LONDON — In episode Two of Team Talk, Bob Skinstad and Alec Hogg catch up on the latest sports and business news from Bell Pottinger’s demise and Kgalema Mothlante’s BBC interview through to the looming Springbok showdown against the All Blacks. There’s also a chat between Bob and his pal Justin Kemp, with one of world cricket’s best all rounders, on life after professional sport. – Alec Hogg
Well, here we are with Team Talk Episode 2. Bob Skinstad.
I’m excited, Alec. It’s been a fun week. Lots has happened on the sporting front and haven’t we had a tumultuous up and down political and news week from South Africa? While I quietly turn to the back pages first to look at how the Springboks etc are doing, there’s been a load of stuff that’s come through this week that’s been interesting.
Yes. It’s worth going on the front page for a change, as well.
Exactly, and the business section.
We all go online nowadays but when you read the newspaper, would you go front?
No, I’m teasing. I actually read different newspapers for different things.
I always go back to front.
Oh, really? No, when I’m commuting in the morning, I read City AM for everything that’s happening in M&A stuff and the announcements in the UK and then I’m pretty much satiated. If I’m in SA, I like Business News or the Business Section but then I’ve also got about five or six websites that I open up straight away in the morning, so I’ve pretty much read the news by the time I get to the Metro or whatever it is on the train.
I actually quite like newspapers and that’s been one of the benefits of being in the UK. I get the Financial Times every morning and of course, The Economist every week.
Well, the FT Weekend is a staple for me. It’s outstanding.
It’s amazing, but let’s go to the back page to start with. New Zealand are next up for the Boks and we’re going to talk about that later but the game last weekend against Australia felt to me, as though the Springboks should have won it.
Yes. The funny thing is… It’s a funny game when you play in Perth. There are two main reasons. A lot of the fields there are multi-purpose, so they’re built for cricket, AFL, and rugby is sort of an add-on. Sometimes, football is even played there. The difference with that – if you can imagine playing rugby on a cricket field – is that the crowds are a lot further away from the action. I know this is going to sound a little bit forced, but it feels like there’s less action happening – that sort of atmospheric (almost pressurised) build-up that you get at Newlands or Twickenham. It’s like you can almost the person’s emotion next to you. It’s a lot easier when they play, when someone gets tackled out and you can hear the thump of Etzebeth landing. When you’re in Perth, that’s 50 metres away.
I remember from my youth that at one point in time, they moved the games to the Wanderers Stadium – the cricket stadium – and I remember going and watching the Junior Springboks playing the Lions (I think it was). It should have been a huge game and the atmosphere was awful.
It doesn’t work. I would say to anyone who hasn’t watched live sport, the English Premier League over here with the stadiums that are so close that you can literally have any seat in the stadium and you feel like you’re in the king’s chair in the halfway line at the middle. It’s amazing. Anyway, that’s one of the factors that gets in the way. The other thing is that Australian rugby has taken such a beating over Perth being moved out.
Out of the Western Force?
Well, the Western Force as a franchise, disappearing at the moment: it looks like Andrew Forrest (Twiggy, as they affectionately call him in Australia) the mining magnate, is going to have a go at trying to do something. Then you’ve got to link up with another league, etc. Anyway, that’s a conversation for another day. Everybody’s sort of down in the mouth a bit about rugby in that part of the world, so I felt it was a difficult game to get into and that translated into quite a patchy, ugly first half. I chatted to a couple of guys who said it was very slippery. There was a lot of rain beforehand – not necessarily in the game – and sometimes that does contribute as well. I felt the Springboks really turned their game around though, in the second half.
How does that happen? The difference in performance in the two halves was noticeable.
It certainly was and look, I felt we had some outstanding performers. Siya Kolisi, again, was just brilliant at smashing back players in the tackle and standing up stealing the ball. You know when those game-changing players… They just stamp their authority on the game. Pieter Steph du Toit: I’m hearing that he might play flank this weekend and my blood boils about that but it’s purely unlucky. It looks like he might have to play flank because of injuries but I felt that at lock, he was just brilliant. He took those kick-off receipts well. He was defensive. He was brilliant and he carried the middle of the field. Those players, I felt, had a better second half than they did a first half when they were on the field – their contribution -, which meant that the Springboks could turn a deficit around and they led by three points at one stage. We speak about chance. I’ve been to Perth a number of times for test matches, but I’ve drawn there twice.
It’s in the back of my head when I hear people saying, “It’s a game against Australia.” It’s almost like it’s going to be close. It could be a three-pointer or even a draw. I watched that game. I think that in the last 17 minutes, we were locked up in scores and it never got beyond that. The Springboks had done enough to get ahead. Australia got back into the game. I felt we were really unlucky. We had two lovely breaks where we almost scored again, but great defensive work by Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau who got all the way back.
