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Sometimes too honest…

Submitted by on Saturday, 18 October 2008No Comment
Sometimes too honest…

Larger than life World Cup hero Kobus Wiese reflects on one-eyed selectors, the taming of James Small, a brief fling with the big screen, gold in those coffee machines, the people skills of Kitch Christie, the brain drain in tighthead props —and the decomposing snoek that slept around with the 1995 Springbok team.

I recently read a comment on a speech you made, which said you spoke, ‘… with a wit and poise not usually associated with tight forwards.’ How do you react to that?

The tight five are actually very intelligent, you okes just don’t realise that… (smiles). I am very privileged and very blessed to have opportunities, but I think the whole thing about celebrity and fame is completely over-rated. I see myself as a normal person. However there is a perception amongst some of the public that rugby players – especially forwards – have two brain cells and can only talk about rugby; which of course, is not true. My wife knows very little about sport and I love it because I don’t have to talk to her about rugby. I love classical music, I had piano lessons when I was at school, I sang in a choir, I cook at home and I love red wine. So I’m on a secret mission to prove to the public that sportsmen are normal people and have lots of interesting things they are involved in besides their sport. That’s why I speak with the, ‘wit and poise’ not normally associated with tight forwards (smiles).

I played in the back-line and don’t fully understand scrums. For a scrum to dominate another’s team’s scrum, what goes on that spectators might be unaware of?

You say you don’t understand? Half the time the forwards don’t understand what’s going on (laughs). Despite all the rule changes, you have to have a pack of forwards dominate in the tight phases and you have to have good right shoulder. That means on your own ball you want your tight head prop to get the edge and have a slight right shoulder leading, it gives your loose forwards and scrumhalf the edge, because you turn their loose forwards and scrum a few centimetres away from the scrum mark, which makes a massive difference. So it’s a team effort – you all have to work absolutely together. But your tight head prop is of critical importance to any team. Strength and technique is crucial – currently we don’t have really tough tight heads in this country – you dominate by having physical presence.

How important are the locks, your old position?

Two good locks go a long way in any team. They are the guys controlling the ball in the lineouts; they are the guys with the power in the scrum; without a doubt they are the engine room and they light the fire in the pack of forwards. Fortunately I’m not biased (smiles).

Rugby is littered with one cap wonders. When you made your debut for the Springboks in 1993 against France (20 – 20), and then you didn’t play for the Boks again for almost a year, did you think it was happening to you?

Yes, of course it passes through your mind. But I know my weaknesses and I know my strengths and I felt if I got there the first time, I would get there again.

At that time you seemed to have a problem with John Williams, who was the convener of selectors and you have said that you don’t like him…

What you just said is not true – that I don’t like him. I don’t like him AT ALL. I can understand that coaches, when picked to the national squad, will obviously give preference to players they know – it’s logical. I’d do the same, because you have a relationship. But John Williams was ridiculously one-eyed. He picked guys out of his Northern Transvaal B team for his Springbok side. He was a crap coach – look at his record. The reason was that he was dishonest in his choices. If you don’t choose the right people – it is dishonest. But what he did motivated me more. And there was nothing personal; I didn’t even know the guy.

So there were politics?

It started way back with the, ‘Boeremafia’ Johann Claasen and the Broederbonders and Williams who was a protégé of theirs. They thought they owned rugby and they owned people’s lives. When I was in Western Transvaal, I played for one of the best coaches I ever played under, Professor Manie Spamer. He was worked out of his position by the Pukke (Univeristy of Potchefstroom) connections, which were the Claasens mob. The only ones from the Teachers College were Flippie van der Merwe, Deon Oosthuizen and me, while all the rest were university students. Anyway the three of us went to the union and said we no longer wanted to play for them because of the unethical way they got rid of Spamer. So Claasen and his buddies, who controlled Western Transvaal, promised me that they would make sure we never played for Western Transvaal again, we would never play for any other province and we wouldn’t play for South Africa. So I stood up and said, ‘I’m telling you now I will play for South Africa and you will apologise to me’. He said ‘Anytime.’ When I got my first cap for the Springboks and I walked down from the stage, as life would have it who do you think the first guy I walked into was? Johann Claasen. I enjoyed that moment.

To digress slightly from rugby; when you were playing in France you were an extra in a movie. What were you cast as – a giant?

No not a giant (smiles).What happened was I was playing rugby in Carcassonne, a famous medieval city. One day these guys came to the club and said they were looking for blonde haired, blue eyed, big guys to be in a movie. They wanted us to play the Sheriff of Nottingham’s thugs; they would pay us; they would give us food and it was a three day shoot – so we said we’d give it a go. It was hell-of-a interesting. I met guys who were professional extras; they travel the world being extras in movies and make a good living out of it. Anyway our scene was to rough up a couple of guards. So the director said, ‘Look aggressive.’ I said to my mate, ‘Let’s really climb into them.’ As we did the director called, ‘Cut! Not that aggressive!’ (Laughs).

What was the movie?

