Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, UGO MONYE talks about the exciting young Springbok wings, why Eddie Jones must be backed and not sacked and previews the third and final Test at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Your view of the series, with South Africa having claimed the spoils?
Ugo Monye: I was disappointed after England failed to win the second Test in Bloemfontein, which secured the three-match series for South Africa. I was waiting for a big reaction from the English contingent and, though they put together some really good passages of play, unfortunately from an English perspective the second Test produced the same narrative from the previous week. Ill-discipline, a high penalty count and switching off defensively at key points in the match, really cost England. England’s high penalty count has been a major factor this series. (England have conceded 30 penalties to South Africa’s 13 over the first two Test matches). England, through their ill-discipline, have almost orchestrated their own downfall over the last couple of weeks. That is my greatest frustration. You simply cannot be giving away that many penalties. However, I’m not taking anything away from South Africa. They have been highly physical and have had an energy and fizz about them. In terms of England, I’ve been texting some of the lads this week and the camp is actually a really good place to be. It doesn’t surprise me because I know the players and I have seen their resilience. Whenever you go on a losing streak, as England are experiencing at the moment, your character is tested to the limit. It’s during the difficult times when you need your senior players and leaders to be able to front up, on and off the pitch, and take their destiny into their own hands.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the new-look Bok team under Rassie Erasmus?
Ugo Monye: I have been very impressed with the Springboks this series. Rassie has only been with the team for a short period of time and I don’t think anyone knew what to expect from South Africa. However, he has produced a competitive team. He has been smart with the re-introduction of the European-based players and also added a host of exciting youngsters. I faced the Boks on two occasions in South Africa when I represented the British and Irish Lions in 2009. It’s a different era of Springbok rugby. I was disappointed for England after the first Test, but was incredibly proud for Siya Kolisi and of the historic moment when he became the first black African Test captain for South Africa. We are in the business of winning and losing, but I felt the first Test was far greater than a rugby match. It was a moment that had the potential to signal a new era and fresh mindset by bringing together a group of people and ultimately a country. I put my disappointment to the side for a second and was so pleased for Kolisi, who is an incredible man with an inspiring story. Kolisi has been able to elevate himself to become Springbok captain and lead his country to success… The class of 2009 were reigning World Cup and Tri-Nations champions. They had pretty much won everything when I faced them during the British and Irish Lions series. Within that team, they had players whom I would term modern day legends. The class of 2018 is a younger, more inexperienced team, but their potential is clear to see. They are a real attacking threat. I love the make-up of South Africa’s back three. The pace which Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi possess allied with the rugby intellect and skill-set of fullback Willie le Roux, is a true danger. The incumbent Bok wingers can potentially become international greats, but I’m always tentative to make early predictions. They boast all the components quality international wings should have - pace, footwork, power and finishing ability. The pair have the raw ingredients to become top-class wings. However, in order to become world-class, they’ll have to be able to produce a high level of performance over a consistent period of time.
Sport24 asked: Could the third Test determine Eddie Jones’ England coaching future?
Ugo Monye: I don’t agree with that sentiment at all. Eddie Jones is our coach and recently had his contract extended to 2021 by the RFU. In my book, he will definitely be England coach through to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. I find the calls for him to be sacked incredibly fickle. The same people that were lauding him a few months ago are now calling for his head. It’s insane. Of course England are in hole but, my word, which team wouldn’t be after six consecutive defeats? However, I still think there is a sense of confidence among the players that Eddie is the man that can turn it around. If we were talking about how South Africa were ripping England apart this series and that the visitors had no answers to their problems, I would be in a very different head space. It’s easy for people to sit on their high horse and say: “Eddie should be sacked.” You can get rid of your coach, but the question is who will you bring in as England coach in the build-up to the World Cup? I don’t agree that Eddie’s job is on the line if England lose the third Test. I believe it’s an over-reaction… The team Eddie selects is his prerogative, as it’s his neck on the line. (Jones has made four changes to the starting XV, with Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes and Danny Cipriani coming in). I love the Cipriani selection for Saturday. He is a quality player, who deserves his chance and had to play. He was class off the bench for 12 minutes, but it will be a different challenge leading from the start.
Sport24 asked: What is your take on the return of Schalk Brits to the Springbok side?
Ugo Monye: It’s great to see Schalk ‘the smiling assassin’ Brits in the Springbok match-day 23. (Brits will come off the bench, with Chiliboy Ralepelle in the starting XV). Brits is one of the nicest guys in the game and is incredibly talented. At 37, he is still such an incredible player and at the top of his game. It was a smart move from Rassie to bring him into the group to offer insight into the English, but he also has playing ability that is second to none. He is one of those guys in the game you have to love and respect. It’s his call to decide if he wants to play for a further season or hang up his boots. Retirement is very much an individual call and it’s a tough one to make when it’s all you have ever known. I certainly feel he still has plenty to give at the highest of levels, which is why he is playing a Test match this Saturday. Thereafter, he will take time to consider what is best for him and his family and, if the call is to retire and leave it to someone else, then that is what he is going to do.
Sport24 asked: What is your outlook ahead of the contest in Cape Town on Saturday?
Ugo Monye: This third Test has provided South Africa with a great opportunity to make personnel changes and try out some new combinations. The Springbok team shows five changes to the starting side that beat England in Bloemfontein. If the series was all square and there was everything to play for heading into the final Test, Rassie would not have been in the position to tinker with his squad - that’s for sure! Of course South Africa are satisfied they have won the series, but they must be thinking how great a whitewash would be against England. Three-nil against England would be remarkable. For the English, the series is gone, but there is still a Test match to be won. During the 2009 British and Irish Lions series, we were in the same position as England now in terms of being 2-0 down heading into the last Test. We knew how important it was for us to sign off on the right note. We wanted to restore pride in the jersey and reward our travelling supporters with a victory. It was a different looking South African side in the third Test to the one we faced in the second, but it didn’t matter to us. All we wanted to do was go out and win, and we were able to exorcise some demons. If England put together an 80 minute performance and get on top of their ill-discipline it will give them a really good chance of snapping their losing streak. With rain in Cape Town this week and inclement weather conditions set for match-day, the Boks will play to their traditional strengths. South Africa’s power game is something we take for granted in the northern hemisphere. Whether it’s scrum, lineout, carry or ruck, those elements of their DNA are a strong part of Rassie’s thinking... It will be sad if it proves to be the final Test match at Newlands. It is a historic ground with heritage. I hope the contest does the grand old stadium justice. SA Rugby is very fortunate to have modern day amphitheatres and, the impending switch to Cape Town Stadium, would be moving with the times.
Previous Q&A chats:
Carlo de Fava
Flip van der Merwe
Neil de Kock
Bakkies BothaRohan Janse van Rensburg