Seven stages of De Villiers
September 30, 2010
Peter De Villiers - class clown or mistaken genius? © Getty Images
So, Peter De Villiers lives to fight another day. It's not yet clear who he'll be fighting, the South African Rugby Union perhaps. Or Paddy O'Brien and the world's referees. Or assorted northern hemisphere coaches. What's certain is that the Springbok coach, whether you see him as a liability or misunderstood master, faces the most important tour of his tenure this November. In our latest Scrum Seven we take a look back at a potted history of the affectionately-known P-Divvy's time in charge of the Boks. There are some good points, some great points and several which to this day we don't quite understand.
Breaking the duck
De Villiers was handed an impossible task when he took the reins in 2008. Jake White had conquered the world in 2007 and his successor was thrust into the limelight with plenty of sniping about his credentials and a 'ringing' endorsement from SARU that the colour of his skin had been a factor in his appointment. The undoubted highlight of a mixed first season came in Dunedin, where Ricky Januarie's breathtaking individual try broke all manner of records by securing a 30-28 victory over New Zealand. It was their first win on New Zealand soil for a decade, their first win at Carisbrook in eight attempts and broke a world record 30-game unbeaten home streak for the All Blacks. A 19-0 hammering at Newlands would follow to wreck their hopes, while Januarie would retain a place close to the heart of the coach, if not Springbok fans and journalists.
Ending on a high
After their 2008 Tri-Nations petered out the Boks won unconvincingly against both Wales and Scotland, eking out a five point victory in Cardiff and a four point win in Edinburgh. The vultures appeared to be circling before De Villiers' side slapped a great big smiley face sticker over the crumbling visage of their tour by smashing England 42-6 at Twickenham. It was a game remembered in the north more for Danny Cipriani's latest charge-down but after they racked up five tries against their Rugby World Cup final opponents of 12 months earlier, the 2009 visit of the British & Irish Lions looked a more rosy proposition for South Africa.
Revenge, garages and gouging
A Lions tour is a special occasion and a brief chat with any of the leading Springboks in the year preceding their arrival confirmed that there would be a ferocious welcome for the Test match side. It resulted in two classic matches, both won by the Springboks, and revenge for 1997 but all too often the antics of De Villiers overshadowed the tour. His defence of Januarie's form brought strangled accusations of racism from the South African press, while the travelling British media spent as much time penning outraged pieces about his dismissal of Schalk Burger's pitifully meek eight-week gouging ban as they did eulogising about a dead-rubber win in the third Test.
The Lions dispatched, South Africa went in search of rugby's biggest game, the All Blacks. Perhaps De Villiers' greatest achievement to date came with their whitewashing of New Zealand, who had no complaints after being summarily outplayed in South Africa and edged out on home soil. The Tri-Nations title was secured for the first time since 2004 and De Villiers was able to sit back and watch plenty of people scoff down a portion of humble pie.
A tour to forget
The Springboks' jaunt to the north in 2009 was a trip too far for their ageing squad. With two midweek games thrown in for good measure, against Leicester and Saracens, it was a taxing itinerary for players who had been on the go since the start of the Super 14, which was of course won by a large number of the squad with the Bulls. The Test side lost to France and Ireland, the dirt trackers lost both of their midweek games. A solitary win over Italy ensured that a classic year in Springbok history ended on a bum note and set De Villiers up for a fall.
Them's the rules
Even the most ardent Springbok fan would not have called their Tri-Nations win in 2009 pretty. It was efficient and played to their strengths, which were made all the more potent by prohibitive tackle laws. When those prohibitive tackle laws were lifted, bad things happened for De Villiers and Co. A rollicking win over France in June 2010 proved to be a false dawn as first the All Blacks and later Australia ran rings around the Boks in the Tri-Nations thanks to their off-the-cuff style. Chuck in a couple of yellow cards and De Villiers going off on one about refereeing conspiracies against his side and you've got a potent mix. For the All Blacks, revenge wasn't so much served cold as dressed in oversized trousers and bearing a flower that squirted water.
Please, think before you speak
The conspiracy theory stuff can be filed away with many of De Villiers' other 'deviations from the norm' but his muddled musings on Bees Roux, the Bulls prop accused of murdering a police officer in Pretoria, crossed a line that he had always flirted with. His end-of-year performance review was amended to include his relationship with the media and he apparently survived after some 'frank discussions'. This was probably at the top of the agenda. Just under, 'Attendees'.
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