How do you feel after a game like that when you thought you could have won?
It’s a tough feeling. The coaches will be pragmatic. They’ll say, “A couple of points on the road are points on the road. It’s better than a loss.” I think the players… I really like them for this weekend because I think the players almost feel unfinished. The business hasn’t been done. It’s like in our minds, we still have a result to get on this tour, which means they gather momentum and they carry on. The stats don’t lie. When the Springboks have drawn or had a close loss, they’ve usually had a very good game next up and I think that bodes very well for the coming weekend. We’ll see as we watch the preparation pan out.
Bob, you set up Matt Pearce, whom I think was in the middle of the night in New Zealand when you got me to have a chat with him. It was interesting to hear his comments and we’re going to hear a clip in a moment from that discussion. Why Matt?
Well, I commentated with Matt for a number of years and I still do if I get the chance. I commentate freelance because I love the game. He is without doubt, in my mind, South Africa’s Number 1 commentator – one of the best in the world at rugby. He’s got such a sporting pedigree. He got himself down to a scratch golfer. He was editor of Golf Digest. He worked at Sports Illustrated for many years, so he’s got a real in-depth knowledge about all sports. I think he could easily transition to other sports but rugby is his passion and I think Matt is outstanding. For me, he does ‘behind the scenes’ work so I can phone Matt and I can say, “How’s the scrum looking?” and he’ll say, “Well, I’m standing at the scrumming practice right now and Coenie Oosthuizen is sitting to the side. He’s broken his arm. This is Trevor Nyakane weakness at the moment. This is what they’re working on. This is where they’ve been cracking down.”
Coenie Oosthuizen. That’s incredible. He broke his arm, sitting off the field and he comes back on.
Well, he had to come back on. There was a blood replacement and he came back on, made four tackles and I think six carries.
How tough is that?
They only found out afterwards that he’d broken his arm because he’d told nobody.
It is and very heroic and very brave of him. He’s going to miss out now because he’s got a fracture in his arm but again, Matt knew that, found that out, gave us that stat quite early on, and I love that about him and I love his passion for South Africa and South African rugby.
So, he’s our rugby professor. Let’s hear. He doesn’t know everything, though. I asked him how things would be going in the dressing room after the Australian draw.
“Well, the dressing room: I wouldn’t know. That’s sacrosanct. We don’t get to go in there but I think to speak generally around the mood in the camp; it’s very good/very positive compared to being around the squad a year ago. It’s like being around a different rugby team. That’s down to a number of things, not least the time that they had to prepare together as a squad this year, which they didn’t have last year. The time they spent together in a pre-season camp in Plettenberg Bay, which they talk about a lot where they just got to know each other a lot better, what made each other tick, finding out more about their families and getting to understand the person next to you in a team helps to create an environment in which you play with more purpose for each other.”
That’s very interesting. I remember (going back into Springbok rugby) Rudolph Straeuli and the Operation Staaldraad. That was a strange Springbok camp certainly, from what we read in the media but it seems like they’ve got the spirit going well now from what Matt had to say.
Matt’s quite outspoken about one of the things that is important to me, and that’s the fact that the culture of a team is often as important as the talent of the players. I think Franco Smith, Brendan, and certainly Alistair have felt that the culture of the Springboks has been a little bit dispirited. I had a wonderful feeling when I watched the Springboks play against France this year and Rudi Page scored a try. He’s been on the fringes of the Springbok environment for a while and literally, 14 other players sprinted from wherever they were (going about their business on that field) to get the ball and he scored, and he had 14 guys hugging him. For me, it was an indication of how much they enjoyed his company but also, that they all cared about each other. You get these clinical teams where it’s just ‘jog back to your spot and carry on’ but that’s rubbish.
You need to celebrate in the moment. You need to pat people on the back. You need to hug. Siya Kolisi is a great example. He gets joy… It’s the old adage. You don’t shine brighter by crushing out someone else’s light and he’s a leader of that kind of ilk. He’s like, “If I can give you praise because you’re amazing, it’s all better for everybody.” I get goose bumps even talking about it.
What about the dressing room? Matt said he couldn’t help us there.
