Look who's talking

It was with growing astonishment, anger and finally disgust that I read Corné Krige’s recent comments on new Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers.

The most nauseating part of what read like a racist attack by the former Bok captain on De Villiers was a line from his final paragraph.

After first tearing into De Villiers and slamming his “politically correct” appointment as Bok coach ahead of Heyneke Meyer, Krige added the following, almost as an afterthought: “I hope De Villiers will be able to prove me wrong.”

This is the type of condescending, paternalistic attitude that gives rise to both fury and dismay in the hearts of black people.

Krige’s track record as Bok captain doesn’t exactly entitle him to any moral high ground. He failed to raise his voice at Kamp Staaldraad while his teammates were humiliated and stripped of their dignity.
And he was in charge of the Bok team that suffered a record 53-3 loss to England at Twickenham and which resorted to thuggery when they realised they could not win a match. The match was described as one of the most violent rugby games ever.

Krige has been quoted about that Bok embarrassment: “There is no excuse for acting like we did that day or what we did.”

Well, there is no excuse for his column about De Villiers’s appointment in an Afrikaans weekend tabloid. “I was in a meeting on Wednesday and I saw a message on my phone from a good friend telling me about the appointment. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

“For me there was only one logical choice to succeed Jake White as Springbok coach and that was Heyneke Meyer. Let me put it this way—coach A and coach B are up for a position. Coach A has won internationally at under-21 level, but has no Currie Cup or Super 14 experience. He is currently helping out at Stellenbosch University.

“Coach B has three Currie Cup titles and a Super 14 title. Above this, 70% of the players in the country want him as coach. If you need to make a rugby decision, then it is logical that coach B is the answer. But, if you need to make a political choice, coach A is the answer. Coach A is Pieter de Villiers and B Heyneke Meyer.”

Krige also wrote that the South African Rugby Football Union (Saru) appointed De Villiers “because they knew he would dance to their tune ... If they wanted politically correct, why didn’t they choose Allister Coetzee, who is also black and has been Jake White’s assistant for the past four years?”

But it is precisely that Saru did not opt for the easy option in Coetzee that bodes well for our rugby. Saru, to its credit, recognised that Coetzee, and former Bok hero Chester Williams, were unsuitable candidates.

De Villiers has enjoyed tremendous success with the national age-group teams he coached (like Jake White) and has not allowed a lack of coaching opportunities at Currie Cup and Super 14 level to derail him (again, like White).

Yes, Meyer has an excellent record at Currie Cup and Super 14 level, but neither White, Nick Mallett nor Kitch Christie, our most successful Bok coaches to date, coached at Super rugby level. White was not even a head coach at provincial level before getting the Bok job.

And Krige raised nary a murmur when they were appointed, nor after they moved on.

Why is De Villiers being subjected to a different measurement?

For instance, would Krige be as critical if Dick Muir, who has enjoyed just one season of success with the Sharks and is a relative coaching novice, had been made Bok coach after indicating he wanted the job? Krige would probably have lauded the appointment as visionary and a chance for the Boks to build on their World Cup success.

De Villiers will win some and lose some with the Boks—as would any coach. But it is obvious Krige has made up his mind already that De Villiers will fail—no matter what he does. But, hey, maybe Krige will prove me wrong.

Ridwaan Bawa, a former executive editor at the Star, is a well-known sports commentator

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