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Peter de Villiers was smeared, his family were put under intolerable political pressure and his one-time closest friends became his arch-foes, but he doesn’t regret a moment he spent coaching the Springboks.
He would even go all the way through the agony of last year’s rugby world cup – even though he still wonders if international bookmakers cost his team their quest to win the cup for a historic third time.
There is only one thing he would do over – he wouldn’t have taken the job as a married man and a father.
“I’m tough, but my family suffered more,” he said on Thursday exclusively to The Star on the eve of the launch of his biography, Politically Incorrect.
In the book, he questions why even though the International Rugby Board had privately thanked him and the team management for keeping the peace and not retaliating after Welsh referee Nigel Owens’s woeful refereeing of the off-the-ball incidents in the Bok-Samoa game, they rewarded Owens with a quarter-final match instead of censuring him.
De Villiers also claims Bryce Lawrence, the Kiwi referee who SA fans believe cost the Boks a quarter-final spot, made an unprecedented 47 refereeing errors in place of his customary six per game.
The coach had to fight many battles before the World Cup, though, starting with the now infamous sex tape.
In his book, he says he had been told that ANC MP Cedric Frolick and anti-apartheid activist and Eastern Province rugby boss Cheeky Watson had been behind the infamous sex tape smear, which almost derailed his Bok coaching career before it even began.
“I don’t know who was behind it or why,” he said, admitting that the questions still haunt him today.
No such tape has ever seen the light of day, and De Villiers has denied any involvement in it.
He partly blames himself for the breakdown in the relationship with a man who, together with Frolick, former sports portfolio chairman Butana Komphela and the Soweto Rugby Club’s Dr Asad Bhorat and Mike Stofile, had been one of his greatest supporters for the top job in SA rugby.
“Cheeky didn’t expect me to be so strong,” he said of his decision to stick with Bok captain John Smit and not appoint Watson’s son Luke as captain.
“Maybe I created expectations in Cheeky Watson, and like most South African fathers, he couldn’t take a step back from his child’s sport. Luke is an outstanding player and captain, but he never lived up to my expectations. John (Smit) was by far the better leader, on and off the field.”
Komphela, too, would turn on De Villiers, demanding that SA Rugby chief Oregan Hoskins fire him after De Villiers’s elderly father had a run-in with an ANC candidate in Paarl during last year’s local government elections, and De Villiers’s daughter was seen speaking to a friend at a DA table on election day.
Hoskins, the biography claims, never stood by his man either, starting with his announcement of De Villiers’s appointment, when he said it was not solely on merit, but based on political considerations too.
“Six months before we went to the Rugby World Cup, he was already negotiating with Heyneke Meyer to replace me…I learnt that from TV, he didn’t have the decency to tell me to my face. I’m not bitter about it, but that’s not the right way to do things.
“You ask the question, this is a multibillion-rand indus-try, are the right people managing it?”
De Villiers said the Kings, the controversial sixth team trying to force its way into the Super Rugby competition, was indicative of the broader malaise. Led by Watson, they are the descendants of the Spears that De Villiers had started with four players and no budget in 2004.
“Then they said we were costing them too much money, so they shut us down. Now we’ve got a franchise in a format that there is no room for, into which they are pumping millions.”
The Eastern Cape needs rugby to be developed, as 60 percent of all SA’s black players come from the region, but the Kings isn’t the answer, De Villiers said.
“If you want to introduce rugby, make every Super 15 team play a game there. If you want to develop talent, let it run its natural course, not by buying players from elsewhere. If they gave black players the chance, they would be the best they could be…
“We don’t have enough (quality) players to justify it. Instead of creating a vehicle to develop and keep the best black rugby players in the country, we’re making a team for the seventh, eighth and ninth best white players who don’t have anything left to give.”
The team’s inability to be competitive, he said, would make them a laughing stock.
Giving new Bok coach Meyer his full backing, he said: “The one thing we must do is support Heyneke… Our duty, every one of us, is just to support him.” – The Star