- The ex-Springbok eighthman, who featured in 20 Tests for South Africa, talks about being snubbed by Heyneke Meyer, but holding no grudges as "coaches have their own agendas".
- He runs the rule over Peter de Villiers' appointment as EP Elephants head coach and addresses the rumours of whether the senior players ran the show when he was Bok boss.
- The former Sharks stalwart also offers his views ahead of the top-of-the-table Carling Currie Cup clash between the Sharks and Bulls at Jonsson Kings Park on Saturday at 19:00.
Sport24 asked: What have you been up to since retiring in 2018?
Ryan Kankowski: I have played plenty of golf and am still trying to learn how to hit a ball straight. I’m currently based in Johannesburg and have also got involved in some small property development in Cape Town and Durban. My wife Talisa is working in Johannesburg and, having followed me around for a few years, it’s my turn to let her decide what she wants to do and where. If I’ve got to follow her around for a while, I’m more than happy to do that... I have also been associated with Esports and have been involved with gaming for as long as I can remember. I’m trying to get involved wherever I can and prove that gaming isn’t the devil. There is stupid money in Esports at the moment. It’s a million dollar industry which is ridiculous. In South Africa, we are a couple of years behind. It’s not talent-wise, but in terms of connectivity we can’t compete because we are far away.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Jake White's return to the local game?
Ryan Kankowski: I have always got on well with Jake. He knows what he’s doing and is quite an intense coach. He eats, sleeps and breathes rugby and he expects the same from you as a professional. That approach has worked for him over the years so you can’t fault him on that. In Jake’s second season as director of rugby at the Sharks in 2014, I wouldn’t say we played our best rugby, but we still made it to the semi-finals. I maybe didn’t expect him to already have success with the Bulls in the first year, but definitely knew it was coming. He is brilliant at putting a team together, getting the mix right and making them work towards a specific goal. The rugby his teams play isn’t too fancy, but he is very good at what he does. There is always a plan in place and stuff going on behind the scenes. Hopefully he can keep building on it and, with some of the players rumoured to be joining, he will do well going forward. Marcell Coetzee would be a brilliant signing for the Bulls. I’m sure that he wants to get back home, but until it actually happens you never know.
Sport24 asked: Do you have any regrets not playing more Tests?
Ryan Kankowski: My versatility could have been a curse rather than a blessing (Kankowski featured in 20 Tests, 13 of which were as a substitute). It’s always hard looking back, but I don’t have regrets in terms of my Springbok career. I had some fun and worked with some brilliant players and coaches. Not many people get to put on that green and gold jersey once in their lives and I was fortunate to wear it on 20 occasions. If I could have played more I would have loved to, but it happened the way it did. It was a brilliant time in my life, but it was definitely disappointing to miss out on playing at the Rugby World Cup. I was unlucky in terms of non-selection and one or two injuries. I obviously would have loved to have gone as it would have been a great experience, but what can you do? Coaches have their favourites and it’s just one of those things you have to accept. Of course I backed myself and believed I deserved to be there. However, coaches can only pick so many players and they each have their own plan and style of rugby that they want to play going into a World Cup. If they think you don’t fit then they are going to go with the safer option in their eyes.
Sport24 asked: Was Heyneke Meyer the coach you least enjoyed?
Ryan Kankowski: I wouldn’t say Heyneke was the coach I least enjoyed, but he had his favourites at the Boks. (Meyer has released a book which is titled: My Notes on Leadership and Life.) I found out quite early on that I wasn’t in Heyneke’s plans which made it much easier to head to Japan. However, it was quite weird because I ended up going and then the Springbok management reached out and wanted me to come back. There was a bit of back and forth, but the bottom line was that Heyneke had his players and the game style that he wanted to play. He felt the players he wanted suited that and a lot of them won him many trophies, so you can’t fault him for backing those guys. Pierre Spies was the starting eighthman at that time, but I don’t know if he was much more physical than me. However, they had a great mix at the Bulls and Heyneke liked to have the same guys around him. If you have won a few titles you want the same people around you as it’s familiar. As a rugby player you can’t take non-selection personally as it’s part of the game. Coaches have their own agendas and it’s quite tough because it’s one guy kind of deciding your fate. As a player you just have to go with it, back yourself, train hard and when you do get that chance hopefully grab it with both hands and make the most of it… Dick Muir was my favourite coach. He backed me 100 percent and in the change room he used to give me a thumbs up, a smile and then move onto the next player. It was really cool to have the freedom to go out there, express yourself and simply have fun!
