Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok wing TONDERAI CHAVHANGA talks about South Africa's Rugby World Cup chances, his role as Zimbabwe assistant coach and saying grace with LeBron James.
Sport24 asked: Your view on the 31-man Springbok World Cup squad?
Tonderai Chavhanga: Rassie Erasmus has put together a really awesome squad and there are no real surprises. Everybody who is in the squad has really put their hands up, which is exciting to see. We boast great strength in depth, everyone is fully fit and our senior players are not there merely for experience, but happen to be playing great rugby. We now have several players that are purely world-class and could play for any of the other top nations. Moreover, Rassie has created a great team environment which every player is raving about as being “the best environment ever”. It’s a pity that some are still talking about the number of players of colour selected for a Springbok side. I believe Rassie has picked at team that all of us can be truly proud of. Everyone has been hand-picked on form regardless of their skin colour. I believe the fact that there are 12 players of colour in the squad (three more than for the 2015 Rugby World Cup) is a consequence of everyone being afforded an opportunity. In terms of the players of colour chosen, I’m of the view that there isn’t a single one you can have a question mark over. The fact that Rassie has given all players who consistently played well in Super Rugby an opportunity to stake their claim for the green jersey has reaped the rewards.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the Aphiwe Dyantyi situation?
Tonderai Chavhanga: If he had been fit and available, he would have brought a different dynamic to the Springbok back three, which is already stacked. (Dyantyi has been recovering from a hamstring injury). With regards to his drugs test and adverse finding, I really don’t think that he would risk his career and future by intentionally taking a banned substance. Given the fact that he is one of only a handful of players playing professional rugby without going the conventional route of Craven Week and getting contracted by a top union, he has had to work himself up from club rugby. Why would he jeopardise all of that now that he has everything he had dreamed of and worked so hard for? It’s possibly a simple mistake of contamination. In due course, we will find out what substance was found in his system, but from the outset I really don’t think he would do something like that in a premediated manner. The situation is a pity and I hope that he can clear his name as soon as possible so that he can get back on the playing field. (The South African Institute of Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) has confirmed that the results of Dyantyi's 'B' sample will be released by Friday). In terms of player education when it comes to what drugs you can and can’t consume, by the time you are a professional rugby player you know the drill. During my playing career, the unions would tell us to be careful of buying stuff off the shelves because there might be something in the supplements which is contaminated. Players can always be better educated, but I don’t think there are big issues at the professional level. The challenges in terms of doping lie at schoolboy and club level. People I speak to in that space tend to say that the use of anabolic steroids is quite rife. There is plenty of pressure on children to perform at school level and parents are just as guilty as some coaches in putting pressure on them to take steroids. It goes without saying that it’s not good for their health and, from an ethical and moral standpoint, you can’t be teaching children to be cheats and to win at any cost.
Sport24 asked: What first-choice Bok back three would you select?
Tonderai Chavhanga: Given that we have a pretty inexperienced back three, it’s important to have a wise owl to calm things down at the back in the form of Willie le Roux. Rassie is set to opt for the experience of Le Roux at fullback with S’bu Nkosi and Cheslin Kolbe on the respective wings. Both have played on the right wing for South Africa, so one will have to shift. If Kolbe were to play No.11 he would also be utilised as an extra play-maker. He is multi-skilled and has the ability to draw in the defender and execute an accurate pass to someone in space. I can’t see him struggling at left wing because he steps off both feet exceptionally well and is a good kicker. Some players prefer the one wing over the other, but the principles are all really the same. You have to make sure that you are working with and without the ball and are putting in your tackles. Your communication and the way you work as a back three unit is also important. The likes of Bryan Habana and Joe Rokocoko played a number of Tests on the right wing too, so it boils down to the individual and what their preference is. I know that Warrick Gelant is an incredibly gifted fullback and more than capable, but I can’t help but long to see a back three combination of Kolbe, Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi. Mapimpi has been phenomenal all year and he is not shy when it comes to scoring tries and his defence and improvement under the high ball has been notable. The World Cup is a long event and after the Boks play the All Blacks, I’d love to see Kolbe play at fullback as he offers so much coming from the back.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the addition of consultant Felix Jones?
