No-nonsense Brian van Zyl back to lead the whole KZN rugby shebang
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DURBAN - The election of Brian van Zyl as president of the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union on Tuesday completes one of the most remarkable comebacks that rugby this country has known.
From persona non grata at the Sharks franchise that he played a major role in building into a world force to seven years later returning from the wilderness to become president of the whole shebang is indeed astonishing, and it will no doubt ruffle feathers in some quarters of the KZN rugby fraternity - Van Zyl is a tough, no-nonsense administrator with a record of getting difficult jobs done, even if it sometimes means treading on toes.
Van Zyl’s 19-year tenure at Kings Park saw the “banana boys” of the amateur era evolve into a global brand that, under his watch, won four Currie Cup titles, reach four Super Rugby finals, produce 40 Springboks and establish an Academy that is underpinning the senior team and has already produced 16 Springboks.
But in 2013 he was “encouraged” by the Board of the Sharks to retire to make way for former Springbok and Sharks captain John Smit - it was felt that young blood was required to usher the Sharks into a new era - but Van Zyl felt this was a mistake as Smit had no experience of his new role.
In fact, Van Zyl made no secret of the fact that he felt the Sharks were being maladministred into serious debt following his exit.
In 2016 he penned an open letter to The Mercury voicing his concerns that the Sharks were nearing insolvency, and public spats between him and Smit and the then-president, Graham Mackenzie ensued.
At that time, Van Zyl said: “After my letter and opinions were published, I was asked to keep quiet and not cause more trouble. I will now concentrate on matters at my club, Collegians.”
And Durban Collegians, where Van Zyl played as a robust flank in the ‘70s (he also captained Natal) and then went on to coach and sit on the club’s committee for many years, ultimately provided the platform for him to make a comeback into rugby administration in KZN.
He subsequently became president of the Durban Rugby Sub-Union and that established the pathway to make it all the way back to the very top of rugby governance in the province.
Van Zyl, now 72, was elected unopposed and takes over from acting president Dr Lulu Bodla, who as deputy president had automatically moved into the top position earlier this year when Schalk Liebenberg was appointed to the Saru Executive Committee.
Van Zyl’s term runs for three years.