Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, KENNEDY TSIMBA talks about his regret of not playing for the Springboks, the feats Beast Mtawarira has achieved in South Africa and why the PRO14 is a B-grade competition.
Sport24 asked: Why would you say you prospered in South African rugby?
Kennedy Tsimba: When I came to South Africa from Zimbabwe, I knew that I would have to play a smart game because I was playing against physical men. Smart rugby, which I have promoted, goes beyond the field and is about having a growth mindset approach. When I was at the Cheetahs from 2000, I tried to be ahead of my time and they allowed me to play the running rugby that is being played now by all the teams. I really tried to be innovative between the four white lines and have looked to follow a similar philosophy as a coach and director of rugby at St Alban’s College in Pretoria. Former teammate and current Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is someone who I collaborated with tactically. When Rassie and I were at the Cheetahs we were developing the game patterns and the running styles. We would stay up until midnight working on moves. There are some players who play rugby because they enjoy it and then there are others who are passionate about the tactics of the game. You find a few of them and they end up becoming good coaches. Like me, Rassie employs the smart rugby type of mindset. The Springboks have become more competitive and unpredictable on attack, with our backs scoring tries out wide which wasn’t the case two or three years ago. I think Rassie has been able to live up to the challenge of being Bok coach because he is astute enough to do so. However, he realises that for him to play both roles is going to be very difficult. A director of rugby has to look over the game for the future, whereas as Bok coach results are what matter now.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of the Cheetahs playing in the PRO14?
Kennedy Tsimba: I haven’t really bought into the idea of the Cheetahs moving to that competition. I think the PRO14 is a B-rated competition because you don’t see the top players from the likes of Munster and Leinster released to play in that league. Only when they play in the European Cup, do you see all their top players. It makes a statement in terms of how they see the PRO14. Whether it’s bringing financially benefit, the Cheetahs will know in the long run, but the crowd attendances haven’t been impressive. Is the PRO14 benefiting South African rugby or is it costing us more money? And how many players are we developing? The Cheetahs always used to develop players some of whom went on to star for the Springboks. However, if I look at the current team it looks like they are trying to get numbers to survive in a competition that doesn’t really enhance South African rugby from my point of view. For me, the PRO14 is a competition that is neither here nor there. Super Rugby far exceeds the standard of the PRO14. You have got stars that European clubs are offering big contracts to, which is an indication that Super Rugby possesses the world’s best players.
Sport24 asked: Do you harbour regrets missing out on Springbok selection?
Kennedy Tsimba: It was tough never playing for the Springboks and watching others fly to the Rugby World Cup after I had been named Currie Cup Player of the Year. The South African Rugby Union did try (to get me included), but it would have come down to them having to take on the IRB. When I came to South Africa, I started serving the three-year period in which I didn’t participate in international rugby. However, before those three years came to an end, the IRB changed the rules, which hampered my dream to play for the Springboks. My case stood idol for a number of years and one of my regrets is that I couldn’t play more Test rugby. (Tsimba played six Tests for Zimbabwe between 1997 and 1998). I would have loved to have played more Test rugby (either for Zimbabwe or South Africa), but it didn’t pan out that way and maybe I wasn’t meant to represent the Springboks. Funnily enough, the people that stopped my international career (then known as the IRB) ended up inducting me into their Hall of Fame. I’m extremely proud of my almost 22-year career and I feel blessed to have played the game I love. Now that I’m in the coaching realm who knows, but maybe somewhere and somehow I’ll be involved in the Springbok coaching set-up in the future.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up Beast Mtawarira’s achievements?
