An unnecessary affliction

If South Africa is to remain a well-respected rugby nation Saru needs to put a leash on Peter de Villiers.

There was much to discuss following the Boks’ series-clinching win in Pretoria. There was the way the Boks won, the way they underperformed, the way the Lions battled to impose themselves, and of course, the needle off the ball.

While these aspects were discussed, Monday’s press conference forced many publications and websites to focus on a coach rather than a Test series. People should be talking about the third and final Test this week but instead they’re talking about De Villiers’s latest press conference gaffe.

Whose fault is that?

De Villiers and his party would have you believe his words have been twisted, even though entire transcripts that detail his outrageous and non-sensical comments have since been published on certain websites. De Villiers wants the public to believe the media are out to get him, and that is why he doesn’t read newspapers or websites because he doesn’t respect journalists’ opinions.

But it appears as if De Villiers has been reading The Bok coach believes that the coverage of Monday’s press conference amounted to a personal attack and doesn’t want his players talking to this website.

The contradiction about reading habits aside, De Villiers is missing the point.

How can someone in such a public position be so ignorant as to believe what they say won’t be printed verbatim? How can he be so short-sighted as to think every word he says is not just on his own behalf, but on behalf of a proud team and nation? How can he not accept people will judge him on these statements?

The Springbok coach is the face of South African rugby. He is an ambassador, he represents a nation steeped in tradition and history. The incumbent coach is supposed to be the figurehead for the world champions. He represents excellence. In theory, he should be the most respected coach in the game.

While De Villiers and his media team are trying to silence reporters for pointing out a problem, the rest of the world are laughing. The British and Irish journalists ask, ‘Is this guy for real?’ at the end of every press conference. Sure, De Villiers gets them laughing, but how can he not know everybody is laughing at him rather than with him? The Brits love it because every De Villiers interview provides a bizarre soundbite. The local journalists have seen this before. Most of them cringe rather than chuckle.

The visiting pressmen, when they aren’t pestering him for a straight answer that doesn’t contain three mixed metaphors, are laughing at our national coach.

After a year in the job, De Villiers should have learned to curb a penchant for the colourful and strive for clarity. His advisers should have pointed out where he is letting the team and the country down. Some have allegedly tried, but nobody has been strong enough to keep him in line. Nobody has explained how his verbal ejaculations tarnish the name of South African rugby.

De Villiers griped that Monday’s criticism amounted to a personal attack and that it was not rugby related. It would be naive to believe this press conference circus doesn’t affect the players. Despite what you hear, players do read the papers and websites.

The Bok coach called a meeting for all the sports editors before the Lions series. He said the media don’t ask him enough technical questions. He said the media don’t know their rugby.

The South African rugby media contingent all have eyes and ears. They have means of recording De Villiers’s comments accurately, but in 2009 there is no technological device yet available that translates an offensive blurt of gobbledygook into an honest and intelligent response. He complains that his comments are misinterpreted, but probably never stops to think that what he’s saying makes no sense.

It’s one thing to laugh at the village idiot when you’re passing through a town, it’s no longer funny when you live in that town. De Villiers will continue to hog the limelight for the wrong reasons unless his employers put this madness to a stop. Inform him, educate him and let’s improve the situation.

The Springboks have plenty to work on before the third Test and the coming Tri-Nations. They have the ability to become one of the greatest teams in this country’s history, and if he’s retained, Peter de Villiers will be a part of that legacy.

If Saru wants to keep him, for whatever reason, they need to improve his communication skills and end the ignorance. It’s a fixable problem, but one the Boks could do without.

By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg