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Life after the World Cup

Submitted by on Saturday, 1 November 2008No Comment
Life after the World Cup

Joel Stransky is philosophical about the fact that he’ll always be remembered for ‘that drop goal’ and is not too fussed if people think his Harley reflects a midlife crisis.

How long did it, or will it take, for you to be viewed seriously as MD of Altech Netstar and not as Joel Stransky the rugby player?

I don’t think it will ever happen (smiles). I have always had involvement with corporate life, so it’s not entirely new for me, but from the client’s perspective I’m first the ex-rugby player – then the businessman. I have customers who call me, not about business, rather just to find out what is going to happen on the weekend. But it’s a nice element and I enjoy it – I’m quick to use it when it helps me (laughs).

One would have thought it bothered you?

No, it is nice to be recognised for what I’ve done – but what really counts are results, and I’m a results oriented person. I know what I am achieving in the business, and that’s what counts.

George Foreman says that the final uppercut that put Frazier down for the sixth and final time and won him the World Heavy Weight Title defined his life and almost became an Albatross around his neck. How has the winning drop goal in the 1995 Rugby World Cup defined your life?

I understand exactly what George Foreman is saying, but it depends on how you look at it. There are not many people who are fortunate to have ONE absolutely monumental, defining moment behind them. They may have some big moments and some great moments, but to have one momentous defining moment is a great honour – and it’s nice to be recognised for it; but I do understand what he is saying because I would like to be remembered as more than just a one drop fly half. In many people’s eyes, that is all it was – there was actually so much more to it. If you have to describe me as a rugger player, drop kicks would not be in the description (laughs).

Yes, in your career you only did 3 drop goals for the Springboks…

(Smiles) Yes – two in the final and one in the opening game of the World Cup. And the first one was right bang in front. Kobus (Wiese) could have kicked it (laughs). But interestingly, in our last warm up game before the World Cup, we played against Western Province at Newlands as an SA XV and we beat them in the last minute – by a drop kick! And not the easiest one either; it was a bit from the side and there was a lot of pressure. Then after the opening game against Australia, when there was nothing else on and I popped it over, Kitch Christie (coach) planted the seed further when he said, ‘Why don’t you kick more drop kicks?’ And if you are a natural kicker of the ball, as fly half the drop kick is in your armoury – but there’s so much more to it. When I got to the UK I think I had an influence on the game, because for instance at Leicester where I played, we went from a rather boring kicking team to became known as a team that ran the ball. So there is a lot more to fly half than drop kicks – but I suppose even though I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination do many, that’s what I’ll always be remembered for.

In the first game of the 95 World Cup against Australia, you scored in every way possible. A drop goal, a penalty and a try, did you see that as a good omen for the tournament?

No, I’m not at all superstitious. The only thing I was superstitious about when I played was the way I packed my bag. I use to pack it in a certain way from the bottom up; but that was the only thing… oh there was one other thing – when we went onto the field, I wouldn’t step on the lines (laughs); of course that didn’t apply during the game. But that definitely was it. So no, I didn’t really see my scoring in that game as an omen.

Apparently when you were playing for The Sharks against The Bulls, Naas Botha once punched you?

It was about 1989 – I was the youngster and he was the senior and I charged down a kick of his and as I came down I bumped him. He probably thought it was on purpose – mind you it probably was (smiles) – anyway he said something, which I ignored. He waited for me to turn my back before he hit me on the ear, the little bastard (laughs).

The Springboks won the last World Cup; was there any sense of relief in the team of ’95 handing over to them the mantle of South African World Champions?

I don’t think there was a sense of relief. I think, to be perfectly honest, it was quite nice to bask in the glory of being the only team to have won it. But having said that – we are all ardent rugby fans, ardent Springbok supporters and we were as chuffed and as proud for John Smit and the team to win it, as we were in 1995 to win it ourselves. It’s a hell-of-an achievement. The feelings as a spectator and actually being there were similar to when we won it. It was a great day, a great moment.

What did you do the night you won the World Cup?

Six of us, including Francois (Pienaar) and his wife, made the dreadful mistake of getting off the bus and going to the Rattlesnake Roadside Diner in Rivonia. It was an absolute nightmare and after twenty minutes we left, with no transport to Sandton – so we had to hitch-hike. But there were just no cars about; it was 11.00 pm at that stage and there was no traffic. Eventually Francois got into the road and stopped some young guys, who couldn’t believe their eyes (laughs) when they saw who they were giving a lift to.

Apparently you are good friends with Sean Fitzpatrick, the All Black captain in the 1995 World Cup?

