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A career in two halves

Submitted by on Saturday, 2 May 2009No Comment
A career in two halves

Bob Skinstad explains why he left SA — and what he had to do to catch up on his return.

In 2004 you terminated your contract with SA Rugby and went to play for Newport. Why?

I was probably a bit young and frustrated with the rugby environment. I had been playing professional rugby for almost ten years – right from school I had played in my final year for a scholarship to Stellenbosch; then I was paid to play there and in the end it got me down. I had more rugby experience than my years could deal with.

You only played nine games for Newport and then went to play part-time amateur rugby for Richmond. What were you doing with yourself at the time?

I worked at Saatchi& Saatchi in London. I also did some part-time commentating for Sky. And I started a company called Esportif which, when I came back here, I folded back into Saatchi & Saatchi because I wouldn’t have had time to run it and play rugby full time.

When you got back, what was the difference in fitness levels compared to your time at Richmond?

There was a whole sea change. The guys were younger, faster, fitter and stronger. I had to work very hard. I spent six to eight weeks in London working on my own with a friend who was a physiotherapist, training me. But it wasn’t even close to good enough. I had to graft big time when I got back. Fortunately I had a guy at the Sharks called Mark Steel, who was an exceptional fitness trainer, who worked hard with me and helped me get bigger and stronger to adapt to the different game. A lot of people contributed to my come back – it wasn’t just me.

Then in a classic part of your comeback, you were made captain against Australia when they wrote us off as a ‘B’ team. In the first part of the game at 17 – 0, we looked as if we were going to win it, but things seemed to fall apart and we lost 25 – 17. What happened?

Well, considering we were like fourth team dirt-trackers, we did bloody well. So things didn’t fall apart at all. I mean we had two yellow cards and the skipper (me) go off injured  – I collapsed under a pile of bodies and broke my rib- and we still only lost by 8 points. Yes at one stage it was going to be a fairy tale result, but all things considered, I still think we did bloody well.

From being an explosive impact ball player, you forced your way back in as a tight defending blindside flanker. How much was that planned and how much did you have to, because of your injured knee?

None of it was to do with my knee. All of it was to do with finding a place in the team where the Springboks and the Sharks needed me. I spent a bit of time working on where I could contribute, and that area was blindside flank. At the time we had AJ Venter at the Sharks who was playing more lock than anything else and we had a good young number eight. So I played blindside flank.

In a lovely ending to your career you got into the 2007 World Cup Squad. Then Jake White picked Wikus van Heerden and you didn’t make the final 22 – what was that like?

It was difficult. But if at the beginning of the year you had said I would play in a Super 14 final and be chosen for the Springbok Rugby World Cup squad, but not play in the final, I would have happily taken that. I also knew that if we had played Argentina or New Zealand in the final, then I would have played. But the game England was playing was much more structured and not so much the broken play where I thrived, so it suited Wikus much more. But I had a lot of good things happen to me that week, we won the World Cup and my wife delivered a bouncing baby boy.

Will he be a rugby player?

Not sure, but at the moment I’m teaching him how to surf so I can travel the world and watch him compete…

Your mother is Irish and in your first start for the Springboks against Ireland at Lansdowne road you scored a try. How did that feel?

Yes, she was born in County Louth. So given the connection, playing against Ireland was a great thing for me; especially as they made me man of the match as well.

In your day, for many people you were the Golden pin up boy. But you also took a lot of flak from crowds at places like Loftus and in the papers, how did you feel about that?

Well luckily I was told very early on that DDBH – ‘Don’t believe the Hype’. I mean when I was nineteen, one journalist wrote, that the only thing I couldn’t do was walk on water. Ten years later the same guy was writing that I was a divisive prick who was going to be the downfall of the wonder boy Rudolf Straeuli. Also I remember once when Western Province thrashed the Blue Bulls at Loftus, I went out to dinner in Pretoria with my parents. Well a huge brawny Afrikaans guy came across and said, ‘We have never been beaten like that and you guys are amazing. Please don’t come and do it again, but I would like to pay for your dinner.’

You appeared to be one of Nick Mallets’ favourites – he dropped Andre Venter for you, when many people thought Venter should have played. What was your relationship like with Nick?

My relationship was very good with Nick – he was a very good coach. Although I think he got caught up in the hype around how well the team had done. I do believe he made the wrong decision taking me to the World Cup. But as a player you don’t call the coach and say don’t pick me over another guy; then you seem to spend the rest of your career apologising for not doing just that (laughs). But at that World Cup we had a very good chance of winning it. There was that incredible last minute drop kick from the Aussies, which was the only thing between us and a date in the final against an under strength French team, who had just had a murderous game against the All Blacks. But I was still too young to think for a second that there were people who didn’t want me there. Later I became more realistic and cynical.

Apparently you objected to the traditional Springbok initiation when you were picked – why was that?

Well I didn’t, so that’s bullshit. I was initiated into the Springboks very proudly in the traditional manner. I was part of a group of people who mediated that initiation, because not every faction of South Africa believes in physical abuse. But I come from a boarding school background and have been thrashed my whole life, so I was certainly not scared of someone initiating me into a team.

You played a number of games for The Barbarians and captained them on occasion – what was that like compared to captaining the Springboks – bearing in mind you were the youngest Springbok captain of all time?

It was a tremendous honour – in fact I think I am the most capped modern Barbarian. I love their celebration of free flowing, running rugby – so I am very proud of having played for them. And I enjoyed captaining them when I did, as everyone was there to play the same way, in a great spirit.

You have always come across as very polite and diplomatic – have people ever had a go at you; have you ever really lost it?

Yes. I seriously lost it once in a night club with a guy who punched my brother. The situation needed some dealing with, so I dealt with it…

There is the enduring mystery of what happened regarding your original knee injury; the various stories about you having a fight with Justin Marshall, you having not one but two car crashes, etc. What really happened?

(Laughs) I have come clean about what happened so many times, but people would prefer some other version. I did have an altercation in a pub with the Crusaders rugby team. I stormed out of the pub because of the way one of them rudely treated my girlfriend. I then drove my car across a bridge too fast and smashed into the other side. The car was a Ford Falcon, at the time one of the fastest saloon cars in the world. I didn’t have an operation I was just in a cast. I probably should have had physio without being in a cast because I suffered from muscle atrophy. But there were no fisticuffs and I have since cleared it up with the guys involved.

You were recently involved in a TV programme called Love Sport, which didn’t seem to catch on. Why do you think that was?

Actually it did very nicely. But unfortunately the launch of Love Sport coincided with the drastic reduction in sponsorship caused by the current economic crisis. So we have put it on the shelf for the moment.

Your inclusion in the Boks at the expense of Gary Teichmann was quite controversial. Given that you and he share very similar histories – Zimbabwean born, Hilton, Sharks, and Newport – how did that affect your relationship?

I don’t really have a super strong relationship with Gary; he is much older than me. I think he is a wonderful guy and he should never have been dropped for that World Cup. But all I can say is that I never picked me and I didn’t drop him.

You had quite a few injuries in your time – do any of them still affect you?

I play quite a lot of social rugby at the moment and so far everything is all good. Although I did go over on my ankle in Hong Kong recently and I will have to have an op on it, but apart from that I’m absolutely fine.

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