BY SIMNIKIWE XABANISA
Peter de Villiers’ tenure as Zimbabwe’s head coach hangs by a thread as the rugby union’s lawyers and his representatives are locked in talks to engineer what looks like an early exit from a two-year contract.
The former Springbok coach said this week the Zimbabwean Rugby Union (ZRU) had “expelled” him for missing work while he was at his cancer-stricken daughter’s side, also claiming that his bosses had accused him of faking the fact that his daughter was ill.
De Villiers recently won the hearts of many of his countrymen when images of him sleeping next to his daughter Odille Monk during her chemotherapy sessions were posted on social media.
But this week he seemed convinced his employers were using that as an excuse to fire him.
“They told me I was faking my child’s illness and were therefore expelling me for not coming to work — can you imagine faking cancer?” he said, before referring all queries to his representatives for further information.
When contacted, a man who went only by the name of Saki from Yasina Sports, was reluctant to explain what was going on.
“At the moment we’re not really ready to talk about it, we just need to sort out a few issues and then we’ll give an official position.
“What I can say is there is an issue, but we’re trying to resolve it and if or once that process has gone through, we’ll publish our official position; that’s all we can say for now.”
ZRU spokesperson Jeff Murimbechi, who also wouldn’t be drawn on why his employers were at loggerheads with their coach, said as things stood, De Villiers was still the union’s employee pending the outcome of the talks between his representatives and the organisation’s lawyers.
“For now, he is still an employee of the union until the final papers are signed off,” said Murimbechi.
“There are discussions taking place at the moment and a committee sitting down to discuss the matter, but because of its legal nature, we have not made any comments on it.”
The irony of De Villiers’ absence from work allegedly being used as the reason to terminate his contract is that having failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup by doing badly at the qualifying tournament, the Gold Cup, last year, the Sables (Zimbabwe’s nickname) have precious little work to do this year as that competition is not taking place this year.
The only work which might have been available for De Villiers would have been in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, which began on Friday. Zimbabwe have entered an academy side made up of their national sevens, Sables, and club players, but it will be coached by De Villiers’ former assistant coach Brendan Dawson.
The state of affairs now is a far cry from when De Villiers declared getting the job to coach Zimbabwe for a rumoured R115 000 monthly salary as “the greatest day of my life” in February last year.
Hired to qualify Zimbabwe for the World Cup, De Villiers’ tenure was a rocky one, the lowest point of which was the team having to sleep on the pavement in Tunisia due to alleged appalling accommodation and lack of money, and then finishing fifth of six teams in that qualifying tournament (the Gold Cup).
An insider familiar with the Zimbabwean rugby landscape said the failure to qualify the team for the World Cup soured the relationship, which ended up with the ZRU going the “cloak-and-dagger” route of trying to get rid of De Villiers by hauling him to a disciplinary hearing for missing work a few months ago.