Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, THANDO MANANA talks about why he brought out a book, the potential pitfalls of Rassie Erasmus’ return to SA Rugby and previews the Currie Cup final in Durban on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: What was the motivation behind your book: Being a black Springbok?
Thando Manana: My book is a challenge to black African athletes in this country to own their stories. During my career I represented my people; black Africans. It was an honour to wear the Springbok jersey and I saw myself as a silhouette that people could follow. I may not have played 100 Tests for the Springboks, but I felt I had a story to tell. I didn’t come from a traditional rugby-playing school and really pushed myself to make it and play amongst those that had an opportunity from a young age. My mission was very simple: to make it to the top and play provincial rugby. For me, playing nationally was the cherry on top of the cake. I always strived for excellence and to compete against the best. It’s important for people to understand that although we all come from different backgrounds; the goal is one and the same. Putting pen to paper was my way of saying to others that it can be done. I felt it was a must to tell my story in order to seek to inspire players who came before and after me. I played three matches on the 2000 end-of-year tour to Europe and Argentina. When you open your lips and voice an opinion you are seen as different. That is what stopped me from playing more times for the green and gold. But at least I spoke up for a cause which I believe was the right one. I took the fall, but for the right reasons. I spoke up because I love the game and wanted a player from the location to get the same respect and opportunity as one that hails from an affluent school with a rich rugby history. The end solution is all of the players playing for one country - South Africa. I could have stuck it out, but I decided to be the one that called for change so that black players can be looked at in the same vein as their white counterparts.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Rassie Erasmus’ imminent return to SARU HQ?
Thando Manana: I certainly feel that you can’t have two bulls in one 'kraal'. While SA Rugby announced at the end of June that Erasmus will return from Munster as the director of rugby (to oversee South African rugby’s eight national teams, and participation and management of 20 competitions as well as the development of players, coaches and referees) there are whispers that Erasmus covets the Springbok head coaching position. Erasmus and Coetzee previously worked together during their time at Western Province and the Stormers, but it’s a relationship that I would say, in all honesty, could turn out to be a disaster owing to how their relationship took another turn. I believe Allister was not kept abreast with developments regarding Rassie’s return to SARU and it’s an open secret that Allister wasn’t SA Rugby’s preferred candidate for the heading coaching post. However, the men in suits would never admit that to the rugby public. I regard Allister very highly because he has had to endure a lot in his lifetime, broke down barriers and became a World Cup-winner. We go back a long way - he was my teacher at primary school and we first had a student-teacher and then a player-coach relationship. With Rassie’s return to SA Rugby, I believe Allister’s character will be heavily tested and it will be telling to see if the latter can stand his ground. The year-end tour to the northern hemisphere provides Allister with an opportunity to show that he is really onto something. Rassie is a person who knows what he wants and I think he will be sitting waiting for a call to say that he must take charge of the reins should Allister crumble under pressure.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the state of administration within SA rugby?
Thando Manana: The administration has always been a problem in this country. I believe they operate to the benefit of a certain few. By and large, we have not unearthed competent enough administrators and we find ourselves in a situation whereby all rugby decisions go through only a few individuals who make key decisions. They have not been questioned by the rugby heads in this country. The sense I get is that the right buttons were pushed in order to keep them away. When you compare countries like Australia and New Zealand, their administration is largely run by former players. In a local context, I would like to see former players coming back to be involved in SA rugby from a union perspective in particular. I believe we need more rugby men like Gary Teichmann to come to the fore in administrative roles. Far too often within South African rugby you find that self-serving administrators have overstayed their welcome. We have had recent presidents who have stayed on for long terms. Next year, the elections will take place and people will do what needs to be done in order for them to get the votes, which is completely against the spirit of the game. It’s simple: if you want to be president of SA Rugby you must work towards the betterment of the game.
Sport24 asked: Why do you believe there’s a dearth of black coaches at a high level?
