Peter Bills: Dreamer Peter de Villiers may yet rule World
In the world of Peter de Villiers, the clowns wear business suits and the workers, red noses.
The South African rugby coach has never allowed reality to interfere with his take on a certain situation. Facts and figures are unwelcome intruders.
Thus, the first black man ever to coach the Springboks came out with some pearls of wisdom at the end of their tour of the northern hemisphere, which concluded with a defeat to the Barbarians last weekend.
The defeat of any international team by an invitation side ought to raise eyebrows anywhere in the world. Yet De Villiers greeted his team’s 26-20 defeat with the surprising comment “Our youngsters did very well today.”
And then there was more. “This is a good place to be” he said, of the South Africans’ position at the end of 2010, just ten months before they defend their world crown at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand starting next September.
Alas, there is always some damn nuisance who wants to make a sunny sky cloud over by introducing facts into the argument. Dastardly types!
But try these facts for starters. In the last 12 months, the South Africans have made two tours to the northern hemisphere. On those trips, they have lost Test matches to France, Ireland and Scotland, plus two midweek games to Leicester Tigers and Saracens.
Then there was this year’s Tri-Nations. By the end of it, with the New Zealanders having run away with the title, the Springboks had lost five of their six matches. A solitary victory over Australia in Pretoria this September was their sole success in the entire competition. They finished bottom of the table, stuck in a heap of ignominy.
From there, Peter de Villiers calculates that his team is in “a good place”. Oh well, perhaps we should allow dreamers their fantasies. After all, with Russian shells falling within earshot of his bunker, Hitler reckoned the Nazis’ secret weapons would still turn World War 2 around.
But you know what? I for one would not dismiss South Africa’s chances of becoming the first rugby nation in history to successfully defend their world title. They won’t do it, of course, by playing brilliant, exciting, attacking rugby. Not a chance in hell.
All they’ll do is select a huge pack, ask them to beat up the opposition as they did England at Twickenham two weeks ago, and get fly half Morne Steyn to kick penalty goals.
It will be about as subtle as a sledge hammer cracking the Christmas nuts. But it could work. It looks at this stage as though the Springboks will meet New Zealand in the semi-final (if both win their groups and quarter-finals). Imagine a match as tight as a glove; say, 13-12 to New Zealand with 15 minutes left.
Will the All Blacks still be running ball from their 22 in those circumstances? Will they not feel the searing weight of expectation upon their shoulders? And imagine the Springboks being awarded a penalty minutes from the end. It isn’t hard to imagine Steyn kicking it to snatch victory.
Apparently, strange things happen in Peter de Villiers’ mind. But even stranger things can happen at World Cups.