‘Roaches’ doomed Du Preez

Gavin Rich

It must be close to 25 years ago to the month that the late South African Rugby Football Union president Dr Louis Luyt addressed a party of media people covering the 1994 Springbok tour of New Zealand.

Luyt had just returned to New Zealand from South Africa, where he had given rise in media interviews to plenty of speculation that Ian McIntosh, Bok coach at the time, was going to be sacked. The Boks had lost the series but there was still one Test match and a provincial game or two to go so it should have been understandable that when he was asked the question, he answered like he did.

“We are on a tough tour, we can’t keep putting the coach under so much pressure. He won’t be sacked now.”

Those might not have been the exact words but they were pretty close to it. There was definitely the word “now” in it because it was his use of that word – Luyt was clever with words – that prompted me to approach Luyt with a private question, while the rest of the South African hacks were rushing off to file pieces saying that McIntosh’s job was safe.

“Doc, you keep saying you can’t sack Mac now. Does that mean that you can’t sack him now while he is on tour, but it may be a different story when he gets back home?”

Luyt looked at me long and hard before eventually deciding that honesty was the best policy. He confirmed my interpretation as the correct one. It was why my story on that press conference differed from others. And sure enough, McIntosh was axed when the tour was over.

I thought of that this week when I saw the reaction of Sharks chief executive Gary Teichmann to media questions about the status of under-fire coach Robert du Preez.

“Robert is the coach and has our full support. I also believe NOW is not the time to comment on such matters. We only want to focus on rugby.”

The word ‘now’ wasn’t capped by Teichmann but by me. I just felt it should be emphasised, in case someone missed it like my fellow scribes did back in 1994. So what does Teichmann mean? What he means is that Du Preez is currently the Sharks coach, of course the Sharks will back him publicly or he will be due a big pay-out from them if or when they do sack him, and he’s currently in charge of a team that is about to play a quarter-final.

What Teichmann didn’t say but must surely have thought was “Why do you ask such a bloody stupid question? How else am I supposed to respond?”

I could write a book on questions asked of rugby players, personalities and coaches over the years that frankly were idiotic given the context. One that springs to mind was Victor Matfield, the Bok captain on the day, being asked after a loss to the Wallabies in Durban in 2008 whether he supported the coach, Peter de Villiers.

This was in a press conference and De Villiers was sitting right next to Matfield. Regardless of whether or not he supported the coach, there was surely only one way he was ever going to answer the question in that forum. And sure enough the lemmings all ran with the headline the next day, or a variant of it: “Boks back their coach!”

I’m not for one second suggesting Matfield didn’t back De Villiers. Just that regardless of what he really felt, it was hard to consider his response relevant. Was there any chance at all of him saying no?

Being a rugby scribe can be a frustrating business because if you do your job properly, and have the contacts and the ins to the camp, you are often privy to a story that would be easy to write if all your sources were happy to be quoted. But invariably they are not, and for obvious reasons.

In 1999 there was a Bok player who had massive problems with Nick Mallett, who was then the coach, and encouraged me to write it. I did, but then one day that same player was put in front of the television cameras and asked if the players supported the coach. His response: “Of course we do, I don’t know where the media gets the rubbish that they write”.

A couple of months later that same player called me out of a restaurant to have a private conversation. He said I was on the right track with my criticisms of Mallett (I was peeved that Teichmann had been dropped as Bok captain) and that many players supported my line. When asked about the television interview, he said “What was I supposed to say?” And he was right.

My mate Mike Greenaway has good sources for his line on Du Preez and the unhappiness with his coaching across many levels of Sharks rugby, from ex-players, current players and through the coaching staff to above that. I know this because I think we have the same sources and have written similar stories.

Greenaway knows that one of the first rules of journalism is that if you are prepared to dish it out you should be prepared to take it, so the King of Cockroaches, as he should henceforth be known, probably doesn’t mind that title.

