Mtawarira, who still plays for the Springboks after 107 tests, was first selected by De Villiers in 2008 in his first year in charge of the squad after controversially taking the reins from Jake White, who won the World Cup in France the year beforehand.
De Villiers became the first non-white head coach of the Springboks, but Mtawarira believes the 62-year-old was “lucky” during his four-year tenure, which ended with defeat to the Wallabies at the quarter-final stage of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“He was a fantastic coach of the Junior Springboks, but I think at the high level he was probably lucky that a very good group of players was handed over to him,” Mtawarira wrote.
De Villiers inherited a squad that featured the likes of Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Percy Montgomery, Schalk Burger, John Smit, Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Bakkies Botha and JP Pieterson, all of whom were part of South Africa’s World Cup success in 2007 and have established themselves as greats of the modern era.
Mtawarira suggested that it was the players rather than De Villiers that were responsible for guiding the Boks through one of their most successful periods in recent times, which included five wins from 11 meetings with the All Blacks, winning the 2009 British and Irish Lions series, and claiming the Tri Nations title that year as well.
“There’s no doubt that he was happy to be at the forefront of a team that could operate on its own steam. Most of the work was done by the players, with [assistant coaches] Dick [Muir] and [Gary] Gold very influential,” Mtawarira said.
“His methods and approach didn’t really work with the Springboks, and as players we had to be careful what we said to the media. What you said would get back to Peter and affect your place in the team. The media did not like Peter and thought he was a bit of a clown.”
After South Africa were eliminated from the 2011 World Cup, De Villiers lost his job.
He was most recently hired by Zimbabwe with the aim of coaching them to their first World Cup berth in 28 years, but was reportedly fired after for unauthorised absence from work following a shambolic showing at the 2018 African Gold Cup, where they finished fifth out of six teams, despite needing a top two finish to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
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