The case of black pawns . . . In South Africa’s rugby battleground


The case of black pawns . . . In South Africa’s rugby battleground

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018

     Robson Sharuko

    Harare – The sensitive issue about race relations in South African rugby has once again been thrown under the spotlight after two high-profile black coaches who have guided the Springboks in the past seven years claimed they were set up to fail in their job by the leadership of the game in that country.   


    ne of them even suggests he was used as “a black South African pawn”.

    Allister Coetzee and Peter de Villiers both claim there is a system in South African rugby that sets up black Springbok coaches to fail and try to paint them as not good enough to coach the Springboks.

    Coetzee had a contract until the 2019 Rugby World Cup but he was relieved of his duties earlier this month amid damaging revelations, which received global media coverage, he had penned a letter to the South African rugby authorities accusing them of using him “as a black South African pawn”.

    He won 11 of the 25 Tests, which the Boks played under his guidance.

    “There is a general view among SARU (South African Rugby Union) ranks that the intention was always to replace Heyneke Meyer with Rassie (Erasmus), but SARU wanted to avoid any controversy regarding race,” a leaked letter written by Coetzee claimed.

    “A strategy was developed to use me as a coloured person to conceal the end goal - by offering me the job as Bok coach - but to not equip me with the necessary resources to adequately perform my tasks. 

    “It would lead to me vacating my position earlier in order for Rassie to eventually be appointed.

    “This strategy is not in line with SARU’s strategic transformation plan. It’s distasteful to say the least, to use me as a black South African as a pawn in such an untenable manner.”

    And De Villiers, who made history when he became the first coach of colour to take charge of the Springboks in 2008 and guided them to a Test series win over the touring British and Irish Lions, a rare victory over the All Blacks in Dunedin’s House of Pain in New Zealand and a Tri-Nations success story, believes black coaches are up against it in South Africa.

    A quarter-final defeat to Australia in the 2001 Rugby World Cup, coupled with some controversial comments he kept making, drew a wedge between him and the South African rugby leaders leading to the divorce papers being served.

    De Villiers, a man who usually speaks his mind, has been highly critical of the South African rugby leadership and on Monday, in Johannesburg, he threw a series of jabs at the people who run the game in that country by accusing them of living in a fool’s paradise while the game, which some claim but the Rainbow Nation with that Rugby World Cup success story in 1995, has slipped backwards.

    Having trekked across the Limpopo, just like cricket legend Makhaya Ntini before him, to take up a coaching job in Zimbabwe where he is now the head coach of the country’s national rugby team, the Sables, with the mandate to take them to their first Rugby World Cup since their last appearance at the global showcase in 1991.

    After years in which Zimbabwean rugby stars have moved to South Africa in search of a little fame and fortune, with a host of them being naturalized to play for the Springboks and contributing in a big way to the success of the team, de Villiers bucked that trend by accepting a two-year deal to coach the Zimbabwe Sables.

    “He (Coetzee) was forced out of his job, because people didn’t give him the support he needed so much to be successful. It happened to me and I told him that it would happen to him too,” de Villiers told a media briefing in Johannesburg on Monday.

    “When I was appointed as coach, there was another coach on stand-by just in case I don’t make it, and they tried about four or five times to get rid of me in my four years as coach.

    “I was a little bit more astute than Allister was, I did not sign my contract until there was a performance clause in it, and at the end it was the performance clause that kept me in my job for four years.”

    He concedes that while coaching a lowly-ranked nation like Zimbabwe could be viewed, in some circles as a move in which he took a number of steps backwards, he was prepared to go to the bottom and build his coaching career yet again to get back to the top.

    And he noted that while focus could be on his coaching career, with his critics saying he had dropped into the unfashionable world of coaching a country which will consider qualification for the next Rugby World Cup as a success story, the reality was that South African rugby had also slipped backwards.

    “It doesn’t make me feel good because I know that my country went backwards in eight years,” he told journalists at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Monday in which he proudly wore a Zimbabwe Sables T-shirt while also speaking against a background of a giant Zimbabwean flag.

    “It is not that they have gone backwards, but if you stagnate in any way in life, you will go backwards because everybody is going past you.”

    The coach even claimed the South African rugby authorities tried to scupper his move to go and coach across the Limpopo through some underhand means, including telling their Zimbabwean counterparts he was black-listed from taking such a role.

    De Villiers also claimed the South Africans tried to woo their Zimbabwean counterparts through a provision of some financial incentives so that they would not employ him as coach of the Sables.

    “I am so glad to be the new Zimbabwe coach, it gave me comfort because I am not welcome in my own country, so I am leaving,” he said.

    “The first thing I will do when I get to Zimbabwe is sing the national anthem, because they want me there. The Springboks don’t want me.

    “I got a call from the Zimbabwe Rugby Union to say there is a problem, SA Rugby say I am blacklisted and they cannot appoint me. When Boland wanted to make me coach, someone from SA Rugby offered them R2-million not to appoint me, and a union like that cannot afford to say no to that sort of money.

    “My principle in life is to get your own house in order first. For them to go to any other African country now, who will believe them? Who will follow their structures? Who will want to be like them?

    “I think they must spend more money and time to get their house in order if they want to make an impact and make people believe that they can follow them.

    “Even if they have the resources to help those African countries, would they believe in them or take what they can give, and go on and do their own thing?”


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