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    Japie Mulder chats to Sport24

    2014-02-07 13:18
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    Cape Town - Former Lions and Springbok centre Japie Mulder discusses the Lions’ return to Super Rugby, what made the late Kitch Christie so special and whether he rates JJ Engelbrecht at outside centre…

    Raymond Silinga asked: Having played for and supported the Lions for years, are you enthused by their Super Rugby return?

    Japie Mulder: While it’s exciting for myself and other die-hard supporters, my hope is that the union now has all its ducks in a row. The time has come for the team to produce and make the supporters proud – we don’t want a scenario where we start again from square one. I believe the Lions’ success or failure will be determined by two key factors this season. Firstly, good conditioning is vital in terms of limiting the number of injuries a side experiences in a competition as physically demanding as Super Rugby. And secondly, the players will have to be switched on mentally from their first match (against the Cheetahs on February 15) as there is a definite step up in intensity from Currie Cup level.

    Liza Lucani asked: Tell us about your fondest memories of Transvaal’s Super 10 triumph in 1993…

    Japie Mulder: As a youngster back then it was a phenomenal experience playing in the same side as players such as Francois Pienaar, Kobus Wiese, Hannes Strydom and Rudolf Straeuli to name a few. Apart from the talent we possessed in that side, we had a secret weapon: Kitch Christie. He may not have been the most technically-gifted of coaches, but his man-management skills and knack to work with a variety of individuals was second-to-none.

    Herman Mostert asked: Your take on Straeuli’s appointment as General Manager: Rugby and Commercial?

    Japie Mulder: Rudolf has given a lot to rugby in South Africa and deserves to make a success of his latest role. He has shown his capabilities as an experienced administrator and I hope he gets it right at the Lions, because now more than ever, the union requires strong leadership.

    Dom Valentine asked: Since calling time on your playing career in 2002, how has the game most evolved?

    Japie Mulder: The most notable difference is that the modern game is more structured. Teams today often score from first-phase attack, whereas during my playing days teams scored a lot more regularly from third or fourth-phase ball. These days, it seems the more phases a team puts together the lower their chances of scoring becomes. Owing to greater emphasis on defence less tries are now been scored than say a decade ago.

    Abel Stolz asked: When fit, who would you select as the Springboks centre pairing? And do you believe we are wasting time trying to make a centre out of JJ Engelbrecht?

    Japie Mulder: At the moment, I would stick to the tried-and-tested combination of Jean De Villiers and Jaque Fourie. Both players are vastly experienced and complement one another in terms of skill-set. One’s inside centre is usually more of the distributor, while the outside centre puts in the big hits on defence – I think that’s why Hennie le Roux and I worked so well together. As far as JJ is concerned, I believe the Bulls and Boks should persevere with him at outside centre – he’s tall, strong and possesses pace. We have more than enough good wings in this country and he would therefore be wasted in that position.

    Gregory K. Sara asked: Who do you see winning the SA Conference in this year’s tournament and who would you put R100 on to lift the overall title?

    Japie Mulder: I’m not great at predictions, every now and then I try my hand at SuperBru, but I hardly ever get it right. That said, while it pains me to say, it’s hard to look past the Sharks and Stormers to battle it out for top spot in the SA conference. While the Bulls have lost a number of experienced players in recent times, Victor Matfield’s return may be just the tonic they need to fire. In terms of who’ll lift the overall title, well that’s the million Rand question. All I can say is that I hope the Chiefs don’t make it a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles – a SA side must win this season.

    Clinton Martin asked: You made mention of Matfield above. At the age of 36 can he still cut it at the top?

    Japie Mulder: (Laughs) All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not him. I hope Victor doesn’t get injured, because he will now be playing against a number of hungry youngsters. But on a more serious note, if there’s one man who can make a successful comeback it’s Victor. He’s a very determined and disciplined character and would not have risked his legacy if he did not feel he could still add value on the field of play. Victor has a history with Heyneke Meyer and who knows, we could still see him playing a part at the 2015 World Cup. I’d really like Vic to make a successful return, not only to prove his doubters wrong, but to leave the game on his own terms.

    Norma Lambley asked: What do you make of the dual on-field referee concept being trialled in the Varsity Cup; do you think it would ever work in a Super Rugby context?

    Japie Mulder: While it’s too early to say whether the experiment has succeeded or failed, my feeling is that there is already too much emphasis on the referee and not enough on the players and the game itself. I believe the use of more officials will become problematic, because rugby is a simple game at heart and I don’t believe in changing it too much. While I’m all for the use of technology, I feel that one man is more than capable of running the game out in the middle. The TMO is then in place to offer assistance when called upon.

    Maano Nekhavhambe asked: Have you ever considered getting into full-time professional coaching?

    Japie Mulder: I’ve done a few coaching clinics with the Investec Rugby Academy, but my greatest passion of late is to sit and watch my sons play the game at primary school level. If and when called on I’ll offer my insight and experience, but I now most enjoy taking a backseat.

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