fast little loans
Peter de Villiers is, without doubt, the most easily recognisable of all the former Bok coaches. As we chat, in a hotel restaurant in uMhlanga, we are routinely interrupted by fans of every race, calling him “my coach”, asking for a picture and wishing him well.
As politically incorrect as he has been at times, De Villiers was – and remains – a champion for the little guy, a symbol of hope in a country that still categorises its heroes in black and white.
“You know, while I was still coaching, we went to Soweto and a little boy came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I want to play for you!’ That kind of thing just blows you away,” De Villiers beamed.
These days, he is usually surrounded by autograph hunters instead of journalists, but the magnificent moustache still endures. And, if you cannot see him clearly, soon enough, you will hear the unmistakable voice piping up.
“This is the voice that the Lord gave me, you know, so that is how I speak,” De Villiers says seriously.
“Some people don’t like it, but so what? I am proud of it and I have made this voice heard.”
De Villiers is currently on a tour around the country, promoting his autobiography, aptly titled, Politically Incorrect. He cuts a relaxed figure now, free from the weary worries of national coach and a lot wiser after surviving the fierce furnace that comes with the task.
“I do a lot of motivational speaking to kids and older people. And it’s so exciting to see them get motivated to do something, because they say if I can do it, why can’t they?”
It is this enthusiasm which leads to well-meaning, but badly interpreted quotes such as, “I am the Mandela of SA rugby”, that was attributed to De Villiers in recent weeks.
What De Villiers could be utilised as is an ambassador of sorts, spreading the gospel of the game to areas where more than a coaching certificate is required to make an impression.
“You know, we have so much potential in this country. But we spend too much time worrying and fighting about things we cannot change,” he lamented.
Despite his detractors, De Villiers says he is proud of what he has achieved, because he did it his way.
The criticism for his lack of tact in front of the media stung him, but he maintains that those aspects had nothing to do with what happened on the field.
“In this industry, we are judged by statistics. If you look at those, I can say that I succeeded. But other people wanted to bring in other agendas.”
Those agendas, from sex tapes, to people looking for favours, to political interference, they are all dealt with in De Villiers’ tale. But, he says defiantly, he endured all that and more.
“If you are true to yourself, people will eventually respect you. Even if it is a quiet admiration, they will always respect what you have done.”
But, of course, it wasn’t all smiles and sunshine. There was the admission, right at the very start, by Oregan Hoskins, that De Villiers becoming Bok coach wasn’t a purely rugby decision.
“That was very tough, not just for me, but for us as a people. Because then you get people questioning where you came from,” he explained.
“Some asked why I hadn’t coached Currie Cup or Super 15. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was in France, when a journalist said that we (black people) had only been in the game 20 years, and I was already Springbok coach.”
He bristles at that slight, recalling the fact that black people had been playing rugby for more than 100 years.
In the book De Villiers lambasted those who seemed obsessed with undermining his tenure as Bok coach, citing personal attacks on him as the work of “white collar criminals”.
“I was given a job by SA Rugby to coach. So as far as I was concerned, all those other things were a side-show, and I was never going to let that make me take my eye off my goal.”
Those jibes, those taunts and derisive comments ultimately convinced De Villiers to tell his story, and educate those sections who were ignorant of the rich history of black rugby.
And speaking of black rugby, De Villiers is not convinced by the Southern Kings project, because he can’t understand what they are trying to achieve.
“What is your understanding of EP rugby? That team is not representative of that region.
“It is no different from being a Sharks or Stormers team coming to play there, because if it was a true representation, it would have 80 percent players from that region,” he said.
“How can they ask people to support and identify with that team, when they aren’t giving their players opportunities to develop?”
De Villiers admits that the region isn’t ready for Super Rugby, and fears that the crowds may soon wince and walk away if their team takes 50-point hidings every week.
The idea of getting back into rugby coaching appeals to him, though he says experience has taught him to be a lot more careful.
“I would never say no to an opportunity, but I would need to be careful before committing to anything now. Rugby is my passion, so of course I want to be involved.”
In many ways, as his co-writer Gavin Rich explained, De Villiers is probably more ready to be a Springbok coach now than he was four years ago.
“He’s probably mellowed and I think he has learnt that there are things he can and cannot say,” Rich said.
The experienced, Cape Town-based writer admits that he was one of De Villiers’ biggest critics when he took over from Jake White, because he was adamant that De Villiers shouldn’t be given leeway because he was a coloured coach.
“I definitely have seen another side to him and I think I appreciate what he was going through at the time a bit more now. The book itself was never about having a go at certain individuals, but more about showing the other side of Peter.”
That other side is certainly brought to light in Politically Incorrect, which charts the frustrating, at times fraught, but always entertaining period that was Bok rugby under De Villiers.
“There is no bitterness about losing that job,” he explained. “Why would I be bitter about something that I cannot have? I hold no grudges against Saru or anyone else. Life is too short for those things,” he added.
“I am joyful. I am so happy and I am busy getting myself ready for the next chapter of my life.”
He’s no Mandela, but De Villiers is certainly one of a kind.