Andre Snyman during a Tri Nations match against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland in 2001.
Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT/Getty Images
- Former Springbok centre Andre Snyman, who featured in 38 Tests, talks about how the game has evolved and assesses the centre pairing of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
- The ex-Bulls midfielder reveals how Jake White delivered the news that his international career was over and why the current Bulls mentor earned his “Jake the Snake” nickname.
- He also shares his memories of the 1997 British & Irish Lions series defeat and his excitement ahead of the tour next year, which will see the tourists play in eight fixtures.
Sport24 asked: Is your long-term ambition to coach in South Africa?
Andre Snyman: I have tried so many times to get back to South Africa and offer my coaching expertise. I will be honest and say that it’s not through a lack of trying. (Snyman coached in America for eight years and is currently the head coach at Hill House School in the UK). I have sent my resume, written e-mails and made phone calls but with no luck. It’s a tough one to swallow but I know that there are some quality coaches in South Africa and plenty of retired players, so it’s a tough market to get into. The fact that I’m abroad doesn’t make it easier to apply for those positions. Most recently Grey College was looking for a head coach. I sent an e-mail to the department asking whether I should apply but never received a reply. I have reached out to other schools, clubs and provinces but never got a positive response. Unfortunately that’s the way it is, so I will focus on what I’m doing here at the moment and something might come my way in the future.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the Bok coaches you played for?
Andre Snyman: I had six or seven Springbok coaches over the course of my career, starting with Kitch Christie and ending with Jake White. I learned a lot from all of their coaching styles and most of them were completely different. Some coaches were very passionate, some were technical, some encouraged player input and others were like: “It’s my way or the highway”. It has shaped me into the coach I am today. I would say I’m a players’ coach. I enjoy getting player input because at the end of the day it’s them on the pitch and they make the final decisions with ball in hand… In terms of Jake, he was a good coach but we had our run-ins. He was passionate but lacked the skill to talk to people and explain to the player exactly what was expected of him. I felt he would talk to one player about another behind their back. We quickly realised what he was doing and how he was trying to rival us against each other. As players, we stood together and vowed that he was not going to put us up against each other. It was borderline backstabbing and in the team he earned the nickname “Jake the Snake” which explained it all. You had to be careful what you said to him because you never knew who he would share the information with. There were certain areas of the game where we didn’t see eye-to-eye, however, Jake is a good coach and didn’t win the 2007 World Cup for nothing.
Sport24 asked: How did you take missing out on World Cup selection?
Andre Synman: Missing out on 2007 World Cup selection was a bitter pill for me to swallow and I was very upset about it. Jake brought me back from Leeds Tykes with whom I cancelled my contract in 2006. Reading between the lines, he suggested that I was going to be his No 13 for the World Cup in France but that never happened. After the Test against Scotland in 2006, the then South African minister of sport was putting Jake under pressure with comments in the media. The minister wanted to know why Jake brought back “retired” players from overseas and referred to me as “Os Snyman”. On the Sunday morning after breakfast, Jake came up to me and said that he thought I had “played enough rugby and needed to take a break”. That was the way he told me I had been dropped from the Springbok squad and wasn’t going to the World Cup. It cut deep but it was purely a political decision because Jake was under pressure from the government regarding transformation.
Sport24 asked: Has SA rugby advanced in terms of transformation?
Andre Snyman: Absolutely but as they say Rome wasn’t built in a day. Ten to 15 years ago, I think the transformation imperatives were a big shock to a lot of people within South African rugby. With the quality of players coming through, questions were being asked but nowadays it’s completely different because they have been spending a lot of time and effort coaching at youth level and have brought those players through the ranks. In my playing era, by and large, it felt like players of colour were just there because of the transformation process, whereas today they are in the team because of their skill. There is a big change and I do think that the transformation has paid off, with some really good players within the system. However, you can’t please everybody and we are still losing players to the overseas markets because of transformation but that is purely the nature of the beast.
