Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he is in his own words, ‘true to himself’.
Without doubt De Villiers has been the most entertaining of all the mentors to take charge of South Africa’s national team.
For four years he entertained the world’s media with his unique sayings and weird parables and true to form he produced a few brand new pearlers at the Cape Town launch of his book: ‘POLITIOCALLY INCORRECTY, the autobiography’.
Describing himself as “the Mandela of rugby”, De Villiers set out to explain to the audience that he was indeed a unifying force in the country and not the divisive figure so many of his critics felt he was.
Using terms like ‘I am my own man’ and ‘I stay true to myself’, he was at his brilliant best and certainly not holding back.
As he said in his book: “Quisque sibi verus [from Hamlet by William Shakespeare -.to thine own self be true].”
As forthright as he is in the publication, described as the ‘most honest rugby book ever’, De Villiers took pot shots at the media and had some words of ‘wisdom’ for his successor, Heyneke Meyer.
He said that initially he did not want to write a book.
“But after that statement that my appointment ‘did not take into account rugby reasons only’ [uttered by South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins], I [later] decided I owe it to the people of the world, especially the black people … I owe it to them, to tell the story,” De Villiers said.
In the book he makes it very clear that he took exception to being labelled a ‘transformation’ coach by his employers, SARU, and he had some equally strong words for the members of the media with whom he had a love-hate relationship throughout his tenure.
Turning to his co-author, Gavin Rich, he said: “The book tells what a great school [Northlands Boys High] you went to, and what a great college [Rhodes University] you went to, but it never tell me where you played your rugby.
“That was the problem with most of the rugby writers in this country, [they] never played good rugby … most of them never even played for their school’s first team. They wanted to have high achievements and they felt heartbroken to see this little guy held in such high [esteem]… that is the kind of jealousy and envy I experienced.”
De Villiers said the true measure of a man’s character is how you react to what people say about him.
And then he produced one of his best parables yet, likening himself to the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, in describing how he felt he managed to unite all the people behind the Springboks.
“I managed to unite more people in this country,” De Villiers told his audience, adding: “I don’t want to bring Mandela in here, but I think I was the Mandela of rugby … [I] brought hope to people, to motivate [them] and [encourage them] to learn.”
Despite being unable to find employment in rugby in his own country, De Villiers said he will not be heading abroad for employment.
He said he wants “share” his knowledge with South African coaches.
He recently offered his services to SARU, who ignored him, and although the minister of sport suggested he would set up some kind of position where De Villiers can be involved at grassroots level, nothing has come of his so far either.
De Villiers made reference to Stormers defence coach, Jacques Nienaber, whom he described as one of the “most astute rugby brains in the country” and added that he “can’t understand why you [Nienaber] is not in the Springbok set-up”.
He said it would be a great loss to South Africa should Nienaber be snapped up by a team from abroad, as was the case when two other former Bok coaches, Nick Mallett and Jake White, accepted offers from other countries when they were unwanted at home.
Asked if he had a message for his successor, Heyneke Meyer, he had a dig at his former bosses at SARU: “Whatever he does wrong, you can’t blame him, blame the people who put him there … they are the people responsible. We must support him.”
His advice to Meyer: “Some of us get old and never grow up. By growing up, I don’t mean becoming an adult, growing up means knowing who you are. You should be true to yourself. Heyneke must be true to himself. I hope he knows what he wants and I hope he knows how he can get there.”
Then, being true to himself and being as politically incorrect as his book’s title suggest, De Villiers showed again why he is such a unique character.
“I don’t expect white people to understand black people and I don’t expect black people to understand white people, I do expect you to understand yourself. When you understand yourself, you know where you stand in life…”