Peter de Villiers - The People's Coach.
Stephen Nell
January 27, 2008

"It's difficult to say who is going to be in for the biggest shock - Springbok coach Peter de Villiers or South Africa's players". Stephen Nell talks to the new man at the helm of the World Champions.

De Villiers, 50, the country's first black Springbok coach, has talked a good game since assuming duties. He believes the All Blacks are beatable on their home turf, reckons the media can be a friend, and wants to unite all South Africans behind the Springbok team.

Lofty ideals indeed, but De Villiers himself comes through a school of hard knocks, including his as an 11-year-old being forcibly removed with his family from their home in Paarl to comply with South Africa's Group Areas Act under Apartheid.

De Villiers came through South Africa's non-racial rugby structures and as a younger man supported Wales.

He had many scrapbooks on the Springboks, but asked his mother to burn them when he underwent training as a teacher in Kimberley in the late 1970s.

"Between 1977 and 1992, when unity was finally achieved, I did not follow Springbok rugby," De Villiers recalls.

"The white rugby players of the time represented the views of the white politicians and I felt aggrieved that I was not reckoned as a human being because of the colour of my skin.

"If I associated with them, it would be an acceptance of their view that they didn't accept me, and that would have been bad for my self-esteem. I had a saying back then, 'I know what I am and I don't give a damn'."

These days, however, De Villiers cares passionately about Bok rugby and nothing would please him more than uniting all South Africans - black and white - behind the Springboks.

This effort will include a charm offensive, which will mean opening the gates of Springbok training sessions and bringing in busloads of children.

Historically, New Zealand could count on significant support in the Republic, but De Villiers is about to take on the challenge of changing that.

"The All Blacks know they can count on 50% of South Africa's support if they come here. We want to change that. They have to know it's going to be tough when they come here," says De Villiers.

"South Africa close their training sessions on their home turf, but the All Blacks sometimes open theirs. They buy their support.

"If you hold a closed training session, it really is secretive. You can't keep people away from the thing they really love. That way you just turn them into supporters of other countries."

There was a mixed reaction in South Africa to De Villiers's appointment. While some recognised the potential that a black coach had to offer in terms of nation building, others put it down to negative political meddling.

However, De Villiers's credentials are good. He won the under-21 world championship with the South Africa under-21 side in 2005 and they finished as runners-up in 2006. He is also a former Bok assistant coach, having worked under Nick Mallett in 1997.

Last year he was coach of the Emerging Springboks side that won the IRB's Nations Cup.

"Anybody is entitled to an opinion, but that's all it is," he says in response to some of the criticism.

"That's why I don't read newspapers - because I don't want to hear how good or bad I am. I already know that.

"All I will say is that after all those opinions I'm not going to walk away from this job. I'm going to make a success of it."

De Villiers aims to draw up rankings lists of players in every position and even making these available to the South African media.

He will not necessarily pick the top-ranked player because under his regime a player's attitude to fans will be extremely important.

"If a guy's attitude is not right, and he does not have time for children, I can't make him a Springbok," says De Villiers.

As for the idea of beating the All Blacks on their home turf, De Villiers says: "Man for man they aren't more talented than South Africans, so yes, I think we can beat them."

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