Sport24 asked: How do you rate the De Allende-Am centre pairing?
Andre Snyman: They are two quality centres. They are big, strong and very effective runners. They are top class players but are playing in a different era. The game has changed completely, so it’s hard for me to compare them with the way we played 15 years ago. During my era, the game was more fluent and we could move the ball around as there was more space available for us to run into. Today, rugby has become like a game of chess where you employ tactical combat manoeuvres in order to find that space. In the last five years, I haven’t seen many outside centres take the outside break on their opponent. The only way they break their opponents is by running through them or at an angle to the inside. The outside break isn’t often seen anymore because of the great defensive systems these days. In the current era, both De Allende and Am are definitely up there with the best.
Sport24 asked: Your recollections of the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour?
Andre Snyman: I enjoyed the series and was one of only four players who started all three Tests albeit out of position on the wing. That is where all the trouble started for Carel du Plessis because he decided to play players out of position. He felt I was a better winger than centre. It didn’t make sense and at the time, everyone was asking why he was playing players out of position. It created a lot of doubt in the team but, at the end of the day, our blood was green and whatever jersey number you got, you took because you wanted to play. Wing wasn’t my favourite position but I made the best of it. It was weird that Carel decided I was a better winger than centre but it was to make space for other players and once again a bit of a political move… The British & Irish Lions series is a great occasion and an amazing event for the player as well as the supporter. It only comes around to South Africa every 12 years, so if you get the chance as a player it’s actually an honour to play against them. I think it’s going to be a really good battle but with Handre Pollard injured, South Africa will be scrambling for a quality 10. It’s going to be interesting to see who they select at flyhalf. Elton Jantjies is the next in line. He’s good if he gets front foot ball but as soon as he sits in the pocket and is hesitant to take the ball forward then you are going to have a nightmare game. The Boks need to create a situation where he gets ball on the front foot and keeps the defence honest.
Sport24 asked: Your abiding memories of Joost van der Westhuizen?
Andre Snyman: Joost and I went back a long way as we played for the Bulls and the Springboks. We were Bok roommates for seven years and the standard joke was that him and I slept in the same bedroom more often than we did with our wives. He was a character and I saw a side of him not many did in terms of him always being up for a laugh. He was the team clown and always came up with a prank. However, he was also serious about certain things in life – his preparation before a game and dedication to his craft. On-field, he was very committed but off-field he was light-hearted. However, as soon as there was media around him, the fake Joost came out. He had to put on a facade because the media would always blow things out of proportion. I found there were two sides to Joost. I felt for him in terms of the media and public attention as he was a very popular player. Everyone wanted an autograph and photo and it took away his private life. In terms of him as a player, I would rate him as the greatest Springbok scrumhalf ever. Joost was in his own class. He was a different player in terms of the way he read the game coupled with his power, strength and defence. Fourie de Preez was also brilliant but played in a different era. Joost was the top Springbok scrumhalf I played with. His passing to Motor Neurone Disease in 2017 was really sad and we miss him. I think Joost would have been very good for the game in a coaching capacity if still alive today.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the upcoming Green v Gold trial match?
Andre Snyman: Trials are always good and the match on 3 October at Newlands will be interesting. It will keep the critics quiet because they will see a host of players in action. At the same time, it offers the players the chance to step up and show what they’re made of. However, on the downside they run the risk of injuries. I think it will be a good test to see the new talent coming through. It will be about assessing whether they can play to that level and against some really experienced players. As the saying goes, “If you want to run with the big dogs you’ve got to lift your leg high.” I feel South Africa should only play domestically and skip the Rugby Championship this season. I don’t know if the players will be on form and, with the potential risk of (Covid-19) infection, I would play internally and get the players game-fit. The Springboks could then return to the Rugby Championship in 2021, but, from a playing, logistical and financial perspective, it doesn’t make sense this term. I don’t think it’s really worth flying all the way to Australasia and I’m in favour of them rather preparing at home.