Sport24 asked: What does the appointment mean to you and what’s led you to this point?
Mzwandile Stick: My appointment as Springbok backline coach means a lot to me, my family and the people of the Eastern Cape. I believe it’s a blessing from the man above. I’m now coaching the Springboks because God sent me there for a reason – to inspire the young ones. It’s an honour that a coach of Allister Coetzee’s calibre wants me to be part of his journey going forward with the national team. One thing I know for sure is that I’m going to take this opportunity with both hands. I’ve had to mature from a young age because of the challenges I faced – I lost my mother at the age of 17 – and had to make vital decisions of my own accord. I had the choice to give up, but I wanted to make my mom proud and ensure that I became something in life. Rugby is the vehicle which has driven me to success.
Sport24 asked: You retired in 2013. How’ve you found the transition from player to coach?
Mzwandile Stick: It has proved a smooth transition from the playing field to the coaching box. As a player, I was always part of the leadership group. I captained the Springbok Sevens side and the Kings, and I was one of the players that would regularly brainstorm ideas with the coaches and discuss strategy. Coaching has been a natural progression and I’ve enjoyed selling a vision to my players. To offer an analogy, when a telemarketer is trying to sell you insurance they need to give you a valid reason why you should sign up for the policy. The same goes for a coach. When you put something on the table to the players you must give them all the angles and make them understand why you want them to adopt a certain plan.
Sport24 asked: You and Allister go back a long way. Talk about your working relationship.
Mzwandile Stick: The first time I met Allister was as 17-year-old when I was playing for Eastern Province and he was coaching. I can relate to his humble background because I also hail from the Eastern Cape. Allister knows my playing career well and I see that he’s done his research on me as a coach and what type of person I am. Allister recently commented that he admires my self-confidence and that I stand my ground well. It’s an honour to be trusted by someone who has got that much experience in the game. I believe Allister, Johann van Graan and I will complement one another well as a management team. We share a common goal in ensuring that the Springboks become the best they can possibly be. We will all have broad smiles on our faces when the green and gold win and will feel the hurt when we lose.
Sport24 asked: You’ve served as the Kings’ backline coach this season. Your experiences?
Mzwandile Stick: I have to be honest and say that it’s the toughest challenge I’ve faced so far in my coaching career because we started on the back foot and had to put a Super Rugby team together in the space of two months. However, such challenges make you stronger moving forward in life. I have learned a lot from my fellow coaches and the players have bought into our vision. You can’t fault the players because they have been playing their hearts out. We are often playing against stronger sides, where experience counts, but the boys always put their bodies on the line and understand exactly where we want them to be. Irrespective of the results, the Kings have helped me in terms of my coaching development.
Sport24 asked: As a legend of Springbok Sevens, what do you make of the current crop?
Mzwandile Stick: I can’t question the commitment of the Blitzbok players under the guidance of coach Neil Powell. The boys are clearly trying their best and it’s good to see Powell rotating his players in an Olympic year. It’s important that he affords every individual an opportunity because when the side heads to the Olympics, he will know their strengths and weaknesses. It’s pleasing to see that the likes of Siviwe Soyizwapi, Tim Agaba and Ryan Kankowski have been introduced to the fold. While Fiji is ahead of South Africa on the World Series standings, the Blitzboks are still in the running for top spot. One tournament can take us right back to the summit (two events remain) and we will want to finish on a high note.
Sport24 asked: What is the current state of SA rugby and which sides have impressed you?
Mzwandile Stick: I believe our rugby is in a healthy state. The Stormers and Lions (who are leaders of Africa Conference 1 and 2 respectively) have shown the value of 15 players on the field who are all on the same page. The Lions coaching staff deserve credit and we shouldn’t underestimate the amount of work that’s been done behind the scenes. In terms of team cohesion, the Lions are a well-functioning unit because they have been playing together as a group for a few years and so understand each other very well. The Stormers also possess a good team, and it’s clear the side that heads the SA conference have forged a strong bond.