Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, TIM DLULANE talks about being axed by the Bulls as senior team manager, why provinces are hampering SA Rugby’s transformation plans and the Springboks’ end-of-year tour.
Sport24 asked: After over a decade of loyal service, how does it feel to be let go?
Tim Dlulane: It’s part of life, but it hurts. I added value to the organisation for 12 years, but in the end they treated me like a dying horse. I stand by what I said in terms of the Bulls’ retrenchment process being a smokescreen. In his statement, Barend van Graan said the retrenchment process was done in accordance with the Labour Relations Act and managed by an independent lawyer. However, I feel the retrenchment process was flawed in that I was included on the list of high performance employees when I wasn’t one - I was a permanent employee. I raised that concern to the legal representative of the company and she said she would address my concerns with the board, but never got back to me. Another reason I felt the retrenchment process was flawed is because only two consultations were done as a group and, during the final one, I was informed that I was one of the employees selected for retrenchment. I think the fact that I didn’t get along with high performance manager Xander Janse van Rensburg had a role to play in my axing. I’m still a Blue Bull and can’t be against the brand, but Barend and Xander are the two individuals who wanted to get rid of me. They think they own the company, but they are only employees and their contracts will be over at some stage. Barend is already nearing retirement age and his stay at the Bulls won’t last forever. I must point out that John Mitchell’s arrival didn’t play a part in me losing my post. He was as surprised at the news as I was. He approached me and said: “Tim, I have just been told that you are under retrenchment - how are you holding up?” He came to me personally and wished me all the best. He added that he had been dismissed a number of times over his career and knows that it’s not an easy situation. I was actually enjoying collaborating with John because he is someone who doesn’t see colour when working with individuals and he wants to bring out the best in each person.
Sport24 asked: Bakkies Botha questioned Janse van Rensburg’s value. Your view?
Tim Dlulane: He played a major role in terms of what went wrong at the Bulls over the last few seasons and has created a toxic environment. I believe he was the person that put my name forward for retrenchment. Barend has had to back him because he is the head of the department. Heyneke Meyer sold Xander to Barend as the messiah of recruitment. Heyneke - the former Bulls coach and director of rugby - took a liking to Xander and introduced him to Barend after the former told him that he had been following his career and wanted to learn from him. Xander started off scouting, recruiting and contracting junior players for the Bulls and was later promoted at the union. His title from 2012 has been high performance manager, but ever since his appointment he has acted as if he owns the Blue Bulls Company. Barend has stood by Xander when everyone else has been against him. Barend has to stand behind Xander because they are there together, but I believe a time will come when they no longer have the power. I’m not the only one who has raised concerns about Xander’s suitability. I don’t feel he is qualified for what he is doing at the Bulls. Almost everyone at the Bulls question Xander and you have to ask why Barend cannot see that he is being fooled by him.
Sport24 asked: Of the five employees retrenched, four are black. What does it say?
Tim Dlulane: I believe the Bulls are living in denial in terms of not embracing change. As much as my former employers think I’m a fool, I’m not. Everybody in rugby knows what’s happening at the Bulls. Either Barend is being misled by the company’s representatives or he is living in denial that transformation must come. As a sport, we need to stand together behind SA Rugby and help transform the game from the bottom up. Our Super Rugby teams need to become transformed so as to ensure that when the 2023 Rugby World Cup comes around, nobody is talking about transformation. Do the Bulls really want to transform or are they presenting a facade to the rest of South Africa? I believe most of the unions in the country are failing SA Rugby in terms of their transformation plans. If, as a province, you want to transform, you can’t just transform on the field of play. Barend has said that the Bulls support SA Rugby’s policy in terms of meeting targets by fielding players of colour, but what about black administrators, board members and coaches? The Bulls board is not transformed - there is only one black individual represented. If the unions don’t change their way of thinking and remain living in denial, SA rugby will continue to be failed by the provinces at large. Blacks are the minority in the sport, but according to the country’s demographics we are the majority, so somewhere there is a disconnect. The provinces must make sure that they appoint coaches of colour as assistants to the head coaches and ensure that there is a pool of black players emanating from junior structures. As a player of colour, I always related better to a white coach if the message was sent by his black assistant. It’s tough for black players because they don’t have the adequate personnel to support them. At times, you need someone of your same colour to say, “hang on in there,” and not have to deal with someone who’ll treat you as if you don’t belong. Black players need those who can stand in their corner and say: “Yes, you had a bad game, but I know you can do better.” Do the white coaches do that for the black players? The answer is an emphatic no. My experience as I player was that I related better to a black coach or manager because he understood my background. We can’t hide from the fact that blood is thicker than water.
