EXACTLY two years ago, Peter de Villiers, the world-famous South African, was appointed Zimbabwe’s rugby coach and tasked with guiding the country to its first World Cup in nearly three decades.
Hiring a former Springbok coach, who had a fairly impressive record against the mighty All Blacks, was a very strong statement that epitomised Zimbabwe’s ambitious bid to return to the game’s greatest stage.
The World Cup was on everybody’s lips. The nation believed time was ripe for our beloved Sables to rub shoulders with the best teams in the world again.
But while the Zimbabwean rugby administrators, fans and players were on the same page with regards to the World Cup dream, one man did not seem to want it with the same passion: the coach.
Before coming to Zimbabwe, De Villiers had coached rugby at the highest level, taking charge of one of the biggest sporting brands in international sport, the Springboks.
As Bok coach, he won five out of 11 Tests against the All Blacks, a better record than most South Africa coaches in recent times.On top of that, De Villiers led the Boks to a Tri-Nations win in 2009, as well a series win over the British and Irish Lions that same year, quite handsome returns for a coach who probably deserved far more credit that he got.
And he had also coached South Africa at the World Cup, in 2011. Coming to coach international minnows Zimbabwe amid hype, something so critical was however buried underneath the euphoria.
For a man of his credentials — who had coached some of the best players in the world at the pinnacle level of the sport — it became clearer that De Villiers was not as hungry as we all were in Zimbabwe in pursuit of the World Cup ticket.
That De Villiers had little to no motivation to deliver Zimbabwe’s first World Cup since 1991 was extensively highlighted in this newspaper during the Capetonian’s dreadful reign here. Before the qualifiers had even begun and then throughout the disastrous campaign, we took a firm stance, questioning the strength of the squad that De Villiers had showed faith in — advice that fell on deaf ears.
De Villiers’ assistant, former Zimbabwe captain Brendan Dawson — a past successful head coach of the Sables in his own right — fell out acrimoniously with the South African and was removed from his position at the behest of De Villiers after he had vainly attempted to use his local knowledge and wealth of experience to influence key decisions.
Dawson was accused by De Villiers of undermining his authority.One former international player I spoke to during that time said he found De Villiers’ attitude “a little condescending” in his approach to the Zimbabwe job and “insensitive” to the wishes of the country’s rugby community.
Could this be the same attitude of Zdravko Logarusic, the little-known Croatian who was surprisingly appointed Zimbabwe’s new football coach last week?
How on earth does one accept the very important job of national coach of another country and the first public statement they make is to rule out the team’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup?
In an interview with Ghanaian media last week, Logarusic said he did not believe the Warriors can top their qualifying pool, Group G, ahead of the West Africans — effectively throwing in the towel before the campaign has even started.
Is this the general feeling of the Zimbabwean public that the Warriors cannot, or should not, harbour any ambitions, of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup?
Zifa could perhaps furnish us the answers here, if indeed in the job interview this new coach had expressed his reservation with the team’s strength and how then the association had seen it fit to appoint him nonetheless.
Like De Villiers, Logarusic’s right-hand man will be a local man who has enjoyed some success before as the team’s head coach. So by right Joey Antipas — who presided over a historic away win in Zambia last year — will have quite a lot to say in the changing room about tactics and team selection.
One hopes that the attitude the Croatian has come in with, a rather low opinion of our team which should never be mistaken for realism, will not have an effect on his ability to listen to good advice from those around him.
It could prove to be his downfall, just like De Villiers.