Time for de Villiers to get real

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IN PRIVATE conversations, I shared this view quite strongly with colleagues leading up to last weekend’s big rugby Test match in Harare.

By Enock Muchinjo

Why I chose not to express it publicly before the crucial game, given the platform granted to me on this page, was not just a spirit of fairness — which binds us all under the benefit of doubt rule — but also out of great respect for a man whose good intentions could, in the end, turn out to be our greatest downfall in the 2019 World Cup quest.

After his appointment amid much pomp and fanfare early this year, it must be said now that the honeymoon is well and truly over for Sables coach Peter de Villiers and Saturday’s hugely disappointing draw with Morocco — which really should count as a loss in the greater scheme of things — provides a solid basis for thorough scrutiny of the former Springbok coach.

The pros and cons of appointing someone like de Villiers was definitely something the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) seriously considered before reaching the decision to hire a coach of that status.

The guys at ZRU probably asked themselves the most valid question: what exactly will de Villiers bring to Zimbabwe, which we did not have in the past?

This question becomes even more pertinent when you consider the fact that with a local coach four years ago, with far less resources than there are now, with fewer good players answering the national call — Zimbabwe did everything right to qualify for the World Cup, only being denied fatefully by a most unfortunate point calculations mix-up. To answer the question, the biggest asset brought by de Villiers, and this has been a view of mine since day one, is a very positive mindset, a purity of intent — but then a kind of attitude steeped more in romanticism than realism. To start with, putting faith in the vast majority of players who endured a horrific last two years under former coach Cyprian Mandenge has been the first major mistake by de Villiers.

No doubt, de Villiers is a top-class coach and his sharp eye for talent is a key weapon in his armoury. And, indeed, there is some really nice talent in the local league and de Villiers has clearly liked what he has seen.

But in the five months he has been here, surely de Villiers cannot have seen more than what the rest of us have seen in years — that the players he has put trust in, to be brutally honest, are simply not good enough.

And if rumour is to be believed that de Villiers has been reluctant to include a lot of the foreign-based professionals that have raised up their hands, then quite clearly he is misguided and you can rest assured the Sables, if nothing changes, will again be the punching bag of the Africa Gold Cup — with a former Springbok coach at the helm.
Just take a quick glance at the entire forwards pack from the Morocco game. Out of eight, only three — Denford Mutamangira, Farai Mudariki and Connor Pritchard — have the quality to play at Test level and there is pretty much nothing any coach can do with that kind of manpower.

Without the right components and temperament across a match-day team list, no international side is going to rise to the occasion when it really matters, no matter how good players have been told they are.

If your forwards are continuously being rucked off the ball as we saw on Saturday, and you are losing the breakdown battle throughout a game, you are never really going to be on the front-foot in a Test match, let alone win it.

I do not think he will, but de Villiers needs to overhaul his team to avoid further embarrassment against teams that are going to be even bigger, better conditioned and quicker than the Moroccans.

This is the most logical thing to do from here on: change the hooker, change both locks, change the eighth-man and change one flank. It should not stop there for de Villiers. He must also fix the fly-half problem once and for all and get someone who has unquestionable ability to control a game.

A lot of these things will go against the gut feeling of de Villiers, who quite clearly has his mind made up. But he must know by now that romanticism does not deliver results.

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