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A sore loser, and proud of it

Submitted by on Saturday, 21 March 2009No Comment
A sore loser, and proud of it

Joost van der Westhuizen talks about Kamp Staaldraad, fame and the media, and being a scrumhalf who can go both ways.

Suddenly you are appearing in the popular press for all the wrong reasons. Normal people don’t find themselves in these situations – what’s really going on?

I think somewhere in the past I have done something very wrong to somebody. I get attacked business-wise, in my private life, in my individual life and it’s been going on for three years now. Whatever I do, I seem to get blocked and slammed. But I think we are getting to the bottom of it.

Is that you in the video?

No .

You were such a high-profile rugby player. After your rugby career ended, how difficult was it to adjust?

It was very difficult. It took me about a year-and-a-half to comprehend what life was all about. Remember I had just got married and my wife fell pregnant. For the first time in my life I realised what it was like to care for somebody. The professional era of rugby was very false. But I thought itwas life; because everybody wrote about me; everybody talked about me: everybody wanted my autograph: it was all me, me, me. The only person I cared about was myself. I can understand when people say I was arrogant because I was but I never knew it. Then when I had my first child with Amor, I couldn’t believe I could love somebody so unconditionally. I realised what bread cost; what milk cost; what nappies cost. When you are a pro player you just have money and buy, buy, buy. Suddenly I realised I wasn’t a human being at all. Then life started.

You were the Blue Bulls’ favourite son. What was that like?

Well, me and my wife never went out for dinner because it would always become a signing session. Same thing if we went shopping. We didn’t mind when it happened because it was our choice. But now that we live in Johannesburg, I find people respect our privacy far more. When they greet us they have manners and they don’t cramp our space. So now I see how claustrophobic it was in Pretoria.

Other teams have talent, success, etc but they don’t have the same fanatical support as the Bulls. Why do you think their supporters are so fanatical?

I think for many of those people, they only have two things in their lives: a song called De La Rey and rugby. I don’t think it is healthy.

You are physically large compared with traditional South African scrumhalves. How did this affect your game?

The game has changed. When I started I was allowed to be creative and being big helped; but when it went professional, I just became a link. For instance, Nick Mallett asked me to pass the ball and not to break because when I did he said I ran away from my support. So in the beginning it was nice to be big and strong, because then I could break and get my forwards over the advantage line. But as I say, the game has changed; like now with Fourie du Preez and his kicking.

Talking about kicking – you were leftfooted, which is the wrong kicking foot for a scrumhalf.

Correct – a scrum half must kick right. When I played under-15, I could also only pass left. So my coaches said I must become a complete scrumhalf and after school they taught me to pass right and kick right with medicine balls and special exercises. In the end my left foot was for my distance kicking and my right foot for tac tical kicking and I could go both ways.

What made you so competitive?

I’m a self-confessed bad loser; but there is no difference between a “winning only” character and a, “reaching goals and success” character. So by saying I’m a bad loser, I’m actually saying I like to reach my goals and nothing is going to stop me.

It appears no one did stop you. You scored 38 tries for SA, the most ever scored by a Springbok, and you have scored the most Test tries by a scrumhalf.

It ‘s all about peripheral vision; about understanding your position and being a team player. I never did it for myself – I did it for the team.

When you look back, do you have a favourite?

Yes, at the end of 1995 we toured the UK. In the Test against England at Twickenham I got the ball from a prop and I broke. I had to jink and jive; kick; push away tacklers; dodge players; chip the ball – it was like a dog competition for humans. I had to use most of my skills to score it.

Against Wales you scored a hat trick at Cardiff Arms Park. Tell me about that.

T hat’s something no one can take away from me. I’m the only international player to have scored three tries in a match at the old Cardiff Arms Park and because the stadium no longer exists, my record can never be broken. After the game I got Gareth Edwards’s autograph – he was always my hero – and he signed and wrote, “With admiration”.

Who was the best scrumhalf you ever came up against?

Nick Farr-Jones. He was tactically brilliant; he was difficult to catch and he wasn’t interested in physical battles. He just played his game and outsmarted everybody. He was also an absolute gentleman – the way he talked to people; the way he talked about people; he was an inspiration.

You were so good – after all you’ve been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame; opposition players must have tried to intimidate you. What was the worst thing that happened to you on a rugby field?

