Peter de Villiers may have a 75% win record as Springbok coach, but he hasn’t learnt how to make friends and influence people.
At the post-match press conference at Loftus on Saturday, after the Boks’ series-clinching win against the Lions, De Villiers arrogantly tried to play games with the media. He began by refusing to condemn Schalk Burger for eye gouging Luke Fitzgerald, saying he had watched the replay and seen nothing wrong. When pushed further by an irate British journalist, he rambled on about other instances in the game where a yellow card could have been shown, and added, ‘Ag man, shit, this is sport’ for good measure.
It was eventually left to John Smit, sitting next to De Villiers, to jump in and defuse the situation. The Bok captain, as cool as you’d like, simply said they would wait until the judicial officer had ruled on the matter before commenting – something De Villiers should have said when the question was first raised.
According to journalists who have covered the Bok beat throughout the series, De Villiers never gives a straight rugby answer to a straight rugby question, which suggests he does not have the knowledge to provide a sensible answer or is trying to be funny by using mixed metaphors. Either way, he ends up looking like an idiot and horribly out of his depth.
One former international coach told me recently that De Villiers fails to realise that when he is talking to a journalist, he is really talking to thousands of rugby fans in South Africa and around the world. And that instead of trying to outfox the journalist, by going off on some weird tangent, he should be trying to impart information that will help others to see his point of view and better understand what he’s trying to achieve with the side.
De Villiers is also yet to realise that everything he says is recorded and can be used against him later on. For example, at the post-match press conference at King’s Park he admitted he had erred in making a host of second-half substitutions when the Boks were leading 26-7 and in total control, only to say on the Monday that he should have made those changes sooner. He followed that with his pathetic defence of Burger at Loftus, only to look stupid when the Bok flank was found guilty (on TV evidence that clearly showed the eye gouging) and banned for eight weeks.
Perhaps the most galling thing about De Villiers is the way he’s played the race card since getting the Bok job. There was his ‘give rugby back to the whites’ rant during the sex-tape scandal last year, and he called Simnikiwe Xabanisa of the Sunday Times a ‘coconut’ for writing a critical column. More recently, De Villiers used that ‘black/white car mechanic’ analogy when defending an out-of-form Ricky Januarie. If a white Bok coach made similar racial statements, he’d be sacked.
To Saru’s credit, they have reprimanded De Villiers by instructing him to meet with president Regan Hoskins and explain himself. Hopefully Hoskins will read him the riot act, because South African rugby can no longer afford to be embarrassed by someone who fails to think before he speaks.
By Simon Borchardt