But Du Preez referring to the media as coachroaches, not once but twice in recent times, might well provide the confirming ammunition for those who want him out. There’s a time and a place, and there have been many coaches and rugby people who have called me all sorts of things when they have phoned or approached me to disagree with what has been written. I’ve never had a problem with that. It’s their right to be angry.

Doing it at a formal press conference is different, and somehow referring to the fourth estate as cockroaches at this time when rugby should be doing everything it can to sell itself just seems too crude, too neanderthal (I can use that word if I am a cockroach) and too insulting for the Sharks coach to get away with. Do it in private, but not in a public forum.

If you disagree, imagine if we reversed roles now and the media started referring to Du Preez as a cockroach. As in “Cockroach selects Cockroach Junior – again!”

Surely that ends the argument. If Du Preez wasn’t on his way out the door before last Saturday, he should be now. We are no longer in an era where the coach can just be defined by what happens between the four lines, he also has to be seen to be selling the game and the brand. Du Preez’s deportment when facing the media, which is is his interface with the public and his team’s support base, does the opposite.

- Gavin Rich

Let's chat

  • boyo

    Thanks Gavin. I have read your book the Poisoned Chalice(great book) and you do mention a few incidents with angry coaches. The key is as you say they were private and if you doing your job correctly as a journalist some anger from coaches,players and administrators is inevitable. What we seeing from Du Preez is a complete lack of professionalism.

    It is hard to believe he is more professional in the relative privacy of the team environment than in a public forum so how does he react to anyone challenging him from within the team?

    I also feel Gary knows he has to go but is giving a answer appropriate to the timing of the question as you say. There is no mention of a contract that will be honored or something like that which would suggest a future just he is the coach currently.

    • Johan

      I have a great dislike of the cockroaches in the media these days. All they do is criticize, push their own agendas and try to influence public opinion.

      Du Preez is a coach, not a ceo, not a soft-spoken suck it up, PC speaking… Let me stop here.

      He is a coach, he has many years of coaching behind him and the cockroaches will hace to EAT their words, when the Sharks are the only SA team left in the competition.

      But, as usual they will never admit to being wrong, or apologize. They’ll just write a new story about something else…

      GOOD LUCK SHARKS, GIVE THEM HELL.

      from a lion supporter

      • Herman

        I’m a Lions supporter as well but disagree with your point of view. The Sharks, like all the SA teams, have been very poor if one takes the entire competition into account. One off moments of flash is offset by many moments of very poor rugby and gross inconsistency.

        The woeful game plan of RDP remained intact over his three years and was still obvious again in the QF yesterday. A toothless backline with no vision or collective skill. Forwards out muscled by Aussies ???? No Sir he was never equipped to coach the modern game. Totsiens. Cheers.

  • Barry

    Thanks Gavin, yes point taken, if nothing else, Teichmann is a gentleman and would not drag this matter into public!

    I do however hold the Board at the Sharks accountable for allowing Du Preez to drag the Franchise this far down into the dirt. They have given him way too much latitude and it would seem have been unable to reign him in at all.

    The fact that they have been able to advance this far into the competition speaks volumes about the class and character of the players, because quite simply, they have no attack strategy what so ever. This is a further issue that sits at the door of the Board at the Sharks. The team made the playoffs in 2018 primarily through the improvements in their attacking game – not an easy ask when you consider that they had virtually no first phase to work from in 2018! In acknowledgement of this, the Board at the Sharks watched Dick Muir walk off set with 25 years of IP in tow and appointed Nick Easter with what amounted to zero IP. No surprise, no attacking game is 2019!

    The point that I arrive it is. Where does this leave the Sharks in 2020? What IP or continuity will flow from one year to the next? The parts that have functioned well at the Union will have been forced out or left – Teichmann, Braam Van Straten, Ricardo Loupscher and the parts that have not functioned will either be sacked or be left standing. In simple terms zero continuity!

    • Herman

      Sad indeed Barry. It looks like the wheels are set to come off completely in Sharkland. Not good for SA rugby. Cheers.