Sport24 asked: You played once for South Africa in 2004. What did it mean to you?
Tim Dlulane: I had the opportunity to live my dream and represent the Springboks. In terms of ability, I knew that I deserved to be there and was capable of playing at the highest level. I worked hard to reach that point and my dream came true when I took to the field to play against Wales in Cardiff. However, to be clear, my selection for that Test was forced by government and, as much as I was capable, it was not then coach Jake White’s decision to include me. White had to back the government’s point of view. If there was no policy in place, I wouldn’t have been in the Springbok setup. The reality is that black players weren’t afforded the same opportunities as their white counterparts. That was a given during my professional playing career and I’ll say that with authority. I will be forever grateful to Brian van Rooyen, who stood his ground and enforced policy, but he was not the favourite and his term was cut short. During his tenure, he stuck to his guns and once said to me: “Tim, as long as I’m SA Rugby president I’ll make sure that you are afforded equal opportunity.” Allister Coetzee needs a deep pool of black players from which to select at Test match level. It’s not the duty of the Springbok coach to develop black players. Siya Kolisi is shining for the Springboks because he is backed unconditionally at his province. I’m of the view that you can only truly flourish as a player if you having the backing at your union. Kolisi was entrusted with the Stormers captaincy, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before he becomes Springbok captain. I’m rooting for him to lead out the Springboks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Siya is a tremendous performer and an outstanding player and leader. He’s grounded and everybody knows that he deserves to be there.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the Springboks’ chances on the end-of-year tour?
Tim Dlulane: After losing narrowly to New Zealand in their last Test, the Springboks will want to carry on where they left off when they tackle Ireland next Saturday. Owing to the momentum the Boks have generated, I’m hoping that they will be able to make a clean sweep on their year-end tour to the UK, France and Italy. The way they performed against New Zealand was outstanding and the culture of this team is coming together. All of a sudden, they are playing like a band of brothers. It’s unfortunate to lose Jean-Luc Du Preez to injury because he is an outstanding player, who was playing tremendously well. However, injury is part and parcel of the game. We have to accept that injuries are out of everyone’s control and he will be determined to come back stronger. The fact that the Boks have replaced him with Ruan Botha comes down to wanting more options in the lineout. I believe it was a wise move from the selectors because you need a specialist lock as cover. Pieter-Steph du Toit is set to reprise his role in the loose forward position on the northern hemisphere tour. He is an athlete and is capable of fulfilling the flank role as he is both mobile and physical. In my book, you can successfully convert a lock to flank if you put them through the necessary training in order to get to grips with what is required on defence. Du Toit was found wanting on a defensive front when he played blindside flank for South Africa against England at Twickenham during the 2016 end-of-year tour, but he delivered a much improved performance against the All Blacks at Newlands. As a collective, the Boks are in high spirits, but having toured Europe myself, the weather conditions will prove challenging. As South Africans, we are used to the sunny weather, but at this time of the year it’s cold and wet up north. The Boks will have to get used to those conditions and adapt accordingly. Coetzee’s men will need to focus on the mission at hand and do what it takes to grind out the results. The key is to play a more territory-based, forward dominated game. The tourists will need to be more conservative and take care of ball possession. If the Springboks are able to adapt their tactical approach to suit the conditions, I believe they will win all four of their fixtures.