- Former Emerging Springbok Morgan Newman talks about how his forthright nature played against him in the game and why he feels he was ultimately backed by the wrong coaches.
- The ex-Stormers centre reveals the role Rassie Erasmus played in cutting short his career in Cape Town and how off-field politics are now threatening to destroy a once proud union.
- He also relives his memories of facing the British & Irish Lions during their 2009 tour and offers his opinion in terms of whether or not this year’s edition should still go ahead in SA.
Sport24 asked: What was your relationship like with the oval game?
Morgan Newman: I’m very grateful for rugby but at the same time it’s a weird environment. I’ve learned to understand that just because you are on TV every week, there shouldn’t be a sense of entitlement. However, it’s a very ego-driven environment and thank heavens social media wasn’t as big as it is now because it would have been a completely different ball game. I would probably have had heaps of followers but as many haters by virtue of having played for Western Province or having not achieved as I maybe should have achieved in the game. In terms of the South African rugby public, we really build each other up to break each other down. You can be a star today and then make one miss-tackle that costs you a game and then you can be completely hated for the next three weeks. Players here struggle with being a big name and being able to perform. Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James are massive brands but they are able to still go out there and understand that their core function is to perform between the lines. Many of our players struggle with that. They either get caught up in the bright lights and lose focus on what they are paid to do or injuries occur.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your time at Western Province?
Morgan Newman: At the time Allister Coetzee was coach of Western Province and he was very influenced by Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby. Allister and I had an indifferent relationship. I don’t hold anything against him or Rassie but the latter wouldn’t let me go play for the Springbok Sevens side. At the time he said to me, “Listen, don’t represent the Blitzboks because you will play for Western Province.” I played for Western Province, got injured and was out for six months. When I came back he wouldn’t pick me again. He told me, “Sorry, we’re not going to renew your contract and you’ve got to go to the Cheetahs.” Obviously I wasn’t Rassie’s cup of tea from a rugby playing point of view, which I got because he had a vision for how he wanted to coach a team. If a player doesn’t fit into that vision what can you do? This whole game is about timing and coaches that are prepared to back you. If a coach backed me back then I would probably have been much further and achieved much more than what I ended up achieving in the game. Peter de Villiers and Chester Williams could only back me to a point because at the time they were SA under-21 and Emerging Bok coach respectively. However, had he or Williams gone on to become Bok coach at the time I was around, without a doubt I think they would have backed me because I played good rugby for them. If you have the right coach who backs you, sees your potential and guides you then you can reach the top.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the off-field ructions at the union?
Morgan Newman: It’s so sad for me to see what’s going on at Western Province. There is a massive gravy train coupled with way too much politics. Many people there are in it for personal reward as opposed to gain of the actual union. I question the motives of the people that are currently there. Is it for personal gain or to make sure that the union flourishes? I’ve got a funny feeling SA Rugby might take control of WP before long and that is extremely sad for me. To see a union of WP’s stature and history in the doldrums is depressing. We have an opportunity to leave behind a massive legacy at Newlands and start something fresh and exciting at Cape Town Stadium. However, all that hangs over it is a cloud of politics, funny business and massive debt. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have the business savvy inside Western Province right now to see the union become a profitable brand again. We are the greatest rugby brand in the country and cannot be run in the way that we are. I don’t think we can blame the players or coaches because we know they are good. Surely we need to look higher up. WP will continue to bleed talent... Damian Willemse is a great rugby player but it’s sad for me that he is not guided correctly, so we are not seeing the best of him. Other than Willemse who else is there in terms of genuine stars? Seabelo Senatla (who starts against the Lions in Cape Town on Saturday) is in and out of the team and not playing his best rugby. I think Chris van Zyl is the perfect guy to guide a bunch of youngsters who are all singing from the same hymn sheet but there is so much politics at play. The union is disjointed and I’m asking, “What am I actually supporting?”
Sport24 asked: Did your outspoken nature ultimately count against you?
