Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Harlequins flyhalf-cum-fullback TIM SWIEL talks about Siya Kolisi being appointed Springbok captain, why quotas are dying and previews the Test at Ellis Park on Saturday…
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up the last Premiership season for Harlequins?
Tim Swiel: We had quite a tough year, where we finished tenth out of 12 teams in the Aviva Premiership. We are traditionally a top-four club, so being near the foot of the table wasn’t fun. However, sometimes you learn more from losing than winning. Our previous director of rugby John Kingston got the sack, but things are looking up for next season with the appointment of outgoing England defence coach Paul Gustard as our director of rugby. Gustard has a good track record with Saracens and England over the last few years and we are really looking forward to having him on board. Gustard instilled a winning culture at Saracens based around a water-tight defence and sound exit strategy. I foresee him bringing that climate to Harlequins and us getting back to where we want to be. Historically, we are an attack-minded team and the ‘wolfpack’ defence, which Gustard was famous for at Saracens, will stand us in good stead. We have produced some great attacking players over the years but, truth be told, we have lacked on the defensive front. Hopefully, under new management we can change that next season and get better. In a personal capacity, I enjoy having another South African, in the form of fellow flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, at the club. We live in the same area - Fulham - so we carpool. We both endured a difficult season owing to injury and kept each other positive during recovery. The ‘Greek god’ is a really good guy and we have become close friends in South West London… I’m back at Quins next week to step up pre-season training and looking forward to the new season. All I want is to enjoy what I do and make the most of my playing career. I’m a traditional flyhalf, but I’m open to playing at fullback. In England, the game is more structured, so No 15 could make sense for me as an instinctive player. England international Mike Brown is the incumbent fullback at The Stoop, so the competition is steep, but it’s something I relish.
Sport24 asked: What are your thoughts on the new Bok era under Rassie Erasmus?
Tim Swiel: I have a good feeling about Rassie and the new-look squad he has assembled. The loss to Wales in America was disappointing as his first Test in charge. However, there were 13 uncapped players in the mix, so we can’t be too hard on them. We have seen the good work Rassie did with Munster in 18 months and also what he achieved at the Stormers during his stint in the Cape. If he manages the players effectively as individuals, I believe the Springboks can do really well. As the Springboks have been such a powerhouse over the years, it’s actually sad to have seen their decline. I have taken some flak from my British team-mates and they have asked me why the Boks have slid to seventh in the World Rugby rankings. If SA Rugby can sort out the politics and get the player management right, I believe the Springboks can be a world force again. In terms of transformation targets, the beauty is that the national coach can now pick players entirely on merit. The bottom line is that the South African rugby system now boasts top quality black players. I believe the black players in the team are there on merit and there are no quota players. (The Springbok starting XV to face England at Ellis Park in the opening Test match comprises a record seven black Africans players).
Sport24 asked: Your take on Siya Kolisi’s appointment as the 61st Springbok captain?
Tim Swiel: I have known Siya since my Western Province days. He has always been a good man, with a smile on his face. As Duane Vermeulen said earlier this week, there is something special about the 26-year-old from Zwide. Ever since watching Siya from Craven Week to the Western Province Rugby Academy, I knew he was a special player and true leader of men. In my eyes, he is definitely deserving of the Springbok captaincy. Siya has grown into the role and is good communicator with his team-mates and the media but, at the end of the day, he leads by example and through actions. Since Nelson Mandela, there has been no real leader with a unifying outlook. Siya can definitely be the change agent in a South African context. He wants to unite people from all races, which is key.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess Eddie Jones’ tenure as England coach to date?
Tim Swiel: Eddie is under pressure off the back of four consecutive defeats, but I don’t want rugby to become like football, where a team has a bad run and the manager gets sacked. As the Australian did so well in the first two years of his tenure, it’s easy for the British public to get on his back when the team doesn’t do well. However, I believe we need to look at what Jones has achieved over the last three years rather than the last four matches. I wouldn’t say England overachieved in the first two years under Jones, but he is a victim of his own success. Owing to the fact that he set the bar so high, when fault lines appear, he will cop the bulk of the blame. England have endured a hard time recently and will be extremely disappointed to have finished fifth in the most recent Six Nations campaign after back-to-back triumphs in 2016 and 2017. England are on a four-match losing streak, but you can’t take away what Jones and his team have achieved in the last few years. I worked under Jake White before and he and Eddie have similar mentalities, which creates a winning culture. Jones has been good for English rugby and I don’t think people should really complain about his approach.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Du Plessis and Steyn being ruled out of the series?