Tonderai Chavhanga: Swys de Bruin has done exceptionally well for the Lions and so too when he was part of the Springbok set-up. His absence will be felt, but Jones will add a dimension in terms of “his analysis of defensive patterns and structures to assist in breaking down the opposition”. Having played with and been coached by Rassie, I know that he is someone who is not threatened by getting other top coaches involved. When you have someone who is coming from the outside and looking in so to speak it brings a different perspective. I’m sure Jones will add tremendous value. Jones is only 32, but I don’t think age has anything to do with it. For instance, only two years after retiring, Rassie won the Currie Cup as Free State Cheetahs coach. You can always argue for or against age and experience. However, one thing I know for sure about Rassie is that he does what is best for the team. If Jones wasn’t the best man for the job, Rassie would certainly not have appointed him.
Sport24 asked: Do you agree it’s the most open World Cup yet?
Tonderai Chavhanga: Definitely. I believe anybody can beat anybody on a given day. In the last few editions, it’s only been one or two teams who have been favourites, but this year the fact that Wales are the top-ranked team puts them right up there. Bryan Habana is correct when saying that this is the most wide-open World Cup in recent years and it’s going to be really exciting. If I had to put my money on one team it would be the Springboks. They are the form team heading into the World Cup, but you could also put your bets on England who absolutely thrashed Ireland in a warm-up game. In terms of the All Blacks, they have a strong side, but unlike previous years they are suddenly faced with a few players returning from injury (Brodie Retallick and Ryan Crotty), others who haven’t played their best rugby (Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane) and a player (Scott Barrett) returning from suspension and lacking game time. I think the Springboks are the most settled side going into the World Cup. Over and above his meticulous planning, what Rassie has done well is return to South Africa’s traditional strengths – a strong set-phase, a solid defence and a sound kicking game. I believe it will stand the Springboks in good stead when they face the All Blacks. However, it’s important how the Boks prepare for their pool games because in reality the only tough match they have is against New Zealand, so they will most likely go into the play-offs not necessarily battle-hardened. Regarding the opening Pool B clash, to the Springboks’ advantage is that whenever any team tackles the All Blacks the pressure is always on the latter. In terms of my prediction as to which sides will meet in the final on 2 November, I foresee the Boks facing the All Blacks for a second time.
Sport24 asked: How have you enjoyed coaching the Zimbabwean team?
Tonderai Chavhanga: Being involved with the national team as an assistant coach has been absolutely amazing. I never envisioned myself coaching, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and being able to grow as a coach. I quickly learned that the coaching demands go beyond just the technical aspects of the game and I have embraced my big brother role with the players. Head coach Brendon Dawson and I are concentrating on the senior side along with defence coach Liam Middleton, conditioning coach Daniel Hondo and team manager Jason Maritz. (Peter de Villiers was relieved of his duties as Zimbabwe coach in May, 2019 because he did not meet the performance clauses in his contract). Unfortunately, the marriage between the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) and Peter didn’t work and I wish him well in his future endeavours. Brendon, myself and the rest of the coaching staff are focusing on getting the team back to winning ways and preparing the side for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. We have won four from four in the Victoria Cup and have climbed up about 16 places in the World Rugby rankings. We are concentrating on trying to rebuild Zimbabwean rugby. The talent is there and I truly believe we can qualify for the World Cup in the future. I think we can not only make the World Cup but prove competitive because there are a few foreign-based players playing at a high level. If I was able to assist the team in qualifying for the World Cup it would definitely be my greatest rugby achievement and even better than playing for South Africa as there is nothing more rewarding than restoring pride in the national team and bringing hope to the nation.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests, who would they be and why?
Tonderai Chavhanga: I would invite former statesman Barack Obama, pastor TD Jakes and basketball star LeBron James. In terms of Obama, he made all of us around the world believe that anything is possible. He carried himself with grace as president and seems like a man of intelligence and integrity. TD could say grace for us and offer spiritual counsel, while LeBron would be my sportsman of choice. When Michael Jordan retired, I stopped watching basketball altogether and it took the emergence of LeBron for me to take an interest in the sport again. I’m a huge fan and have followed his career since he was in High School. In terms of food, I would hire Gordon Ramsay to prepare a three-course meal and would introduce my guests to African music from Oliver Mtukudzi.