I had the interesting pleasure of attending Peter de Villiers’s Durban book launch at Durban Country Club last week and for a reporter who covered all four years of his controversial, comical, sometimes successful and sometimes absurd reign, the launch was a microcosm of his tenure.
He made sense at times as he discussed Politically Incorrect, came across as a misunderstood and a harshly judged coach on occasions, but then rambled off on indecipherable tangents that brought back in vivid technicolour all that gobbledegook about pink tutus and riding through Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday.
But the most stunning aspect by far was the person sitting opposite him, doing the interviewing on stage. None other than the acclaimed rugby writer Gavin Rich, formerly of The Mercury in the early 90s and latterly of the Cape Argus (he moved to the Cape).
The thing is, dear old Gav was Div’s worst critic. Every week he nailed him in the Weekend Argus, pretty much describing him as an incompetent. It got to the point where fellow rugby writers were whispering to Rich, “Come on mate, this is getting a bit rough, the Boks actually played quite well yesterday”.
But, according to Rich, that was in spite of the coach, not because of him – and I tend to agree with him.
So one day in 2011, not that long before the Rugby World Cup, Rich gets a call from a Saru intermediary asking him to attend a meeting with D)e Villiers.
Rich accepts and steels himself for an encounter with a coach who is going to ask “What the heck have I done to you? What is your problem?”
Only for Div to reportedly say: “Hi Gavin, I have read your reports with interest. Would you like to write my book?”
Talk about knocking a man over with a feather… but Rich accepted.
Some might say this was a clever ruse by Div to silence his biggest critic going into the World Cup. Others will contend it was a clever tactic to ensure the coach signed up a writer that would write no “kak” and ensure a book that was as honest as Div says he wanted it to be.
I haven’t read it, so I can’t give you an answer, but I know that anything written by Rich will be balanced and, above all, readable. What a task! Imagine interviewing Div for close to a year for a book and then having to make it intelligible!
Div’s selection of Rich did get me thinking about another occasion when a Springbok coach made a poacher the gamekeeper.
One of the first things Harry Viljoen did after his appointment as Springbok coach was to make Mark Keohane his media officer. Now Keohane was the most outspoken media critic in South African rugby, but in one swoop he was batting for Harry rather than against him.
As Ian McIntosh used to say: “You rather want the media pissing out of your camp than pissing into it!”
But back to Div. In some ways he is missed by the media because of his colourful press conferences, which always ensured the press went away with something to write.
But that is only true to a degree because his successor, Heyneke Meyer, has been a revelation in his own right. It had been thought that he would be taciturn and give little away, but he has been the opposite – friendly, willing to grasp his responsibility to the media and, most of all, thoroughly understandable!