Tim Swiel: Losing Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn for the entire Test series is a big blow. I know them from my time at the Sharks and all they would want to do is play for South Africa. There are some conspiracy theorists that have suggested the pair never picked up injuries in the Top 14 final. (The injury news will come as a shock to many considering both players completed the full 80 minutes of Montpellier's Top 14 final defeat to Castres and no mention was made of any injury concerns - until now). However, I don’t see how they wouldn’t want to play for their country as they are so passionate about Springbok rugby and have been great servants over the years. The club versus country tug-of-war has been mentioned but, compared to football, it’s not as prevalent in rugby as people think. I’m sure they’re injured, as I know they’d do anything to play for South Africa.
Sport24 asked: Which current flyhalves in the oval game do you most admire and why?
Tim Swiel: Owen Farrell is a flyhalf I admire. In terms of individual talent, he has been on top of his game for years. His appointment as England captain for the tour to South Africa is deserved. I also enjoy watching New Zealanders Beauden Barrett and Jimmy Gopperth. In terms of Barrett, he anticipates the game very well and really gets the guys around him going. He scans the field very quickly, knows what he wants to do and backs his decisions. Gopperth comes to mind at club level because he has been consistent over the years. I take my hat off to him for his longevity in the game. Meanwhile, Handre Pollard has been confirmed as the starting Springbok pivot. He has had a few injury worries over the last couple years, but has found form recently and, if he can get some good front-foot ball and his distribution game gets going, the Springbok outside backs are set to explode.
Sport24 asked: Who are the best coaches you have worked with thus far in your career?
Tim Swiel: John Dobson and Dawie Snyman are brilliant coaches that are on another level. I feel ‘Dobbo’ should have been appointed Stormers coach four seasons ago already. (Robbie Fleck still has one year to run on his contract with the 10th-placed Stormers). I wouldn’t have blamed ‘Dobbo’ at all had he accepted a coaching role overseas. (Dobson was linked with the Connacht coaching position, which has since been filled by Andy Friend). If you are waiting so long and not getting recognised then you have to look elsewhere. Sometimes in life, if you are patient it will all work out and hopefully the aforementioned pair gets promoted by Western Province Rugby. I believe Dobson is someone that South Africa rugby really needs to invest in. For me, the fundamental reason the dynamic duo have dovetailed so well as a combination over the years is because ‘Dobbo’ brings players from diverse cultures together and instils the rainbow nation spirit within his sides, while Dawie is more of the technical mastermind within the coaching set-up. I believe the two men coaching Western Province deserve to be rewarded for their results, and I don’t feel they have been.
Sport24 asked: What is your outlook for the first Test match and the series as a whole?
Tim Swiel: I foresee England going into the three-Test series as favourites. My prediction is that they will win the first Test at Ellis Park and lose the second, which will set up a series decider at Newlands. If that proves to be the case, a winner-takes-all match in Cape Town will be a great spectacle. The Springboks boast some great individuals and the backline selected for Saturday is a really exciting one. It’s the type of backline I would be nervous to play against. Debutant wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sbu Nkosi are electric runners, but will be tested under the high ball because England have strong tactical kickers in their ranks. The English have been together for a while as a group and they possess a resolute defence, which goes hand-in-hand with a disciplined kick-chase. As a consequence, the Boks have to be up for that challenge. I feel the Boks will be aided and abetted by the experience of Willie le Roux at fullback. The 41 Test-capped Bok has done well with Wasps and he will actually make it easier for Pollard. I believe Le Roux is back to his best and getting his distribution game into gear, when he comes in as second receiver, is what the national team needs.
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