing 92 if he goes back there. (Goosen has not played rugby since he retired suddenly when he left French Top 14 club Racing 92 at the end of 2016). I don’t think he will get a warm reception. The French don’t forget those types of things and will know that he tried to pull the wool over their eyes. We don’t need mercenaries in the game - they get found out after a while. You can’t carry on like that because it’s not what the game is about. Rugby men are of a certain ilk and are supposed to be ethical. Goosen has shown a patent lack of professionalism, but I believe it’s also a case of a greedy rugby agent advising him incorrectly. How can you suddenly retire when you are at the peak of your powers in order to get out of a contract and then come back two years later? It doesn’t sound right and is not what a rugby person should be doing. Maybe Goosen saw Euro signs flashing when he signed a contract extension until 2020 and wanted to buy a new tractor. But he now has to stand up as a man and say: “Listen, I made the wrong decision to renege on my agreement.”

Sport24 asked: What is your viewpoint on the current state of Springbok rugby?

Keith Andrews: With the Springboks having slipped to sixth in the World Rugby rankings we have certainly lost our aura. We were regarded as the one of the top two rugby nations in the world, but that has all changed. Some die-hard Springbok supporters may think we are still a force, but if you look at our recent results it’s certainly not the case. We have been through a diabolical two years in terms of Springbok results. The debate is was Allister Coetzee given the same resources that Rassie Erasmus is going to get? Allister was obviously desperate for the job and accepted the appointment of his support staff. Apart from Matt Proudfoot, everyone else was handed to him. Whereas, Rassie has come in off the back of what he has done in Ireland and he was able to dictate who his support staff would be and also guarantee himself a six-year contract. He clearly wanted some assurances by giving up the ultimate job in Ireland. I don’t think Allister was afforded all the support he needed during his tenure. I feel sorry for the man (in terms of his axing) but, at the end of the day, the results count and it was untenable for him to remain in the role as Springbok head coach. It’s Rassie’s first season in charge and he would be very keen to prove to everyone that he is the right man for the job. Rassie is an innovative coach and, during his time with the Cheetahs, produced colour-coded cards and disco lights. He has an entrepreneurial spirit but, the fact of the matter is that, we have to play winning rugby. It’s underpinned by strong set-phase play, solid defence and a penetrative attack. I look forward to seeing how Rassie develops the attacking part of the Springboks’ play. We possess some wonderful players and it’s about balancing who to select to ensure that we have the best overall chance of success.

Sport24 asked: Should the 30-cap rule for overseas-based players be scrapped?

Keith Andrews: Without a doubt. South African rugby cannot afford to pick primarily from home-based players. Rugby is a professional sport and it has always been my view that you pick the best players wherever they might be playing. If you are good enough you should be able to play for the Springboks. If foreign-based players aren’t selected, collectively we haven’t got the player depth to compete at the highest level. A home-based starting XV seems to be adequate, but as soon as soon as injuries arise we haven’t got the requisite replacements down the line. The player drain began as a leak and has become a flood, with around 400 South African rugby players plying their trade abroad. For argument’s sake, while I’m very happy with incumbent tighthead prop Wilco Louw, who is a wonderful talent, Vincent Koch has done very well since making the switch to Saracens in 2016. When he played against Argentina a few years ago, he was shown up in the Rugby Championship, but he has certainly improved as a tighthead since then. He is talented and if you look at what he brings as a total package - not just his scrummaging - his loose play, attack and defence is very good. I’ve been impressed with him. SA Rugby’s new-found willingness to bend the 30-cap threshold is positive news. I believe Rassie has been given the go-ahead to approach overseas players, who have less than 30 Tests, with the view to return and play for the Boks.

Sport24 asked: Has Thomas du Toit been undermined by his move to tighthead?

Keith Andrews: The Sharks have tried to convert loosehead Du Toit to tighthead and I feel very sorry for him. Some people think that because it’s the front row, the tighthead and loosehead positions are interchangeable, but it’s not the case. Tighthead is more of an attacking position, whereas loosehead is more defensive. Technically, the loosehead has to keep the mouth of the scrum open and you are scrumming on one shoulder, whereas at tighthead you are scrumming on two. Louw has experienced the tough times during his school career and at under-20 level. He has been beaten up and turned inside-out. As he has played tighthead all his life he has been through the mill like me. I learnt the ropes in club rugby, but the majority of today's youngsters are learning their craft in Super Rugby, getting popped out of the scrum and waving to their moms in the fifth row of the grandstand. Du Toit hasn’t been through the mill as a tighthead and to suddenly be converted isn’t fair because he hasn’t been tested against strong opponents until now. These days, when you are in a provincial setup, there are no club rugby competitions in which players can hone their skills and technique should they want to make the transition from one side of the scrum to the other. The bottom line is that Du Toit has been shown up at Super Rugby level and was horribly exposed against the Lions. It’s a difficult situation because he is ambitious and will always play wherever the coaches decide to select him. However, in terms of employing a specialist; the positions of loosehead, tighthead, hooker and scrumhalf are non-negotiable. Du Toit is desperate to play and has been convinced by Robert du Preez and SA Rugby to fulfil the tighthead role, with a lack of depth in said position within our local game. But sometimes you need to take a direct stand - I know that some players do and others don’t in South Africa - and verbalise what you believe is in the best interests of your career.

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