Bad week for SA rugby

Harare – The gruesome murder of Solly Tyibilika, the first black player to score a Test try for the Springboks, could not have come at a worse time for the South African rugby family. The 32-year-old died under a hail of gunfire from two gunmen in Cape Town’s Gugulethu township, in an apparent hit linked to the murder of Tyibilika’s two friends in the same city in recent weeks. Soon after retired superstar Victor Matfield sparked divisions by reveling in his autobiography that he had an altercation with 2007 World Cup-winning coach Jake White, Tyibilika’s murder has further put a damper on SA rugby. The South African Rugby Union led the tributes to Tybilika, with SARU president Oregan Hoskins saying the Springboks had lost a trailblazer. “To lose him so suddenly and in this brutal manner is very distressing. “The casual disregard for life in our society is shocking,” said Hoskins. “His emergence was a demonstration of what can be achieved when talent is combined with opportunity in what is always a very competitive position in Springbok rugby. “I remember a very talented player and an immensely likable young man who rose far and fast to become a Springbok early in his career.” Tyibilika made his professional debut for the Griquas in 2001, then played for Lions and the Sharks and made his Springboks debut against Scotland in 2004. He scored the historic try on his debut, in what was to be a very short eight-cap Bok career. That try changed the mindset of a nation that was struggling to improve the dodgy race relationships that have always dogged the Springboks. In the just-ended season, he played for Hamiltons, a club in Cape Town. Tyibilika left behind a wife and two children and a nation in shock. Interestingly, Tybilika and two of his friends, who were later murdered, were arrested in Cape Town for possessing an unlicenced firearm after their car was stopped by police one night while driving without headlights on. The trio was released on R800 bail on October 19 and they were set to return to court next year. Witnesses of the shooting on November 13 told media in Cape Town that the gunmen asked other patrons to clear the way before they repeatedly took aim at their target. South Africa’s rugby family will feel it has been a difficult week after superstar lock Matfield, who quit the Boks after the end of their World Cup campaign having played a record 110 Tests for the team, said he had a difficult relationship with 2007 World Cup-winning coach White. In his autobiography, “Victor: My Journey,” Matfield revealed that, shortly after their triumph at the 2007 World Cup, White tried to manhandle him at a golf day. “Jake exploded. He jumped over the table and grabbed me by the collar,” Matfield says in his book. According to Matfield, they were in the bar in the early hours of the morning, discussing who should succeed White in the hot seat of the Springbok’s coach. Matfield reveals in his book that White wanted Allister Coetzee to replace him. The Springbok lock then told White that while Coetzee was a good candidate for the job, Bulls’ coach Heyneke Meyer was better. He told the outgoing gaffer: “Jack, you’ve had success with the Boks but I’ve been coached by both you and Heyneke, and he is the best coach I’ve worked with.” It was at this point that he says White exploded and grabbed him by the collar. However, the duo reportedly made up the following day with the coach apologizing for his outburst. Matfield also claims White ordered him to cut his long hair and change his attitude. But White has dismissed some of the contents of Matfield’s book. “There is some truth to what Victor has written, but he hasn’t revealed the full extent of why I had problems with his attitude,” White told The Times. “I think he has some selective memory about some of the incidents, but I can confirm we had a meeting with Heyneke Meyer and we did have an altercation at Fancourt, although my recollection of the reasons for the incident are different to Victor’s.  “It’s all in the past and there is no need to dwell on it. I wish Victor well with his book and his career.”   Matfield also uses his book to touch on the sensitive subject related to retired skipper John Smit’s contribution to the Boks’ cause at the 2011 World Cup. Many Boks fans believe Bismarck du Plessis should have been preferred ahead of Smit. “One thing is certain: we didn’t lose the World Cup because John was the first-choice hooker,” Matfield writes in his book. “I believe most of the players supported Peter’s (coach de Villiers) decision to stick with John, and I take my hat off to Bismarck and his brother Jannie for handling the situation so well. “They could easily have been disgruntled and jeopardized the team spirit, but they didn’t.” Matfield concedes that the captaincy of the team turned into an emotional subject ahead of the 2011 World Cup but praises de Villiers for sticking with Smit. “It was probably the most important decision Peter had to take in his four years as Bok coach,” writes Matfield. “John was willing to move to the bench or withdraw completely – whatever was best for the Boks.  “I didn’t think it was a good idea to name a new captain a few weeks before the start of the World Cup, so I suggested that John and Peter devise a plan whereby John would start in some of the games and Bismarck in others.”

November 2011
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