Well, I’m not allowed to tell you much about the dressing room either. I think it’s sacrosanct for a reason. It’s a place where your blood and guts are spilled for your players. You’re out there afterwards. Emotionally, you’ve got to go out there and say, “We drew when we wanted to win” or “We lost when we wanted to win” or “We’ve won when we didn’t think we could” or “We’ve won when we should.” You’ve got to share those feelings. In a few minutes, the coach has to sum up maybe where you are at half-time and what you need to do in the second half. Afterwards, he has to stop you from getting a rampant ego about you or he’s got to build you up and say, “Listen, we can do this.” It’s a really tightly-knit group of people in a highly-charged emotional environment.
Who’s allowed in there. Well, who’s not allowed in there? Obviously, the media isn’t.
Yes. Outsiders don’t get to go in much. I think the coach would dictate who can and who can’t. I remember years ago, journalists started to come in and I think everybody was trying to be a bit like the NFL where the change room was open to everybody. It’s not like Aladdin’s Cave where nobody can ever go in. I think it’s about the team and what’s done. I would imagine that after the 10 minutes of team chat, it becomes a more open area and people can come in, but you’re certainly not going to have a rugby change room open to anybody.
Bob, you’ve met a lot of famous people. Have you had the privilege of meeting Kgalema Motlanthe?
No, I haven’t.
What’s your impression of him? Just remember, he was the President of South Africa between…
…for a very short period of time – almost in an interim role, but then he quietly impressed a lot of people during that time. My impression is that I don’t nearly know enough about him. I’ve heard a lot of what he’s been saying recently and he makes a lot of sense. He’s one of the older statesmen of the ANC for a long time without having to self-promote and put himself in all the leadership positions, but it’s interesting to see how now, in a time of crisis for the ANC and South Africa, we’re starting to hear his very calm and measured voice.
He used to… We lived just down the road in Johannesburg in 8th Street in Houghton. He was about four houses away and this was even after he left office. Even at that time, we knew we had one of the safest streets in Houghton because there were always lots of police presence around him so they look after presidents after they’ve left. Interestingly enough, he’s in London at the moment and he was on BBC Hardtalk yesterday. He was asked (with the way that he’s speaking out against Jacob Zuma and particularly when he recently spoke out and said ‘Zuma should leave office), did he know – the interviewer asked him – if he was putting a nail in Zuma’s coffin. Here’s what Motlanthe had to say about that.
KGALEMA MOTLANTHE: “No. No, because when conscience fails you…when consciousness deserts you, moral appeals count for nought. They only serve to reinforce your inability to self-criticise.”
BBC “So, he is beyond any criticism. It makes no difference to him.”
KGALEMA MOTLANTHE: “It makes no difference. It’s water off a duck’s back.”
How’s that? Here, he’s saying that we have a president in South Africa who is impervious to any kind of criticism, even the criticism of his predecessor. Water off a duck’s back. It doesn’t send a very good message to the rest of the world.
No, it doesn’t. I think that’s one of the things that is inciting comment around the world now. I find myself in a coffee shop, at a business meeting, or at a golf course having a conversation about South Africa and I’ve started to try and unpack a little bit from a personal point of view and sport, and I’m working on some stuff on the side but it’s around the emotions that the turmoil in our leadership leads us as individuals. If you think about it, how do you explain to someone that our president in South Africa is doing what he’s currently doing? We look at Venezuela a couple of years ago and say, “Oh, that’s terrible. How could that happen?”
It’s easy to say Venezuela’s messing it up.
That’s what I mean. When it comes to your own country, (1) you don’t want to admit it, (2) you’re not proud of it, and (3) you can’t explain it.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this and it’s almost as though a healthy discourse that South Africa had (definitely, under Mandela and to a period over time – Mbeki) has become a very toxic discourse. It’s almost like the country’s become unhealthy. The discussions that are going around are racist/race-based. An example was yesterday when you had the chief executives of Standard Bank. Ben Kruger stepped down and Sim Tshabalala became the new CEO.
And they’ve been co-leaders for a number of years.
Now, Ben is old. Sorry, he’s not old but he’s getting to the end of his career. Sim is younger and this to me, was a very good decision because you’ve had the older guy working with the younger guy and he’s not leaving the boat completely. He’s going to remain on the board as Ben Kruger and Sim can now take over as the younger guy – maybe talk to Ben if he needs any help – but he’s now the CEO. The reaction from the politicians and particularly the Minister of Finance, Gigaba, was to issue a statement to say, ‘well done, this is to show black promotion, black economic whatever.’ To me that sends completely the wrong message. Sim Tshabalala is excellent in his own right.
Regardless of colour or background, exactly.