‘Prince of Thieves’, with Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and, what’s that very good-looking girl with the black curly hair who played Marion? …Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

What part do we look for, to see you?

The bit where they go into the castle with the cart, I am one of the three long haired guys with a beard walking in front of it (smiles).

You played rugby for clubs in both France and Italy. I know comparisons are odious but which did you prefer?

I loved them both. They were so different. The French were very emotional. They cried when they lost, they cried when they won, in fact they cried the whole bloody time! But I loved Italy. I took my wife there on honeymoon and I have some really good friends there.

I asked Murray Mexted about playing in France and he said they would purposely lose their away games. What was your experience?

Exactly the same; one away game I played, they had a temporary plastic tunnel onto the field. We were in this tunnel lining up, when the other team ran past and the opposition hooker punched our hooker out cold. They threw some water on him and we carried on as if nothing had happened. I thought, ‘I’m in another world! I’m on another planet!’

Back to normal rugby – in 1993 Transvaal beat England a week after they convincingly beat the Springboks. Tell me about that game.

We killed them. We had a great side. We physically broke them and since the Anglo Boer War, it’s a personal thing, I need no motivation to beat England (smiles). The coaches were Kitsch Christie, Ray Mordt and Dr Frans Verster and we had an outstanding team spirit. It was one of the best teams I ever played for. And we played against exactly the same side the Boks had played.

At the beginning of the 95 World Cup the Springbok team were in Cape Town for the first match against Australia. Apparently the mood wasn’t always serious?

You’re right, it wasn’t all serious. (Laughs) One night Rudolph Strauli, James Dalton, Balie Swart and myself went down to the Waterfront for dinner. As we left the restaurant a fishing boat pulled in and the fisherman recognised us and gave Rudolph a fresh snoek, ‘for luck’. We didn’t know what Strauli was going to do with it, but it was late so we returned to the hotel. He then put the snoek into Peter Hendriks’s bed with its head on the pillow. Hendriks came back, didn’t want to put the lights on and wake his room-mates, so climbed into bed in the dark. Well he gets nauseous easily and was immediately sick all over the place (laughs). That snoek then travelled from room to room for a week. In the end it was decomposing. It was terrible! (Laughs)

After the final of the 95 World Cup, what did you make of the food poisoning story that came out of the All Black camp – did someone perhaps slip them some of the snoek?

That would have killed them! (Smiles) I think it was a matter of the All Blacks being devastated. They came as the outright favourites to South Africa, they believed 100% they were going to win the World Cup, but then it didn’t go their way – so they were blown completely out of the water. I believe it was only a story because nobody else but the team members got sick from the food at the hotel – so what are the chances that they got poisoned and no one else? It’s absolute crap.

By all accounts he was an amazing person; tell me about your experience of 95 World Cup Springbok coach, Kitch Christie.

He was our most successful coach; I don’t think there has ever been another undefeated coach. And his people skills were fantastic. The most important thing he taught us was that it was important for us to do well, as that’s why we were training, but it was more important that we became better human beings, better citizens. It was more important than the sport; there was something much bigger than the game. Let me give you an example; take a guy like James Small. In South Africa if somebody is rebellious we call them, ‘very different’, when actually they are a ‘kakmaker/ shit-stirrer’ (laughs). So Kitch called in the, ‘very different,’ (laughs) James Small, and said, ‘James you are a good player and we want you in the team. But it will be on the team’s terms, not yours. You decide.’ James said, ‘No problem’. And he played his best rugby under Kitsch. Actually if I was a coach, I would pick 15, ‘very different’ players, because they are the guys who fight to win and never give up.

Except for one draw – every time you started a game for the Springboks, they won. Twice you were a reserve and they lost. Do you think they should have started you more often?

(Laughs) I would have (laughs) loved to play 100 games for South Africa. I have no regrets whatsoever. I love the game and I will always love the game. I have friends around the world because of this great game. I was privileged to be part of it.

At your peak, how strong were you with reference to the usual tests, bench press and leg press?

Well my strength tests were better than the standard expected of me. For instance you had to be able to bench press 80% or more of your body weight and I then weighed 125kg. My best was 200kg; much more than I weighed. For leg press you had to be able to press three times your body weight. I did about 650/ 670kg. So I was pleased with my efforts (smiles).

As a big guy, getting cardio fit must have been difficult for you?

Of course, it was always tough. And I suppose it might have been a little harder for us big guys, but you had to do it. Nobody loves training, don’t let them bullshit you – but for any sport you have to be fit. We had Ray Mordt as our fitness coach and he was a fanatic. He killed us and made fitness our base. The joy was in the last twenty minutes of any game, provincial, Super 12 or Test rugby – we could change gear, while the other guys were stuffed.

Business is littered with ex sportsmen who failed. Wiesenhof coffee shops; how many are there and how are they doing?

We have 42 shops – all owned by franchisees. It’s the only way; you can’t make money with managers. And it’s going well; in our next phase we are looking to open fifteen shops.

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

Probably cricket (smiles).

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