ABILITY aside, the biggest asset Peter de Villiers brings to Zimbabwe is his attitude.
By Enock Muchinjo
He already calls Zimbabwe “our country” and talks about how everyone should have passion for it.
Furthermore, he has resisted the temptation to compare his native South Africa, an absolute giant of rugby on the planet, and little Zimbabwe, which do not even have a national domestic competition of its own and last played at the rugby World Cup 28 years ago.
“South Africa is a different country,” de Villiers remarked, imploring Zimbabwe to shape its own identity and not be judged “by the standards of other people.”
Very comforting words from Zimbabwe’s world-acclaimed new national rugby team coach, but still, a massive adjustment for him to make.
From coaching the Springboks, winning a series against the British and Irish Lions, as well as claiming the tri-nations — and then moving into the unpredictable battlefields of African rugby.
From the hallowed grounds of Loftus Versfeld, Twickenham and the ANZ Stadium to the rudimentary technical area of Harare Sports Club or Police Grounds — where a good crowd at an international game can be matched by those of the biggest schoolboy derbies in South Africa.
But de Villiers is clearly a man of strong moral character and one can only admire how he appears unprejudiced by the comforts of the past in relation to his new role in Zimbabwe.
Of course, niceties will always be exchanged on the occasion of unveiling a new national team coach, and there was plenty of them on Wednesday morning at the Meikles Hotel.
But those who know how de Villiers feels about things, his clashes with South African rugby authorities and his strong views about the system in that country, will not doubt the genuineness of his open-mindedness on coming to Zimbabwe.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” he said on Wednesday. Words are powerful, and a man of the intellect and sharp wit of de Villiers will surely choose them carefully.
Here is a world-class coach, a man who appears to be finally at peace with himself now after all he has gone through. He is at a place where he feels wanted and appreciated so much he is willing to overlook everything else.
This kind of humility by one of the world’s best rugby brains — even stating he is not a “saviour” coming to change Zimbabwean rugby, but to lead — is the biggest coup for the game in this county.
De Villiers is right, his arrival is not a quick fix for Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) has preached the gospel of growing the sport beyond its immediate goal of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
This is, of course, what the game needs.
The soon-to-be launched new National League, to be sponsored by a global logistics giant, is a good starting point.
No serious sporting nation can succeed without its own strong domestic competition. But let us be frank. For now, the National League is not going to supply de Villiers the quality to take us to Japan next year.
The National League, cascading down to the lower end of the grassroots, is the future of Zimbabwean rugby.
It is pleasing to note that the ZRU is not only passionate about the short-term goal of the World Cup.
The game must change for generations to come.
And in de Villiers, who has pledged to work with all structures of the game in addition to his Sables role, Zimbabwe has a brilliant opportunity to change this sport forever.