Thando Manana: The main reason is because they are not being afforded sufficient opportunities. It’s been 25 year since unification, but black coaches still aren’t coming through the system. There is a perception within South African rugby that only a few know the game, yet I believe there are greater minds waiting in the wings. I believe it’s time SA Rugby use the ‘Rooney Rule’ (a policy applied in the NFL, which requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior operation roles). Within a South African rugby context, I believe black coaches don’t appeal because the market is run by people that only have the interests of a select few at heart. For argument’s sake, Jerome Paarwater spent so many years with Western Province and he ended up leaving the union because he saw that he was stagnating and couldn’t progress within the system. He was leapfrogged and left alone to seek out greener pastures. (Paarwater is now coaching Kenya). There are those elements that frustrate coaches of colour, but because they love the game they’re willing to earn any cent that they get along the way. Coaches of colour have a deep knowledge of the game, but are not afforded the same opportunities as whites. Deon Davids is the only black coach at senior franchise level and it’s so unfair that he has been treated poorly. He is someone who has always been given the crumbs. Davids has done ever so well, but it feels to me as if people are disrespecting his trade as a professional rugby coach. The Kings are forever being blamed, yet are never given the proper utensils to do an effective job. I feel it’s much easier to take advantage of black coaches because they are afraid to open their mouths and voice an opinion. They are aware that once they speak out, they’ll be relegated to the side-lines and won’t be listened to in the future.
Sport24 asked: What would it mean to you if we have a black Springbok captain?
Thando Manana: It’s still something that I feel will happen in my lifetime - a black player leading a Springbok squad. If that day comes, then it means that sport really is a unifier. It’s not about colour, but rather about saying that anyone can rise to become captain of South Africa. Siya Kolisi’s makeup earmarks him as a future Springbok captain. I have been so impressed with how he how he handles himself on and off the field. In terms of on-field performances, everything Siya touches at the moment turns to gold and I believe he will be named 2017 SA Rugby Player of the Year. His strengths are linking, carrying and defence and he is using those strong points well. In terms of how he conducts himself off the field, he deserves praise for how he interacts with the media and his unifying skills within the national team setup. Taking Jesse Kriel to the township and giving him a taste of African culture proves that Siya is a born leader. People love him because he is very humble and knows where he comes from – that is one thing that I will always respect about Siya. Another quality of his which I admire is his resilience. At one stage, Siya was contemplating moving abroad because he wasn’t getting fair treatment in South African rugby circles. Since his Test debut in 2013 against Scotland in Nelspruit, the flank forward had to wait another four years to finally get the NO 6 jersey and, if you ask me, that is more than patience. It’s something I would term ‘guts and glory’. If Siya is entrusted with the Bok armband, I believe he will do an even better job than his predecessors.
Sport24 asked: What are your thoughts ahead of the Currie Cup final on Saturday?
Thando Manana: I’m excited to witness the rematch between the two sides who last clashed in Durban two weeks ago. I feel Western Province will have their tails up heading into the final, having beaten the Sharks at Kings Park and despatched the Lions at Newlands. I reckon it’s going to be a closely-fought final, but I’m tipping Province to take the match by five points. The Sharks may make a few mistakes owing to their nerves and the fact that they haven’t touched the Currie Cup since 2013. The Cape-based side’s tight-five in particular has been exceptional this season and, in contrast, I believe the Sharks frailties are upfront. The likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw and JD Schickerling, who have taken their form from Super Rugby to Currie Cup, will want to make a big mark in the final. The Sharks boast a dangerous backline, but the bad news for them is that S’bu Nkosi won’t play any part in the final owing to an elbow injury. It means that we won’t be seeing the Seabelo Senatla/Nkosi wing battle, which would have been an exciting one. However, there will still be a number of battles within the battle that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The top two teams in the competition have reached the final but, for me, the Currie Cup needs a total revamp. I know the powers that be talk of strength versus strength, but it also kills the lower division provinces. I believe the Currie Cup was at its best when we had all 14 provinces playing in a round-robin competition, with the top eight teams battling it out in the quarter-finals. We need to level the playing fields and make the game enticing throughout the country. However, if that does not happen we will continually be looking for answers as to why the Currie Cup is dying a slow and painful death.
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