Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Bok centre MARIUS JOUBERT on the difficulties of facing French referees, Eddie Jones’ imminent appointment and South Africa’s Rugby World Cup chances.
Sport24 asked: When the Springboks face Japan in Brighton they would not have played for five weeks. Will the South Africans be undercooked by the time they take to the field?
Marius Joubert: Five weeks of competitive inactivity is a concern, but it is a catch-22 situation. The jury is still out on whether it is better to get game time going into the World Cup, or if it is more beneficial to have a complete break from matches. Those who favour a break will point to the double injury blow Wales suffered against Italy. Two of their most influential players in Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb have been ruled out of the World Cup. It is worrying that the Springboks will have been inactive for five weeks, but I believe they are aided and abetted by a favourable pool. While they have not experienced recent game time, internally Heyneke Meyer would have put the players through their paces in training, and had them play 20-minute chukkas of koppestamp (contact sessions). They would have done a lot of whiteboard work and video analysis, and looked to fine-tune their game plan.
Sport24 asked: If you were the Springbok coach, how would you utilise Jean de Villiers?
Marius Joubert: If I was in Heyneke’s position, I would put Jean in the starting team as soon as possible in order to see where he’s at both physically and mentally. I would play him against Japan in our World Cup opener. You want him to play against the minnows to see if he can pull through because you don’t want him to start against the big boys and come unstuck. I would look to revolutionize the captaincy. I believe we have sufficient leaders in the team and don’t need Jean on the field for the full 80 minutes of each and every match. It would not be the worst idea to have him make an impact off the bench and come on for the last quarter. If he is not up to starting, I would still have him in the team environment because the 34-year-old is vastly experienced and can add value whether it be on the playing field or in team meetings. Heyneke has definitely pick on reputation rather than form. Seasoned campaigners, such as De Villers and Victor Matfield, have been around the block, but only time will tell whether they’re still good enough to rival the best in the world.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende as a centre combination, and how does it compare to the partnership you formed with De Wet Barry?
Marius Joubert: Jesse and Damian are hugely talented and very dangerous as a centre pairing for the Springboks. The incumbent midfield partnership has everything except for experience. De Wet Barry and I played together for a long time for both club and country. De Wet was the man who set up attacking lines and targets, and I used to run off him. I possessed the pace to beat opponents on the outside or the inside. Jesse reminds me of myself as a player; he boasts the pace, acceleration and runs good lines. However, I don’t really see him on an overs line and I don’t see him making great passes. Damian is more explosive and a better side-stepper than De Wet was. However, De Wet was a great player in his own right and offered a physical edge. Modern day centres have evolved in terms of explosiveness and attacking power, but I sometimes question their skill levels and their timing of the pass. Centres today are big, strong and explosive, but back in the day we used to run more with the ball, we used to play more phases and attack from further out. Moreover, De Wet and I had a good understanding on defence and that is what Damian and Jesse will need to sort out between themselves because they missed a combined tally of 17 tackles during the 2015 Rugby Championship. I believe they will improve with experience.
Sport24 asked: You played 30 Tests, but failed to attain World Cup selection. Any regrets?
Marius Joubert: I missed out on playing in two World Cup campaigns and, at the time, I was massively disappointed. Partaking in a World Cup is every player’s dream. My timing in 2003 was terrible because I suffered an injury two weeks before the Springbok squad was announced. I’m sure I would have made the group, but maybe it was for the best because it was a terrible time in our rugby history with the Kamp Staaldraad saga still hanging over our heads. In 2007, I was also unlucky. When Jean de Villiers got injured, I was shortlisted to go to the World Cup, but eventually the selectors opted for Wayne Julies instead. It was a huge disappointment because I had been playing really well in the Currie Cup for the Cheetahs and we won the competition that season. I would have loved to have played 50 Tests for South Africa and appeared at the World Cup, but sometimes it’s not due. I moved on and had a great time in France. I played in three finals and enjoyed a taste of the Heineken Cup.
Sport24 asked: The Springboks will have to contend with two French referees during the pool-stages – Jerome Garces and Pascal Gauzere. Why are they generally sub-standard?
Marius Joubert: French referees are certainly not my favourites. Their refereeing systems aren’t as good as ours, and there are only around six professional referees plying their trade. However, many of their professional referees are very poor as Romain Poite showed when the Springboks faced off against Argentina in Durban. I always want to switch my TV off when I see a French referee with the whistle because the flow of the game, along with their communication skills to the players is sub-standard. Even when they make the correct calls, the game lacks rhythm. Whereas, southern hemisphere referees allow the game to breath.
Sport24 asked: Eddie Jones is set to be announced as the new Stormers coach on a two-year contract. What do you know about the Australian mentor and his coaching methods?
Marius Joubert: It’s an interesting appointment, which I didn’t see coming. That said, Jones and Gert Smal worked well together with the Springboks during the 2007 World Cup (Jones was a technical advisor and Smal an assistant coach). Eddie boasts a wealth of experience, has won the World Cup with South Africa and a Super Rugby title with the Brumbies. He has a deep understanding of the game and possesses a sharp rugby mind. It’s just going to be a question of whether he fits into the rugby-mad Western Cape rugby culture. I believe Smal will assist Jones in managing the pressure and expectation of coaching the Stormers. While I am in favour of Jones’ appointment, it’s a genuine concern that there is a lack of experienced local coaches to choose from at present. It’s a new era as a number of our senior coaches have ventured to greener fields. For now, the experience of World Cup-winners such as Jake White and Allister Coetzee is lost to our system. There are some good local coaches within the ranks, but they are still young and learning the tricks of the trade.
Sport24 asked: The Springboks are third favourites to win the World Cup according to the bookmakers. How do you rate South Africa’s chances of claiming a third World Cup title?
Marius Joubert: I will be supporting the Springboks with all my might, but I have a feeling it will prove a tough World Cup for them. They finished last in the Rugby Championship and, as a consequence, won’t be taking a truckload of confidence into the World Cup. In addition, the team has had off-field political issues to deal with. The Springboks are a tight-knit group and can beat anyone on their day, but winning three consecutive knock-out fixtures will prove a challenge. The Springboks were blunt, out-coached and out-played when they faced Ireland on their end-of-year tour in 2014. I hope they will have more strings to their bow at the World Cup, and be able to adapt their game to suit their opponents and the conditions.