Kennedy Tsimba: It’s getting lonely being in the Hall of Fame and I’m glad Beast is continuing to excel because at least I know he is going to be joining me sometime soon. He has shown commitment to stay in the game and to remain at one union is almost unheard of in the modern day. Beast has obviously enjoyed being at the Sharks and it’s a great tribute that the Sharks have also shown loyalty to him. The temptation to head overseas has become real for modern players, but I think a lot of people don’t understand that moving from Zimbabwe to South Africa is almost like moving overseas for us. Once you arrive in South Africa you are probably in one of the strongest rugby countries and cultures in the world, so you end up finding a home for yourself. Beast found that sanctuary in Durban and it’s testament to him that he has remained at a high level. It’s one thing being loyal to a union, but another being able to continue playing at a good level. Beast has also been able to survive some dark days with Springbok rugby and he has been an ever-present in the side. The fact that he has become the most-capped South African Super Rugby player and a Springbok centurion is a great feat. At 33, Beast is still young for a prop and if he heads overseas post-World Cup it could extend his career until he is close to 40. Southern hemisphere rugby takes a heavy toll on the body, but if in the northern hemisphere you can extend your career by a few years.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess South Africa’s options at flyhalf?
Kennedy Tsimba: When he is on form, Handré Pollard is the top choice. He has a solid kicking game and the physicality with which he attacks the advantage line is of great benefit to the Springboks. Moreover, with opposition attacking the ten channel, Pollard is a good player to have in the Butch James type mould. Pollard is not as abrasive in the defensive pattern as James was, but the former is a close as we will get in South Africa at the moment. Meanwhile, on a good day, Elton Jantjies is a great option for the men in green and gold. He has got experience now because we have invested time in him over the years and I think some of that experience is going to pay off. Without doubt Elton often gets a raw deal from the rugby public and the press. I know about it first-hand because I experienced the same at times during my playing days. As a number ten, you can draw criticism, but there are a plenty of influences in terms of your performance. For argument’s sake, the type of game plan you are trying to execute, the role of the forwards and whether the scrumhalf’s passing game is buying you time or eating it away all comes into play. Elton’s strength is an open game and he plays what he sees. Elton is caught in the middle because what they play well at the Lions is not necessarily what they are trying to do at the Springboks. All of those aspects affect a flyhalf’s ability.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the Bosch/Willemse selection conundrum?
Kennedy Tsimba: Shifting young players around so much and dibbling and dabbling is not the solution because they end up not being able to specialise in one position. It dates back to Brent Russell and I’m seeing the same with Damian Willemse and Curwin Bosch. I rate both players, who boast an excellent skill-set. However, have we given them enough chance to develop into a flyhalf or fullback? In South Africa, if a young player has a bad game then next thing they are side-lined. When you are that young it takes time to direct traffic and how do you run a game if you are not given enough time to establish yourself and develop maturity? In New Zealand, they have made sure that all their young flyhalves are playing at Super Rugby level and they get two or three years. From there they develop and then, as a coach, you can start experimenting with them in other positions. When you sign a contract after school as a young player you have to make sure that you go to a union where you think you will be afforded opportunities. The main motivator shouldn’t be money. During my career, I didn’t care about the money and said that I just needed a platform to play and establish myself. That is actually the key to a long and successful rugby career. You might sign a mega deal for a big union, but the bottom line is that you need to be playing. Bosch needs to play and, if it’s at flyhalf where he wants to establish himself, he needs to head to a union that gives him enough game time and understands the type of player he is. Most coaches get you and say, “Because you have got a big boot all you must do is kick.” However, Bosch and Willemse need to develop a holistic game.
Sport24 asked: Who would be your three dream dinner guests and why?
Kennedy Tsimba: The first invite I would extend would be to Denzel Washington. He is so gifted as an actor. He is able to take on many different roles and make you believe he is that character. A choice from the left field would be Vince McMahon for being able to run such audacious gimmicks. Last but not least, Michelle Obama would crack an invite. Many of the subjects she speaks about are well thought out and very intriguing. I think she could run for American president in 2020, but I’m not too sure whether the public would endorse her candidacy because they have proved very unpredictable… I would prepare 'potjiekos' on the evening, something I learned to cook in Bloemfontein, and we would listen to the sounds of late, great Zimbabwean artist Oliver Mtukudzi.