Exactly, he deserves the position. He’s moving forward. We now, as South Africans, will celebrate a bright, young man who’s moved into a more senior position but it now becomes race-based. ‘Oh, well because we’ve got rid of a ‘whitie’ and we’ve put a ‘blackie’ in there.’ That’s a very, unhealthy discourse and to me, what Bell Pottinger’s greatest sin is, is that they put that toxicity there. They’ve put that poison into the SA environment so that, you even get the Minister of Finance now, issuing a ridiculous statement. He could have just issued the statement and said, ‘congratulations to Sim Tshabalala,’ in the same way as he should have issued something when the next bank chief comes, etcetera, if he feels that way. But to make it into a race-based thing, it shows unhealthiest.
It does, and I think for me it’s not only in politics. Let’s bring sport into this now so, a young black batsman gets promoted to the Proteas, is the first thing that people say about his ability or is it about his colour? And we have, it’s almost catabolic because now, if everything is about race when do we become a country that can go back to that healthy discourse that you were talking about? About ability, contribution, and all the things that build a country, you know, the anabolic side of growing a country. We talk about catabolic and I had the experience in sport of understanding what it means. It’s a breakdown, and for me this is a breakdown of communication but it’s also a breakdown of some understanding.
I think the proliferation of social media has had a big effect, because people, whether you like it or not, believe now that they’ve all got a voice so, a million people can attack you on social media for a comment, any comment. We’ve seen it with commentators making a mistake or not giving credit to the background or the ethnicity of a player or a sportsman or sportswoman, and I see it now. I’m not treading a fine line at all, where you see male or female so, I think Wimbledon has given the prize money, the women’s and the men’s is the same and I think that’s fantastic. The same number of people watch and they’ve got exactly the same number of fans, and young girls want to aspire to. But people are immediately attacking and saying, ‘is it a girl’s game or is it a boy’s game?’
Maybe it’s a human thing that we take it down to one of the least important elements of it and we not talk, necessarily about ability and this is a case and point. I mean, one of the ‘big 4’ banks progressively working together to make a future. To have a guy, who’s clearly now, and they do say, ‘that all CEOs need to work for somebody.’ It’s either a smart shareholder or a good board, etcetera. He doesn’t have to work for anybody when he’s in the role but now he’s got the counsel of Ben, who he’s worked with for a long time and is able to make the decisions because the buck will stop with him. It’s a fantastic move forward but you’re right, it’s seen as a negative because of the way we talk about it.
You talk about social media, the best Tweet I saw this week was a guy who I thought did really poorly in the debate over Jacob Zuma, Nathi Mthethwa. He was also the Minister of Police at the time that we had the Marikana massacre so, he’s got immediately a guy like that. I’d look at and say, ‘whoa, hang on,’ but he Tweeted this week and he kind of wiped out all of my bad perceptions or my misperceptions about him. He Tweeted Steve Biko, who said, ‘there should be no such things as minorities. There should just be people.’
What a beautiful statement.
If we can embrace that as all South Africans, and start embracing that it becomes a healthy discourse, it becomes a healthy dialogue, rather than an unhealthy one. Anyway, Bell Pottinger is over, they’re gone. They’re into bankruptcy.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.
Indeed, and there’s not too many people in SA who are unhappy about that happening but somebody who’s doing much better with their lives is Justin Kemp, and you had a chat to Justin Kemp a little earlier. Just by way of background, have you known him for a while? Did you know him while he was playing cricket?
Yes, a little bit, on and off. Kempie has got 2 beautiful little daughters, him and his wife, Bridge, live quite close to us and the little girls went to the same schools, Springfield Convent, in CT. We got to know each other. On a random evening, I used to play five-a-side football and he loved his football. We started playing together. We played a lot more and then I heard that he liked fishing so, we’ve been on a couple of trips together. We are incredibly lucky to go out to the Seychelles and fish once a year, with Keith Rose-Innes, and a couple of guys from the Alphonse Fishing Company. But Kempie went through that transition from full time professional sport, he was the captain of WP, the Cobras, literally as I moved in. We started to know each other, and then moved out of professional sport completely.
He went to India as well, didn’t he?
Well, yes, he’s played IPLC. He’s played all over the world cricket, he’s played over here, county cricket as well, and at a very high level for his whole career but he has made a life out of one of his passions. He’s transitioned into doing something else for a living and I just love it. It’s a great example to sportsmen out there.
So, you asked him a little bit about managing the business and it was an interesting response that he came up with. Let’s listen to a little bit of that clip.
