Discipline begins at home
Stephen Nell
August 2, 2010
South Africa coach Peter de Villiers watches on, New Zealand v South Africa, Tri-Nations, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, July 17, 2010
Peter De Villiers has again been at the centre of controversy © Getty Images

SANZAR's decision to call Springbok coach Peter De Villiers to a hearing over comments allegedly made about referees highlights the desperate need for South African rugby to embrace a culture of discipline.

I did not see the programme in which De Villiers made his alleged remarks and I guess one could only surmise from a viewing of the tape at Fox Sports whether it constituted a breach of the code of conduct. However, I do wish I had a a pound for every time I heard a South African rugby fan offer the view that there is some kind of conspiracy among the world's referees to disadvantage our teams.

First it was thought to be an Antipodean thing - the Aussies and Kiwis, I suppose, held clandestine meetings in some dark room and decided that their refs will nail us - and now it has been extended to include Irishmen. Frankly, I find the culture of little or no respect for match officials in South African rugby deeply disturbing. It's one thing to question a referee's interpretations at the breakdown but quite another to question his integrity when decisions go against you.

I have seen quite enough of Alain Rolland to know that he is a very competent referee. He may or may not have had an off day in the clash between the Springboks and All Blacks two weeks ago, but that's just the way it is. The key question is always whether a referee's decisions led to the wrong team winning the match. New Zealand deserved their victories and for anyone to put it down to refereeing is disgusting, and insulting to the quality of the All Blacks' performance.

One thing I have learned about Peter De Villiers is that a lot of what he says gets lost in translation at source. He thinks in Afrikaans, verbalises those thoughts in English in front of the international media and sometimes just rambles on as a result. SANZAR should therefore carefully consider the facts before finding him guilty on a breach of the code of conduct.

Not that De Villiers has not been courting disaster. The world saw Bakkies Botha's appalling act as he headbutted Jimmy Cowan from behind, yet the Springbok camp wanted to draw our attention to the fact that the All Black scrum-half deserved to be penalised for tugging at the lock's jersey. If it takes that little to trigger a fit of rage and serious act of violence, there surely there can be no place for Botha in international rugby.

De Villiers should also realise that respect is earned. The Springbok camp demanded an apology - and got it - after former Wallaby hooker Brendan Cannon had called the coach a "clown" on TV. If Cannon did not apologise, it was reported, there would be no more interviews. So are South Africa now in the business of eliciting apologies by threat? Apologise or are we going to know if someone means that they are sorry?

I found this deeply troubling, as I did last week's report of a schoolboy assaulting a referee and the attack on former referee Dave McHugh when the Springboks played the All Blacks in Durban in 2001. So too the pathetic 'Justice 4 Bakkies' armband protest in last year's series against the British & Irish Lions.

The fact that a team was allowed to enter the playing area with those armbands pointed to a serious failure in the leadership and management of the side. Some recent events have just highlighted this disturbing lack of discipline in South African rugby. Not only is it impacting negatively on the Springboks' performances, but it is also reducing a great rugby nation to a laughing stock.

The South African Rugby Union's appointment of Jurie Roux - senior director of finances and asset management at Stellenbosch University - as CEO should hopefully go some way to addressing these kind of issues.

Apart from being an astute business person, Roux is chairman of the university's rugby club - one of the biggest rugby clubs in the world - vice-president of the Western Province Rugby Football Union and chairman of Varsity Cup. I believe he will gain the respect of the international rugby community very quickly. At home one of his first tasks will be to establish a culture of discipline.

Stephen Nell is the rugby correspondent for the Rapport newspaper in South Africa

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