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Spineless players, clueless coach

PETER de Villiers’ jibe at South African rugby authorities after taking over the Zimbabwe job early this year seems to be backfiring horribly on him.
Now the critics back home are stirring up the old argument that the former Springbok boss’s spectacular failure with Zimbabwe provides vindication for their unshaken position that he has never really been a very good coach.

By Enock Muchinjo

It has been a nightmarish World Cup qualification campaign for de Villiers and the gutless group of Sables he stubbornly kept faith in despite clearly not being nearly fit or skilful enough, and worse against the best advice of many — including yours truly’s assessment of his squad on this blog a few weeks ago.

Nothing is going the way of de Villiers and his team at the moment and the lowly-muttered suspicion over the widely-reported ill-treatment of the Sables in Tunisia last week is quite understandable on the face of it. There is some talk that the Zimbabwe team might have over-dramatised the hotel and visa incident in Tunis as a smokescreen for a horrendous campaign that has lacked class and character — in a year a Zimbabwe rugby team has been feted and taken care of like no other before.

The Tunisians’ unamused reaction to Zimbabwe’s antics last week carried a strong defensive message and the North Africans could well have been a victim of their own reputation in the way they were made to look in front of the world — a reputation real or imagined. But you cannot, if you have a semblance of fairness, be completely blind to the possibility that the Tunisians might be justified to attack the integrity of the Zimbabwe team and also to feel aggrieved about the manner they were portrayed by the visitors.

I say this because of three main things.

One, you have two players leaking and audio-recording complaining about being paid daily allowances in bond notes for training camps in Zimbabwe, in times when pretty much everyone in this country is using bond notes (if they get the scarce cash at all). Two, you then hear the same two players complaining loudly about having to train in an old playing kit, but conveniently forget to explain to us the impact it has on performance and results.

And then when evidence at hand clearly shows that match fees have, indeed, been paid into players’ bank accounts on the two Mondays after the first two Tests — as per contractual agreement — but players peddle half-truths to the world, you cannot help but ask the question: is such a team not capable of being sore losers who, fresh from defeat in Kenya, caused a scene in Tunisia in order to divert attention from themselves and a clueless coach who has shattered an entire nation’s World Cup aspirations because of an ego?

This is not the hallmark of a team that a lot of us had gotten to know and respect over the years, a team that play with heart and carry themselves with pride — win or lose — yet receiving nothing close to what has been availed to the current crop.

When you think about it, it is probably quite appropriate that what we have seen this year has happened when the famous green-and-white hoops of the Sables somehow disappeared from the jersey for the first time in over a century.

As for de Villiers, his critics do seem to have a point, when one reflects.

You get the feeling that his success with the Springboks was perhaps more player-driven than the coach’s ability.

In his first year as Bok coach, he tried to change to running rugby, which failed.

To his credit, he took advice and allowed team leaders to take the initiative and go back to what worked. He did not do that in Zimbabwe. He refused to take advice and he seems to have come with a bit of a condescending attitude to Zimrugby.

Which is strange. De Villiers did not have a very good record at the University of Western Cape when he took over in the post-Bok era, despite having access to the best facilities and resources. The team was not competitive against top clubs in the Western Province club structure.

And no other major or overseas offers came his way years after the Bok post, which showed a lot about perception in his ability as a coach.

He had an amazing opportunity with Zimbabwe to redeem himself and hit back at his critics with on-field results. He only did with his mouth.

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