In 1992 I was selected as a junior Springbok and we played against New Zealand. I had the utmost respect for Zinzan Brooke, but as he broke around the scrum and I tackled him, he fell on top of me and pushed my face into the grass and then said, “Don’t try and be a racist on this pitch.” That was my introduction to international rugby. But also once in Bloemfontein we played Wales and the hooker just gave me a huge snotklap … (laughs)

You picked up your fair share of injuries; how do they affect you now?

Yes, I broke my collar bone, broke my finger, stuffed my hamstrings, and tore my ligaments. The worst was the three operations on my right knee. But it’s OK now. I can run and I still sometimes play rugby for the Springbok Legends.

When you started as an amateur what were you doing for a living?

I was a student. My career was 50% amateur and 50% professional. In the beginning I didn’t earn a lot. But in 1996 we suddenly got big money.

What was big money?

Well some guys got between R2m and R4m for three-year contracts. But it caused a big rift between the guys who won the World Cup (1995), and the guys trying to become Springboks. Money changed the game from a team sport into one for individuals. Players largely play for themselves now.

You played under a number of coaches…

Yes – seven different coaches. I played under Ian Macintosh, Kitch Christie, Andre Markgraaff, Nick Mallett, Carel du Plessis, Harry Viljoen and Rudolf Straeuli. You know people don’t realise that when you have a new coach he has new ideas. he needs to learn about the players, they have to learn about him, he has to get everyone’s buy-in and it takes a long time for it to work.

Did you have problems with any of them?

No -except forNick Mallett at the end. Under him I sat on the bench for six months, which was very frustrating. But otherwise in their own way they were all fine.

You supported Kamp Staaldraad at the time. It was subsequently universally condemned. How did that affect your views on it?

I hate lies. The media reported it wrongly. It was the best time of my life – it made me tough and I think that’s why I’m coping now with all this other nonsense. It was total mind fitness. I came out a stronger person. A lot of guys couldn’t cope with it and used the media to explain their failure. When we left Kamp Staaldraad we were ONE team. We could have won anything. But before we could cement that oneness, we stopped at Warmbaths and the guys saw the dishonest stuff that had been written by Mark Keohane. He contacted people individually to support his rubbish. Then the team split. Remember that before it started, SARU signed it off. Every single thing about that camp, they signed off. Where are those documents?

You don’t like Keohane?

The darkest day in South African rugby history was when Mark Keohane was appointed media liaison for the Springboks. Every confidential meeting we had was in the press the next morning. The guys then started to doubt each other. And then when the Argus bought the tape from a guy who three weeks later killed himself, it showed me how rotten things were. Video operator Dale McDermott was on Kamp Staaldraad and he sold the tape for about 30 grand. He then later shot himself.

OK, but why do you think they tried to rubbish Kamp Staaldraad?

That is a long story and there are still many, many unanswered questions. But fundamentally I think the problem started with the players who failed at Kamp Staaldraad, and were then scared it would come out and they would be shown up. So the best way was to mock it and destroy it.

Tell me about your famous tackle on Jomo Lomu.

We were so ready; we would have tackled each other for a chance to get at him. My job was to look after Andrew Mehrtens and as crossdefence, to look after Lomu.When I saw Mehrtens giving an inside pass to him, I realised I had two choices. Either my name was going to be Michael Catt for the rest ofmy life or Iwas going to take him out. I took him out.

Not many people know you were injured when you played in the 1995 World Cup. Tell me about that.

I totally broke my rib in the playoff against France. When the doctor told me I was badly injured, I said, “Please Doc -just keep it quiet.” I wasn’t going to miss the final. He said, “OK – but only to a point.” That week I trained with injections and I managed alright. So 10 minutes before the big match I had seven injections around my rib and we strapped it. And then at half-time I had another seven injections. I played the whole of the final with a broken rib.

At the recent Stormers-Bulls game, Luke Watson had a go at the crowd. What ‘s your comment on that?

I feel sorry for him. He doesn’t know what he is doing. Remember he was born long after apartheid -he doesn’t know what it was. I think he has to get out from under his dad’s wing and make his own mistakes.

To digress for a moment – you and your wife have been accused of courting the press. But now when it comes back and bites you, you say it’s unfair. What is your comment on that?

Yes; they call us “media sluts”. Amor is an artist and she needs media to help sell her CDs. But there is a difference between people phoning us to ask for an interview or to be on a cover; and us asking them to put us there. We never ever asked to be in their magazines. They always asked us. They also never tell you how many times we turned down requests. And don’t forget that the reason they want us, is to sell more of their publications.So when they call us “media sluts”, I don’t think it’s fair.

What is your opinion of the press?

(Laughs) …

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