Gavin Rich writes
On the topic raised in my blog on rugby needing to sell itself, Peter de Villiers was an example of someone who sold not only newspapers and media feeds, but also the sport as a whole.
The charismatic De Villiers used to often greet people with the salutation “Even the bad days are good”. It was an apt summation of his own reign as Springbok coach. There were some bad times, there were some horrible times in fact, and the Boks didn’t grow their playing style enough considering the talent he had available, but De Villiers provided entertainment and spread the rugby gospel further into the country’s population than any previous Bok coach did.
While I was noted to be his biggest critic, and when it comes to rugby related issues I am happy to remain his biggest critic (I would still not appoint him to be the Bok coach if it was up to me), there was enough mutual respect between us for him to approach me to co-write his book, Politically Incorrect.
It was while travelling the country for the purposes of selling the book that I got to fully understand the real import of the De Villiers reign as national coach. We would arrive at a clothing factory where the overly officious security people, upon seeing me at the wheel, would be reluctant to let us through without going through chapter after chapter of red tape.
But then they would spot Div sitting next to me and it was open sesame. We had the keys to the city and often they would no longer require us to even sign in. We would have made a good pair of bank robbers. The banks would just have opened the doors for us. I’ve spent time with other Bok coaches, but none of them were ever as feted by the ordinary man or woman on the street, or as easily recognised, as Div was.
To my mind it was a big shame that SA Rugby, having invested so much in him as Bok coach, did not retain him in a form of ambassadorial role after his stint was over. But of course he was too straight, too honest and forthright, for an administration that has never taken kindly to people who have their own mind and are prepared to rock the boat.
It was De Villiers’ refusal to be anything other than his own man, and say it like he wanted to say it, that inspired me to like him and even admire him towards the end of his coaching reign, and it seems he will continue in the same vein now that he has been welcomed back into the rugby fold as coach of Zimbabwe.
On the first day in the job, he described his appointment to coach the lowly rugby nation as the best day of his life. Huh? Better than being appointed to the Bok job? Well, maybe he had a point, for on his first day in the Bok job the experience was tainted for him by hearing the SARU president of that time telling the media that it was not for rugby reasons alone that he was appointed.
But it still came across as a wonderfully entertaining bit of De Villiers exaggeration, like when he told us that Ruan Pienaar was the Tiger Woods of rugby and Earl Rose was world class. In retrospect that hyperbola did more to sell the game than the coaches who are clever when on the grass coaching but lack personality off it.
I am hoping that Zimbabwe win through to the World Cup main event in Japan next year. Even if this time he is only playing a minor part, his presence would make it more entertaining. And entertainment is what the sport needs.