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'Jacques was Rassies right-hand man, the two of them decided everything together'

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday Jun 12, 2024

Former Springbok captains Victor Matfield and Jean de Villiers know a thing or two about coaching staff changes.

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Having gone through different coaches during their time with the national side, both men are well-placed to discuss the most recent changes to Rassie Erasmus’s staff.

Talking to Betway South Africa’s OG Molefe, the duo were asked about the Springboks upcoming international season and how Erasmus will tackle the new challenges that await.

“It will be interesting,” Matfield said,  “I want to see how Rassie is going to do it.”

“I’ve been in that setup for a whole week trying to learn a little bit with what they’ve done. I was there in 2020, just after the World Cup, and Jacques was Rassies right-hand man.

“The two of them decided everything together, everyone else was just filling the gaps. Those two guys were making the decisions, and now Jacques is not there.

“So it will be interesting, who’s that guy that Rossi will trust with everything and talk through all those things?”

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“I don’t know Flannery that well, I know you (Jean de Villiers) might know him a little bit more.

“But when we go to Tony Brown, I think he’s very much like Rassie; he’s a rugby guy through and through.

“He eats, sleeps and lives rugby; when he stopped playing, he went straight into coaching. That’s all he does, so I think he’ll bring something special to the team.

“I do think we will miss Jacques; on defence, Jacques is by far the best in the world, but I mean, all the players understand that system. They’ve been in that system for a long time, so there are quite a few key guys who can probably understand that system and can drive that system for a few more years, but it will be interesting to see.” The former lock conlcuded.

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Focusing on the coaching staff as a whole, de Villiers said he was excited to see how the team develops, including former number eight Duane Vermeulen, who has gone straight from the playing field to the coaches’ box this season.

“I think out of everyone, that’s probably the toughest job for Duane because now suddenly you’re still in that environment, but you fulfil a different role.

“So he kind of needs to separate himself from being a player to now being a coach. You still have relationships with the guys, but you have a different hat on now.

“I think that’ll be difficult for Duane but also a positive in terms of having that continuity, and he understands the defensive system really well.” 

In terms of the long-term coaching staff, Springbok 7s star Mzwandile Stick, who has been a member of the backroom team since 2016, will continue in his role as backline coach. Still just 39-years-old, Stick is still young for an international coach, and de Villiers is excited to track his continued development.

“I’m looking forward to seeing kind of the rise of Mzwandile Stick even more.

“I think he’s really stepped up to the plate, and I think he might become that guy that Jacques was to Rassie.

“I think we’ve seen how Sticky has kind of matured in the role as well.

“He speaks well, shares in the passion, and is able to articulate what they want to do, and I think it’s a great opportunity for him as well.”

Discussing the influence of former Ireland international Felix Jones had on the past iteration of the Boks, de Villiers is looking forward to seeing how his former Munster teammate Jerry Flannery does in the role.

“Jerry Flannery is a great competitor, so I think there’s a challenge in terms of him also filling that role now after Felix leaving.

“Because after an Irish guy coming in and being massively successful, the expectations are high for Jerry to be able to do the same.

“Obviously, first up against his home nation, there’s a lot to prove. So we’ll have to wait and see how they fit into that environment because that sometimes is a challenge for guys from other countries.”

Finally, discussing the topic of former All Black Tony Brown, who brings with him a wealth of experience, de Villiers was clearly intrigued by what his attacking mindset could bring to the World Champions.

“Tony or TB, he’s just a rugby nut through and through and I think the IP that you get there from a guy that played, call it, from the early 90s for New Zealand, all the way through I think he retired in about 2009 only from rugby.

” He then went immediately into coaching you know you’re sitting with close to 30 years of IP of a guy being involved in the game on a day-to-day basis, either as a player and a coach, and him now coming into an environment of a team that he coached against so many times, you get a different perspective.

“Whether all of that will be implemented we don’t know, but I think in terms of them not just being happy with the status quo and challenging from within constantly, I think those guys will add to that.”

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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