As well as looking back on his time as Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers looks at the state of the current game and thinks players need to be a louder voice in Rugby.
It’s got to be said: we need to see more input from players in the global game.
I’m all for keeping stakeholders happy but players have been marginalised; they are massive stakeholders and they need to be included in major decisions.
In the past, too many decisions have been made without the input of the player-base. If we want to take the game forward, these are the people administrators need to speak to, to know where the game should go and the optimal way of getting there.
The game is very commercial at the moment and it is largely driven by the privately-owned clubs who are able to pay out heaps of money for individuals. The pinnacle of the game is the Rugby World Cup and International Test matches. Make no mistake about it.
However, with players being offered so much money from club owners, you might get a situation where club rugby is more important the international game. Look at the football model where players are getting more money from the clubs and, as a result, winning games for their national side may not be such a priority. That could be a risk in the future.
But I’m just a traditionalist. I love watching rugby. I just like to see good quality Rugby played well in front of a full stand.
And that’s another thing. We need to fill up stadiums around the world. I think there’s too much Rugby and it always comes down to the brand of Rugby that you’re playing and the product you’re delivering. Is that a product that people want to see and go to the stadium to experience? In some regions, I think the answer at the moment is “no”.
I look at the NFL. It’s a good example. Players aren’t over-loaded and it has a huge amount of high-quality games every year. In terms of quality versus quantity, I think our game is going for quantity at the moment.
There’s a lot to think about here.
It takes some time to adapt post-Rugby.
Citadel is a wealth management business working mostly with South African clients. Within the wider group, they have a Philanthropy division working with non-profits, which I head up nationally.
It’s something I really enjoy; it’s rewarding on the one side but in South Africa we have a lot of problems in terms of unemployment and education, so being able to help with all of that and create change in our country is something I enjoy.
I get motivation and stimulation from a different source now. Rugby is great and will always be my passion but sometimes you forget to develop in other areas a bit more. Being part of a corporate entity and helping with the Philanthropy really works.
I also work for South African broadcaster Supersport where I get to review my former teams in terms of Super Rugby and the Springboks. And being honest, that’s been tough.
Many of the players are my friends. It’s difficult when a guy isn’t playing well or when the team is poor to then criticise the way they’re doing things. But then again, it’s all about how you get that message across and not get personal. Something might not have gone well – but you need to provide a solution rather than criticising for the sake of criticising.
But coming up with solutions to turn around the current state of affairs in South African Rugby is not easy. It’s been difficult, given the history of SA Rugby compared to where we are now. We’re in a situation where we haven’t experienced in the professional era.
We have to make the best decisions for SA Rugby. I certainly don’t have all the solutions and the answers and I think SARU is trying to fix all the issues.
But what I do know is that we need stability. There hasn’t been stability around the national side for the last 24 months. It’s very hard for a player to be confident when you don’t know who’s going to be the coach? They’re asking themselves who’s gonna be there next week? Will I be there next week?!
Politics and sport must not mix. If you can strip politics out of sport you will get the optimum performance from players and coaches. If you can separate those two, I think the world game would be in a much better space.
I remember my 101st cap for South Africa the best. Test number 101.
I played my 100th test the week before in New Zealand but I celebrated properly the week later when I ran out at Newlands, Cape Town with my two daughters. My wife was there too, she was in the stands, pregnant with my son and my parents, brother and friends were all there. I scored two tries as we beat Australia in the stadium where I grew up learning to play Rugby. It was the perfect day. I probably should have retired after that!
But man, the friends that you make in Rugby is what the sport is all about.
Not only in South Africa. The year I spent playing for Munster in Ireland was incredible. I went back there in November around the internationals and took a spin down to Limerick to meet up with some of the guys. To go to war with guys you don’t really know but then meet them later for a beer represents the beauty of what Rugby is about, for me.
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