    • boyo

      I agree on this Barry. Management should have insisted on a selection committee when he became coach but they folded under pressure from Du Preez. They let Muir leave when he wanted a selection committee. Now they have allowed a whole host of coaches to leave and may still ultimately fire Du Preez (surely it should have been one or the other) We have signed just one player since 2018 and a host of senior players are leaving.

      This is not something that happened overnight but has been created by years of inactivity from management

      • Dean Bright

        I’d like to see them bring Dick Muir as backline coach. Owen Mounemaine as defence coach. Dawie Theron in some capacity, as Junior Bok he was undefeated against NZ and won the Junior World Championship.

  • Johann

    Mike,

    You do understand that journalism by definition is a public forum. More to the point it is your voice and opinion, broadcast on that public forum.

    So why would you take issue when a coach voices his opinion on a public forum?

    • boyo

      I think you mean Gavin

      I agree that journalist rely on public platforms and should be open to a coach voicing his opinions via the same platform but when it becomes name calling Its very unprofessional either way and I only see one side calling the other cockroaches. No one seems to have minded Snr saying the Journalists were uninformed that is his right to respond being exercised.

      • Johann

        Yes I do mean Gavin – thanks.

        Look, I am not in favour of name calling, but let’s agree that this article is as damaging to Du Preez’s reputation – albeit more subversive and softer on the ear – than name calling.

        I guess I prefer it in the face as opposed to in the back.

        Journalists have been undermining players and coaches careers for years and calling it fair reporting. There are many ways to slander a person. This article is a case and point.

        • boyo

          I don’t disagree with your assertion that Journalists have undermined certain players and coaches but I don’t think that is the case here. Du Preez has a win record in the 45% region over three years and has shown a preference to start his under performing son. For me a journalist who doesn’t address that isnt doing his job.

          As for this article being slander It is certainly disparaging but as it is for the most part an analysis of actual quotes of Du Preez, Teichmann and Luyt I cant see how its slander to express the writers views on those. We tend to call that fair comment.

          Is the accusation of nepotism so without basis as to not amount to fair comment? Meaning not that the view is correct but that it is a reasonable view for a person to hold.

  • Johann

    Mike,

    You do understand that journalism by definition is a public forum. More to the point it is your voice and opinion, broadcast on that public forum.

    So why would you take issue when a coach voices his opinion on a public forum?

    As to selling a brand, that’s all good and well, but think what you want is a PC culture. I happen to enjoy his direct responses to the media even though I am not a huge fan of his selection policy.

    • Barry

      Think what you will Johann of his direct approach – my advise would be do not follow this path in your own career, because it will likely get you fired!

      The unwritten rules of decorum in public office are that you act in a gentlemanly manner and that you don’t resort to name calling! Those that stoop to these lower ebbs usually have not the capacity for the task at hand

  • Cobus Brits

    The no1 rule in any public setting is common decency.

    Though situations shows you have the character to handle it or not.

    Maybe Super rugby is a level too high for Robert Sr and needs a less stressful environment to learn that?

  • Gert

    The same clever Gavin Rich who 6 years ago wrote an article for supersport titled:

    “Venter seeks magical environment at Sharks”

    He did not blink an eye when the inexperienced Smith fired Plumtree.

    Nee wat Gavin. Du Preez is a rough diamond and we the public don’t give a snars about your brand. There are plenty of them out there and they sell your headlines: Michael Cheika, Eddie Jones, Jake White, Pieter Snorre and Brendan Venter, who, in that very same article said he doesn’t like speaking to the media. You and Mike Green should go for a course in emotional resillience and attend a Donald Trump press conference is a good start.

    The lady she protest to much I say.

  • John

    Grow a bloody backbone. If he’s fired for calling you lot cockroaches I will be very unhappy.
    Personally I hope they can make it to the finals somehow so that I can see him laugh at you guys next year too.

    • Herman

      Yeah right. They have been very poor and sneaked into the playoffs. They capitulated in typical fashion in the QF just like last year. The coach must take a major proportion of the blame and insulting people is hardly a sign of a mature individual in control of his feelings. Totsiens RdP you were always out of your depth. Cheers.

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