- Former Springbok prop Eddie Andrews, who featured in 23 Tests from 2004 to 2007, talks about restoring pride in the jersey and the heartbreak of missing the World Cup in France.
- The ex-Western Province and Stormers front-ranker addresses the off-field issues at the union and reveals whether or not he sees himself returning in an administrative capacity.
- He also offers his assessment of Steven Kitshoff and how the loosehead prop can replicate Beast Mtawarira’s ‘09 Lion-taming efforts during the upcoming British & Irish Lions series.
Sport24 asked: How would you appraise your Springbok career?
Eddie Andrews: It was an absolute privilege to be part of the team. When I joined the Springbok set-up at the start of Jake White’s national tenure in 2004, I recall he spoke to us in our team room in Bloemfontein. Jake mentioned three points. He said, “You’re going to be the number one-ranked team in the world, get the pride back into SA rugby and win the 2007 World Cup.” As a newbie in the team I thought to myself, Jake must be smoking something because Springbok rugby went through a disastrous year in 2003 with performance issues and Kamp Staaldraad. However, we can comfortably say the rest is history and he achieved all of that. In terms of lowlights, the most difficult part for me was watching the 2007 World Cup final from home. I was injured at the time the squad was announced but later got a call from the selectors to join up with the team after BJ Botha’s injury. However, I unfortunately had to say I was unable to go because I was still going through my rehabilitation programme. I was gutted because I wasn’t over my recovery period and ready to play.
Sport24 asked: How tough was it not to call time on your terms?
Eddie Andrews: In 2007 Western Province were about to play the Lions in the second round of the Currie Cup and I was looking forward to my duel against Heinke van der Merwe at Ellis Park. One day that week I left the training field and drove home but couldn’t get out of my car when I pulled up in the driveway. Unbeknown to me at the time I had spinal stenosis which was complicated by a recurring back injury. The specialists said, “It’s time to think about life after rugby.” I was gutted I had to do that, especially with Rassie Erasmus having just joined the Stormers. I had had a meeting with him and he was keen to retain me as his number one tighthead prop in the team. I was eager to experience a new coach and fresh era but ultimately had to call it quits in early 2008. When you have injuries and come back you are never going to perform optimally and as a professional sportsman you are always mindful of that. Before retiring, Western Province assistant coach Jerome Paarwater felt that I wasn’t up to standard but my work-rate was something I really took pride in. No player ever thinks a coach’s comments are fair but I had just come back from an injury and knew there was room for improvement. In the end I had to leave the game I loved and sadly not on my own terms... Today I am a DA ward councillor and Chairperson of Spatial Planning and Environment.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the off-field ructions at WP Rugby?
Eddie Andrews: While the players are professional enough to focus on what they need to do, you simply can’t ignore what’s happening on the periphery and it does impact on performance. As an administration you need to convey confidence in order to attract a potential investor. We all know that WP was unable to secure the sponsorship agreement with MVM and tough questions have to be asked around that. Going forward, I sincerely hope that rugby remains the focus at the union and that contradictory agendas are cast aside because rugby needs to be the winner. Being involved in politics within the Western Cape, on a personal front I aspire to play the ball and not the man. Somewhere in the future I believe my path will return to rugby in an administrative capacity. I would like to assist the union because if we can forge a healthy marriage between the administration and players and get the creases ironed out, it will prove beneficial for WP and the Stormers as an entity.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the Springbok front-row riches?
Eddie Andrews: It’s really overwhelming to see the depth we enjoy. We are blessed to have so many players from which to choose across all positions. In terms of the front row, with the retirement of Tendai Mtawarira, who I would argue could have gone on for a couple more years, Steven Kitshoff will take centre stage. He is someone who has been knocking on the door for a very long time. There is no argument in terms of him wearing the No.1 jumper. At hooker, I don’t have a strong preference between Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx but if I had to choose I would start with the guy we ended with and that is Mbonambi. At tighthead, the Springboks have plenty of options in Frans Malberbe, Vincent Koch, Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen. I would select Malherbe in the N0.3 jumper as he is our best scrummaging tighthead. I must also mention Thomas du Toit. He is a physical specimen of note and with him waiting in the wings, Malherbe’s starting berth is under threat. He is not only a good scrummager but his work-rate would be superior to that of Malherbe’s.
Sport24 asked: What did you make of Malherbe being fat-shamed?
Eddie Andrews: I was labelled ‘Fat Eddie’ during my career but as a player you focus on the task at hand. When you are doing that and ticking those boxes, you’re fine. As a prop, I think you are always going to have that label and when you get some physical specimens – the Kitshoffs of the world – who are so mobile and essentially play like an extra loose forward, bulkier props will naturally stand out. Most people in South Africa put on some extra weight during lockdown, myself included. I think Frans has lost some of that weight now and ultimately what it comes down to is his on-field contribution. I understand the coaching staff were satisfied with that and hence he was retained as starting tighthead for the Stormers. As a player, you are aware of fat-shaming in some quarters but it’s not something you fixate on. As long as you’re making your tackles, hitting your rucks and fulfilling you primary role, which is to support your teammates in first phase and secure ball possession, then you are good to go. By and large modern day props are impressive physical specimens because you want to be physically up to playing the sport for as long as you possibly can. As a professional athlete you understand the importance of being in good shape. That pursuit has even given birth to some props with six packs which I reckon is a consequence of the modern game.
Sport24 asked: How does Kitshoff replicate Beast and tame the Lions?
Eddie Andrews: Beast’s dominant performance against Phil Vickery in the first Test of the 2009 series will live long in the memory. Beast had something to prove as a newbie in the team. He was hungry for success and anyone in his path would be demolished. Vickery was not a bad tighthead and if anyone else had squared up to Beast that day they would have been in for a hiding. As a loosehead, you want to see the opposition tighthead pop up like that and have the scrum peddling around. For a front-ranker, that is what dreams are made of. That Test confirmed the talent of the man and Beast’s brute strength. I believe Kitshoff can become as legendary for the Springboks as Mtawarira was but the Stormers captain reminds me more of Os du Randt. The two-time World Cup-winner wasn’t flashy and he did his basics well. While you would know you were scrummed, it wouldn’t necessarily look painful from a spectators’ point of view. Os did the grunt work and I liken Kitshoff’s style to his. The latter gets the basics right and while not necessarily as aggressive as the Beast was during the 2009 Lions series; he certainly has the potential to go down as a Springbok great. What makes a good prop is one that does the basics well time after time. Kitshoff is only 29 but has been playing professionally for the better part of a decade and is still dominating the scene.