Sport24 asked: Is Peter de Villiers a smart appointment for EP?
Ryan Kankowski: He has had a bit of a rough time lately and I really do wish him well in his new role as Eastern Province head coach. It’s been tough seeing what has been happening to the Kings players and hopefully Peter can make a difference. Hopefully they give him a chance (to succeed) and allow him to get some proper players. It doesn’t matter how good your coach is; if you don’t have some sort of a base of proper players you are unlikely to achieve between the four white lines. I enjoyed working with Peter at national level. He is a proper character on and off the field. During his tenure with the Springboks he got himself into a lot of trouble talking to the media, but we really achieved great things with him. Peter definitely had game knowledge and rugby pedigree behind him, but at that time the senior players did run the show. I don’t know whether they did the whole team selection because it was behind closed doors, but Victor Matfield controlled the lineouts and Fourie du Preez was brilliant with a lot of the patterns. With different coaches, those senior players still led the sessions. We will never really know if they completely controlled the show or if the coaches trusted them to carry them through because they possessed years and years of experience.
Sport24 asked: Your take on World Rugby's team of the decade?
Ryan Kankowski: It’s a top team, but it’s very interesting to see that Sergio Parisse, Richie McCaw and David Pocock have been selected as there are so many loose forwards to pick from over those years... I think McCaw definitely deserves his award of player of the decade. He achieved some unbelievable feats in the game. The three South Africans to crack the XV are Bryan Habana, Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira which is brilliant. Bissie and Beast literally dominated for more than 10 years playing for the Sharks and Springboks. For me, Beast is the main guy and was No 1 on the field and No.1 in our heart. He is such a good man on and off the field. He is a great friend of mine and definitely deserves it. Bissie is still playing in France and is a machine. To be able to do it for so long means you are a special player. Meanwhile, Bryan’s record speaks for itself as South Africa’s top try-scorer. He was a phenomenal player and won almost every trophy up for grabs in the oval game.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the third-ranked All Blacks?
Ryan Kankowski: I don’t know how the rankings work as it’s so geared to punish you. It’s crazy, but these days the gap isn’t as big amongst the top three teams. It’s extremely dangerous to write off the All Blacks, who still won the 2020 Tri-Nations. New Zealanders are a special breed of people and rugby is a religion in New Zealand. I think their coaching and structures are on another level and to do it with the limited number of players they have in their country is brilliant. Every few years they go through dips, but within a years’ time they are top again and doing crazy things. All Black assistant coach John Plumtree’s development has been massive. He is a brilliant coach, is extremely technical and he knows how to win and bring the best out of his players. Even though his last year or two at the Sharks wasn’t so good injury-wise, he did some really special things in South Africa. He backed us as players and was there when we did a lot of our best things. He knows what he’s doing and is definitely going to help with New Zealand’s structures. I see great things to come from the All Blacks.
Sport24 asked: Who do you rate as the premier No 8s in the game?
Ryan Kankowski: I would have to go with Duane Vermeulen. He is double my size but runs at half the speed. He has done phenomenally even though he started with the Springboks a bit late in his career. He is unbelievable on defence - with a bit more padding - and he has really made the No 8 jersey for the Springboks his own. Ardie Savea is also brilliant and is a different type of player. He is extremely quick and ferocious. He has a massive heart and keeps going at 100 percent all the time.
Sport24 asked: What’s your outlook ahead of the Sharks-Bulls clash?
Ryan Kankowski: Coming into Super Rugby Unlocked, the Sharks were playing some phenomenal rugby. Maybe they came out of lockdown a bit undercooked or took it a bit easy coming into the first couple of games. They just looked like they weren’t the same team and the Bulls in direct contrast have seemed hungry from the start. They have played some brilliant rugby, have an excellent mix of players and Jake has done some great things with them. Hopefully Sean Everitt and the boys down in Durban can pull off a great win at Kings Park on Saturday and close the eight-point gap on the table-topping Bulls. The Sharks are definitely still the team I support in South Africa. I’ve known Sean since club rugby days. He is a brilliant old school-type coach and really does get the players to play for him.