South African rugby is crying out for more Frederic Michalaks.
In a game filled with staid and conservative men, the French maestro stands apart. The vast majority of South African players and coaches have been conditioned to offer nothing more than the clichÃ©d sound byte, or to skilfully evade even most probing of questions with the customary change of topic.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who before his appointment could be relied upon to speak his mind, has quickly learned the game and now is far more evasive with the media than he has been at any stage of his career.
There is a learnt scepticism of the media among players and coaches. For some whoâ€™ve been burnt through a misquote or gross fabrication, that scepticism is justified. Others, however, have a deep and unfounded fear that the fourth estate will sink their careers.
Michalak is different. Heâ€™s been burnt in the past but remains as forthright with his views as ever. When he fields a question that he feels is irrelevant, like his relationship with former France coach Bernard Laporte, he simply brushes it off with a snarl saying â€œThatâ€™s in the past so why is it important?â€ You never have to guess what Michalak is thinking.
When the topic of discussion is rugby, heâ€™s proud of his strengths and not ashamed to acknowledge his flaws. â€œThere are many. Iâ€™m not the perfect player. Who is? My kicking game is not great. So I simply try not to kick the ball. Itâ€˜s not rocket science,â€ he said in a recent interview with keo.co.za.
When asked about his life and lifestyle he doesnâ€™t retreat. He speaks openly about the pain of his parentsâ€™ divorce and how his close friendship with former Toulouse team mate Clement Pointrenaud helped him make it through that difficult period. He tells this website heâ€™s not married yet because he hasnâ€™t found the perfect woman. This despite having a long time girlfriend in France. He explains, in detail, the symbolic meaning of each of his five tattoos, including the one in a very private part of his anatomy.
This is Michalak – his life laid open for all to see.
A half hour conversation is enough to convince one that he doesnâ€™t trust the media. But he is a straight talker who canâ€™t be bothered to skirt around issues.
Perhaps Michalak will start a trend amongst the Sharks players that will then influence players from other franchises. But that is a wholly unlikely scenario. While youâ€™ll always have your characters, the likes of AJ Venter and Ollie le Roux, the majority are and will remain tight-lipped robots, who are fearful they will be branded windgat by the conservative clan who want their rugby players to be seen and not heard.
Frederic Michalak is a breath of fresh air for South African rugby.
By Ryan Vrede