Morgan Newman: A coloured kid with a big mouth didn’t fit well. We had just come out of an era in rugby where a guy like Luke Watson had his personality suppressed. Having a personality in the game was something that was frowned upon. I was a young kid who was extremely confident and knew my ability. The fact that I wasn’t scared to voice my opinion and leaving no stone unturned when it came to telling you how I felt, largely played against me. If you look at the players of colour who made it during my era, they were all prepared to swim with the stream. I wasn’t necessarily one of those guys who followed the crowd. However, I don’t regret it one bit and not once did I go to bed feeling that I should have said something. I probably could have been a Springbok had I towed the line but the bottom line is I had to look myself in the mirror and ask, “Are you honest with yourself?”
Sport24 asked: Do you feel that you fulfilled your playing potential?
Morgan Newman: I think I was 10 years before my time. In the most non-arrogant way, looking at the current level and what I could produce on a rugby field, I would walk into a Stormers team today. To be brutally honest, I think I was a much better rugby player than the teams I played for. I think I should have played a lot longer at the top of the game especially if I look at the guys playing there today. The quality (or lack thereof) today bugs me to a large degree. My last playing stint was in Bloemfontein with the Cheetahs. I just realised that I didn’t want to be one of those guys who are going nowhere slowly. I wasn’t prepared to stay at the Cheetahs not really playing at the highest level. I was earning decent money but then lost my brother in the same year and when that happened I decided to return to home, spend real time with the family and get my priorities straight.
Sport24 asked: How close did you come to playing for the Springboks?
Morgan Newman: Rumour has it that I was probably going to be selected for the Springboks’ end-of-year tour in 2009 but that was the same year in which I did my knee ligaments playing for Western Province against the Bulls in the Currie Cup semi-final. I would have loved to have been a Springbok and I played one game for South Africa against Namibia which was an unofficial international. I was at outside centre and John Smit was the captain. It was a full on Springbok team that played in Namibia as a British & Irish Lions warm-up game. It wasn’t an official Test so doesn’t count but that occasion was probably the closest I ever got to playing for the Springboks. I am very much at peace with what I achieved in the game and don’t look back on my career with any negativity whatsoever.
Sport24 asked: What are your thoughts ahead of the Lions series?
Morgan Newman: It would be very sad for me to see a Lions tour without packed stadiums. Personally, I would continue to prolong the series until we can pack a stadium. The Lions tour is a massive boost for the South African economy and usually the country would be buzzing with red and white. And if we can’t do that then I struggle to see the sense in it. However, it’s still better than playing overseas and I don’t think the series could have happened in the UK. To be honest, I don’t think it should happen in South Africa right now because from a rugby playing point of view, the Springboks will be underdone and ticket allocation and half-filled stadiums would make it messy. With a cloud hanging over the series it detracts from a great north versus south battle featuring the best of the best... I played against the British & Irish Lions twice and that was the probably the pinnacle with 60 000 people at Newlands. It doesn’t get much better than that and I have still got Gordon D’Arcy’s Lions jersey to this day, having played against him in the 13-13 draw in Cape Town.
Sport24 asked: Who do you rate as the premier centres today?
Morgan Newman: Ryan Crotty is an unbelievable rugby player. I know he is now playing in Japan but not too long ago he was part of the All Blacks set-up. He is a relatively small guy but a big communicator. He has magic hands and can put anyone into space, is a great communicator and that All Black backline fired with him in there even though he was the least flashy of them all. I hate to admit it but Owen Farrell has something about him as well. He is a great general. From a South African perspective, I really like the look of Lukhanyo Am. He doesn’t necessarily look like the ultimate centre but at the World Cup he showed he is an excellent communicator, has super hands and he was the glue of that backline. I know Handre Pollard was there but Am brought a calmness about him and grew into his role. As a player, I always prided myself on being calm in the heat of battle. I was extremely aggressive on the rugby field but very calm as well and I see that in Lukhanyo.
Newman, who is a sports presenter on Goodhope FM, can be heard on air daily from 15:00 to 18:00.
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