(Laughs) Yes we are good mates. He recently had dinner at my house and I made sure that everything I served, the wine the port etc., was 1995 vintage (laughs). He is an interesting guy; the day after my daughter was born, I was playing against him in a Test in Durban (17 August 1996). Right at the kick off I clashed heads with… I think it was Andre Venter; and split my forehead open. Anyway I was lying on the ground, dazed, bleeding like a pig, with blood all over my face and Sean walked over and looked down at me and I thought he was going to make some mocking remark, the way one does in a match. Instead, as he caught my eye, he reached down and shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations mate on having a daughter’ (laughs).

What was your relationship like with Kitch Christie?

He was a unique man; a quiet, reserved man. You had to do something very special to earn his respect. I remember the first time I met him – on the training ground at the Wanderers. He came to talk to me, about which foot I took off on. He watched me and then told me to put my other foot forward. I didn’t understand what he was getting at, so I said, ‘But Kitch…’and he immediately said, ‘Don’t ever call me Kitch. You either call me “coach”, or “Mr Christie,” but don’t ever call me Kitch’. There was that definite line of respect. Eventually it did become, ‘Coachy’ (laughs), but there was that line. He was an amazing man.

Tell me about your time playing rugby for Leicester.

I loved my rugby there. As a senior player I got involved in more off the field stuff; I got involved in the rugby politics and involved with the players association. It was also the period of professionalism coming into the game, which was a difficult and exciting time for rugby. When I went over to the UK, I took my wife and 5 month old daughter and all I did was play and be involved in rugby, and be a husband and a father. It was fantastic. There were no pressures and it was one of the happiest rugby periods for me. And very successful, we had a great run at Leicester.

You later had a problem with Bristol, when they offered you a coaching position and then reneged on it. You were made an award, plus costs, by the courts – did you get all the money?

I was awarded £180,000 plus costs. But by the time everything was accounted for it would have cost Bristol in the region of £1 million. In the end we reached an out of court settlement, so as to prevent them from going bankrupt. To pay me in full they would have had to liquidate the club, which I obviously didn’t want to happen. They had a proud tradition and all of that would have been lost.

Do you think that burnt any bridges for you in the UK rugby establishment?

I honestly don’t believe I burnt any bridges. I stood up for what I believed was right and fair. Also I thought about it long and hard before I went ahead. If I’d lost it would have cost me about £300,000. As far as I am concerned if you agree something and shake hands on it, you have a deal. If someone can’t stick to an agreement then they shouldn’t be in a position to make agreements. I’m quite proud of the fact that I stood up and took a risk of huge financial loss for what I believed in, and I’m delighted I was vindicated.

You also played in Italy – how did you enjoy that?

Loved it! Absolutely loved it – if it wasn’t for the language barrier – I can speak Italian, but it would be difficult for my family; I could live in Italy. The lifestyle was fantastic. The rugby was hard, but a little bit weaker as the skill levels weren’t really there. Also there were a lot of foreigners playing which made it interesting.

You used to be involved in The Green Man pub in Cape Town – tell me about that.

I was a shareholder there – three of us had shares. Contrary to popular belief Gary Kirsten never had shares in it, although he drank there with me every night (laughs). We had a lot of fun, although we also worked bloody hard. We all took turns at managing it. As a start up business we really had to work at it. Just as an example of how popular it was, after the opening game against Australia in the 95 World Cup, we had a queue that stretched around the block. But then I was moving to the UK and it just became time to get out. Pity, it could probably have done great things (laughs).

Apparently you have a Harley Davidson – is this a manifestation of a mid-life crisis?

I don’t know – it’s a lifestyle thing. It was really like a little present to me. We have a small club of ‘bikers’ here from the office, not only Harleys and on the last Saturday of every month – except on Currie Cup Final Saturday (laughs) – we go for a ride.

You were involved in that ‘Laugh out Loud’ episode on Boots & All with John Robbie. He still says it was the worst day of his life.

(Laughs) Originally they wanted to pull it on me, but Dan Retief said look, ‘Joel’s quite unflappable, why don’t we get John Robbie?’Well we all know John’s little idiosyncrasies and which buttons to push to rile him etc., so we set it up. Everyone then pulled off their bit perfectly – everything went 100% to plan. (Laughs) He really took strain. Although interestingly, it’s a real credit to the man, in his worst moment, when I walked on the set covered in blood, he was caring.

If rugby didn’t exist, what sport could you have excelled at?

Soccer – there’s something immensely appealing about a ball sport like soccer and the instinct you require to play it well.

Who do you follow in football?

The strongest team in the English Premiership – Spurs! At the moment we are holding up the whole Premiership, so we must be strong (laughs).

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