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The making of Sables coach Peter de Villiers

“INTRINSIC to my coaching philosophy is the view that it is not about the coach, it’s about the players,” former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers (60) writes in his aptly titled autobiography, Politically Incorrect.


That might seem like a random statement in De Villiers’ 340-page loaded memoir, but it’s a mantra that has served him well during his illustrious rugby coaching career.

Referring to his decision to not go out on the field in 2009 when the Springboks won the Tri Nations, De Villiers writes, “I know when people need me, and they don’t need me when they win. When you go onto the field to join in the victory celebrations, you take the focus away from what has happened in the match. It’s the players who play the game, and winning is the reward for the hard work they’ve put in.”

De Villiers, who was last week, unveiled as the new Zimbabwe senior rugby team tactician has always prided himself on the relationship he enjoyed with the players he has coached.

According to De Villiers it’s the players that make the coach, not the other way round.

“Some people use players to engrave their names on a silver platter; it was more important to me to engrave my name in their hearts,” he once famously said in an interview with the South African media.

The loyalty was rewarded throughout his tenure as Springboks coach from 2008 to 2011.
And it’s the same approach, the first black Springboks coach is likely to take in his new role as Sables coach as he aims to guide the side to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Soon after his appointment, De Villiers revealed that he would be retaining Denford Mutamangira as Sables captain, having held lengthy discussions with the big loose head prop and his assistant coach Brendan Dawson on the eve of his unveiling ceremony.
In addition, De Villiers said the style of play he is going to adopt during the upcoming qualifiers for next year’s Rugby World Cup would only be determined after assessing the strength and weaknesses of the players at his disposal.

“I think it’s a bit premature for me to talk of the style of play and tactics, the reason being that we need to meet the players first. We need to set out to find what their strength and weaknesses are and we work out something around that because what we understand as coaches is that it’s not about us anymore,” De Villiers said.
“We have now fulfilled our dream to be coaches. Now we must become an extension of the dreams, the players have got themselves and fulfill those dreams and find what we can get out of them and take them to the next level.”

While acknowledging that Zimbabwe faces a stiff task in qualifying for the World Cup, De Villiers nevertheless assured fans that he will\ do his best and called on the collective input of all local stakeholders.

“I know we can change this whole thing around but as I said in my speech, for me to think I will come here and change Zimbabwean rugby, there’s just no way its gonna happen. [It will take] we; that is me, you, the sponsors, the whole country, everyone if we come together, support each other and be honest with one another and I think that we will get to that point where we start loving ourselves, our rugby and our nation again,” he said.

The 60-year-old former scrum-half, played for Griquas and Boland during the apartheid era in South Africa before retiring to coach his home-town club, Young Gardens in Paarl.

After obtaining a Level 4 Higher Graduate coaching certificate from the Welsh Rugby Union, he quickly progressed through the ranks in Western Cape rugby, coaching the South Africa under-19 team for three years before leading the South Africa under-21 team to a Junior World Cup triumph in 2005.

In 2007 he was appointed coach of the Emerging Springboks and under his tutelage, they won the Nations Cup.

He was appointed Springbok coach in 2008 after being preferred to the hot favourite, Heyneke Meyer, who had just guided the Bulls to the Super Rugby title.

De Villiers’ battle to be accepted and respected by the South African rugby fraternity started from the moment his appointment was announced, when the then South African Rugby Union CEO Oregan Hoskins admitted that De Villiers had got the job for reasons “other than only rugby”.

Throughout his tenure as the first black Springbok coach, Peter de Villiers was in the news, and not always for the right reasons.

His rather colourful comments often landed him in hot water on many occasions.

There was, however, no doubting his coaching pedigree which made him popular with the Springbok squad and some sections of the South African rugby public as he achieved success despite doubts over a perceived lack of previous experience.

De Villiers achieved a number of successes during his four years in charge of the Boks, including beating the All Blacks home and away, winning the 2009 British and Irish Lions series and the Tri-Nations in the same year.

His overall record at the Boks saw his team win 30 Tests out of 48.

Since then, De Villiers has been a consultant with a few teams, and was also the director of rugby at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

South African rugby columnist Wynona Louw last week summed up De Villiers’ love-hate relationship with the South African rugby fraternity in an opinion piece for The Independent.

“Hate him or love him, you can’t deny De Villiers’ Springbok coaching record,” Louw said.

“People — who very clearly aren’t fans of the 60-year-old — seem to try their utmost to discredit that record that consists of winning 30 out of 48 Tests and beating the All Blacks home and away (including a record-setting win at the House of Pain). And then there’s also the fact that he is the last Bok mentor to have won a British & Irish Lions series (and the Tri-Nations in the same year).

“Also, his winning record against the All Blacks was 57%, and his overall Bok-coaching record 62%.”

“Not bad for someone who’s consistently being ridiculed as a coach, hey?”

While his record with the Springboks speaks for itself the jury is still out for De Villiers as he begins his task to get Zimbabwean rugby on an upward curve, and getting them to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

There is, however, no doubt that he has the pedigree to take the Sables back to their rightful place as one of the top teams on the continent and regular participants at the global showpiece.

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