Irish Examiner sports column July 3 2009

July 16, 2009

Post-game talk out
of Africa catches the eye

W E’RE going to kick off
proceedings with the most
unlikely call to arms you’re going to hear this week: let’s hear it for Peter de Villiers.

The South Africa rugby coach
produced that rarity last weekend, the interesting post-game press conference after the Springboks had beaten the Lions in the second test, when he suggested that trying to flip someone’s eyes out of their sockets was in fact part of the game of rugby.

Predictably, the remarks caused some annoyance, with Lions coaching staff and players quick to condemn the comments; presumably Luke
Fitzgerald, the Lion who had enjoyed Schalk Burger’s attempts to get a pesky speck of grime off his eyeball, didn’t appreciate them much either. (Lest you think we’re making light of Fitzgerald’s experiences, take this as a side order of perspective: Schalk Burger is about six foot four, and as a professional rugby player has spent many years lifting weights as a matter of course. As a matter of specifics, he has probably pursued a specialised
exercise regime to increase the power of his grip and finger strength for tackling purposes. That speck never stood a chance.)

The shine of de Villiers’ comments has dulled somewhat since then, given that he’s had to retract them, but in a hidden corner of our hearts there will always be a warm glow in memory of the man who decided to enliven the weariness of the post-game hunt for quotations.

It’s almost always an anodyne string of cliches so stunningly bereft of life that the listeners end up surmising that the person melting their
microphones is also asleep and has pupils daubed in make-up on their eye-lids to hide that fact.

If you can divorce yourself from
polite society and don a journalist’s shoes for a minute (and for no longer than that, promise), last Saturday’s solo run from de Villiers was like an all-you-can-carry sprint around the storeroom of the biggest diamond mine in Kimberley (see what I did there).

Instead of the usual soupy bucket of fronting up and no backward steps and all of that business, somebody actually said something that normal human beings would find interesting.

Lamentably, there are a couple of unfortunate aspects to de Villiers rush of blood.

First off, we acknowledge that de Villiers’ comments about eye-gouging being part of the game of rugby were inappropriate and untrue.

Those remarks also amounted to an open invitation to opponents to
slip an enormous thumb or two into his players’ corneas and therefore not likely to please anyone — his
own team least of all — as well
as bringing an entire sport into
disrepute.

Also, it’s not as if Pete doesn’t have a bit of previous. He already had the prospect of a little chat coming up with his employers on foot of a few other comments about one of his players, Ricky Januarie.

A COUPLE of weeks ago, in a
long, drawn-out metaphor that
rambled around like Kitty the Hare on a sponsored walk, de Villiers drew some kind of tortured analogy which involved people going to white mechanics and black mechanics, and what those mechanics would say about your car, and who people trusted and who they didn’t, all by way of affirming his continuing faith in
Januarie’s ability. (He dropped Januarie for the next game).

And last, de Villiers has done everybody a disservice by offering coaches and players a template to avoid when it comes to commenting on games.

It’s easy to say that there’s no place for those comments in the first place and that no responsible coach would have said anything like that: de Villiers himself is proof of that.

But it shows how starved we are of interesting post-game discussion
when half-baked nonsense such as
de Villiers’ came up with last
weekend looms that large on the agenda.

If you don’t believe us, consider the big talking point in New Zealand rugby this week: why more All Blacks don’t sing along with their anthem before games.

Want to bet Pete comes up with something better than that this
weekend?

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie;

twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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