Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok captain JEAN DE VILLIERS talks Rassie Erasmus’ exit, Leicester City’s title tilt and the Stormers v Waratahs contest at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: You have said that coaching the Springboks is a “helluva tough job”. What are the major challenges that Allister Coetzee will face at the helm of South African rugby?
Jean de Villiers: For the Springbok coach, there is pressure from the very first day. As a South African public, we want the national team to win every single Test match. Whether you are coaching or playing for the green and gold, you are certainly striving to achieve that on each separate occasion. While winning isn’t always possible, it’s what the supporters demand. At times, Allister will certainly feel that pressure, however, he has a leg up because he is accustomed to the Springbok culture having served as an assistant coach to Jake White for four years. Allister is a fantastic individual and he has earned his stripes. He knows the responsibility that goes with the Bok head coaching job and hopefully he’ll prove successful.
Sport24 asked: You were the last Springbok captain. Who should be the next man in line?
Jean de Villiers: I wouldn’t want to single out any individual because there are a few guys who are putting up their hands. However, the feeling at the moment is that the next Bok captain should be based in South Africa. It’s a fair point because the captain is tasked with a number of on and off-field commitments, along with needing to take control of the team. The reality is that it’s difficult to fulfil your duties as national captain when you are an overseas-based player, as you don’t, for example, get released for training camps outside of the Test window. That said, it’s not just the on-field stuff you need to get used to – it’s the off-field responsibilities that take up plenty of your time and sometimes that can drain you. The transition from player to captain can be extreme and in order to command respect you have be at the top of your game, you need to be able to communicate well and get the team to rally behind you. Whoever is selected as the next captain will definitely have my backing.
Sport24 asked: Rassie Erasmus has been named as Munster’s director of rugby. Your take?
Jean de Villiers: It’s a big loss for South African rugby because I believe he added a considerable amount of value as general manager of high performance at SA Rugby. Rassie played a significant role in my career and good luck to him for his new venture. Having had a playing stint with Munster, I can definitely say that he has chosen a fantastic club to further his career. The Limerick-based outfit has a rich history and tradition within European rugby. However, Rassie has a big job at hand as Munster have gone backwards in the last couple of years having lost so many of their key players and are now going through a rebuilding phase.
Sport24 asked: Leicester City are one win away from English Premier League glory and the Tigers are closing in on a semi-final berth in the Premiership. Describe the vibe in the city.
Jean de Villiers: The atmosphere in the city is electric. Leicester is currently regarded as the sporting capital of the world, with the football team on the verge of history and ourselves fourth in the Aviva Premiership and vying for a semi-final spot. Hopefully by Sunday, when Leicester City travel to Old Trafford, they can be crowned Premier League champions. Even though I have to admit that I’ve been a Manchester United fan for a long time, everyone wants to see the Foxes win the league this year because it’s been an unbelievable story. At the start of the season, nobody backed Leicester to win the league, but they have shown the value of everyone pulling in the same direction and buying into the team culture. While there is no cast-in-stone recipe for winning titles, culture is very important and if everyone buys into the goal that you set for yourself, then more times than not you will be successful.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of SA’s top Super Rugby sides and the new format?
Jean de Villiers: I’m glad to see the Stormers and Lions doing well. It’s really pleasing to see so many of my mates in the Cape performing admirably and, from a coaching perspective, the appointment of Robbie Fleck was a sound decision after the departure of Eddie Jones. I’m not all surprised by Robbie’s rise through the ranks. I’m very glad he was given the head coach role this year and he has done fantastically well. The response from the players has been really good and you only get such a positive response if the players back the coach. In terms of the Lions, who top Africa Conference 2, they are playing an entertaining brand of rugby and are winning games. Their supporters will be delighted because you can’t really ask for much more than that. As far as the competition as a whole, I believe Super Rugby has become somewhat diluted owing to the new conference system. Furthermore, adding a Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Singapore stop to the season makes travelling that much tougher.
Sport24 asked: Have you been encouraged by South African teams on an attacking front?
Jean de Villiers: Yes. It’s been pleasing to see that the approach from all the South African franchises has been to adopt a more ball-in-hand approach this season. It’s good to see that we are testing our skill-set, and I’m of the belief that if there is growth on an attacking front at provincial level it will flow through to the national side. The 9s and 10s are pivotal to the direction of the team within an attacking structure and Allister will select players for the national set-up that are able to communicate well, offer direction and make good decisions.
Sport24 asked: What can we expect from the three-match series against Ireland in June?
Jean de Villiers: An exciting, well-contested Test series. While the Irish didn’t fare too well in the most recent Six Nations campaign, they will be a formidable force when they hit South African shores. They are a quality side that is well-coached by New Zealander Joe Schmidt. Ireland will ask questions of South Africa all over the park, which will make for a great series. The expected inclusions of South African-born players in CJ Stander and Quinn Roux will add further spice. Stander, in particular, is playing really well and has earned his spot in the side.
Sport24 asked: The Stormers host the Waratahs in Cape Town on Saturday. Your outlook?
Jean de Villiers: I will obviously back the Stormers at Newlands every single time. The Stormers are playing an exciting brand of rugby and hopefully they can keep ball in hand, score a few tries and remain sharp on defence. The Waratahs have blown hot and cold this season, but will definitely challenge the Stormers and ask questions of their defence and at the breakdown. I’m terrible with score predictions so I won’t give one. However, as long as my former team score more points than the Waratahs this weekend, I will be a happy man.