“Yes, I think that’s spot on. I think just in my business, as with you when you played rugby, you have to trust your fly-half to do the job for you or your scrum-half to do the job for you, you can’t do it for them. So, there is a huge amount of trust, absolutely. You’ve got to be hands on and I’m not reinventing the wheel here. People have got big businesses, they know what I’m talking about so, it is quite daunting in the beginning when you put a lot of money into the business and you realise that somebody, (an accountant) who’s doing your books and you trust them. So, there has to be that. There obviously, are checks and balances but yes, I think cricket definitely helped me with that. As I say, ‘when you’re a captain of a team you’ve got to trust your players.’ You’ve got to trust your batters and your bowlers to do a job and I think that that has helped without a doubt, in the transition from sport to business. It definitely helped me along the way.”
That’s such an interesting clip because these are the people that you know, Bob. I guess there’s a code amongst sportsmen and they’ve finished their sporting careers and not all of them are successful in business. I remember Dave Callahan, who probably knew Justin Kemp from his PE days, he went through a difficult time, David, with Fedentia.
He got sucked in by J Arthur Brown, if you remember that whole scandal, and what they would do and David told this story. He said, ‘when they had clients they wanted to impress they would call him.’ He’d go along there and they’d trot him out. The clients would be impressed because there was David Callahan, ‘he must know better.’ The poor guy took enormous pain over the whole issue. Of course, he’s done well and he’s a great guy, and I think he went into estate agencies in the Eastern Cape, but life after sport is not always a bed or roses.
Absolutely, I think the one thing you’ve got to remember is that the transition is difficult. A lot of us that are my age now were pre-professional. I think I was the youngest contracted player in the country, in 1995, when rugby went professional, I was playing for SA under 19’s, and I wasn’t professional. So, rugby wasn’t even a career option. Then suddenly you forego all your studies because now you could potentially make this team, and you’re being paid a little bit on the side now and you’re not sure if you’re allowed to or not, etcetera. Then you’ve got to make a career decision based on an industry that doesn’t exist so, I think Justin has definitely, he’s straddled that. He went from amateur into professional, and then completely professional for a large part. Remember, he’s an evergreen. He played professional cricket for 21 years. He was a real, high performer from a young age and he stayed fit and strong, and now he’s turning 40 this year.
He would have seen it all but there are a lot of players who are incredibly good at their sport but how do you turn that into a business skill? I think this is a great story of what’s possible. Of using the leadership from understanding the team dynamic but then also, it’s his passion. Justin started fly-fishing with me, he’s now a far better fly-fisherman than I’ll ever be. He casts beautifully, he’s got an amazing ability and he’s very fishy, as the guys call him. He sniffs out where the fish are going to be. People call it luck but it’s after years and years of experience. So, it’s a great industry for him to be in.
I think if you look at the lessons that he’s learning there. He’s translating what he’s learnt at sport, into a new career. I love it, I think it’s great and to be honest, he’s really good at what he does and I think it’s great to have a guy in a shop like that that you’re learning from, and that knows what he’s talking about.
Well, Bob, we’re going to close off with another quirk from Matt Pearce. I asked him about the game against the All Blacks on the weekend and, obviously this is the big one for SA, certainly at the moment. I asked him if he was a betting man, what kind of odds he would bet?
“Such a difficult question because I’m not a betting man. You’ll have to ask your mate, Bob Skinstad, because he was with me in 2009, when we last won a test and that was in Hamilton. That was one of the best Springbok teams ever to come to New Zealand, and they managed to scrape in by 3 points, 32 – 29. I’d love to say, if you’re going to ask me for odds, I’d love to be able to say the Springboks are worth a punt, and they probably are worth a punt but are they the favourites? No, they’re not but as I’ve said a couple of times during our chat, the difference in mindset and attitude, and the belief that they have a chance, compared to last year, is really quite something.”
He says, ‘they have a real chance – the Boks have a real chance against the All Blacks this weekend. What do you think, Bob?
I think they do. There’s a few factors there and in the extended interview, which is available, which I would recommend anyone to listen to. Matt talks about Eden Park as being a stronghold for the All Blacks but this is in Albany, this is a different venue.
Does it make that much difference?
You can’t believe, I think a lot of it is self-fulfilling prophecy. You walk into Twickenham and Clive Wood would start off with, ‘welcome to fortress Twickenham, nobody wins here except England.’ You see it once, and you disregard it. You see it twice, and you’d start to think, and then three times, and then you’ve convinced yourself. And Eden Park, I know the stats and I don’t even like repeating them because I believe that whatever happens to people…
Well what are the stats? When last did anybody win?
Well, SA were the last team to hold NZ. In fact, the last time NZ lost in Eden Park was in 1994.
My arithmetic says that’s nearly 25 years, a quarter of a Century.
A quarter of a Century ago, I watched that game, we were treated to some incredible length of the field…it just an amazing, and Phillipe Sella, the prince of centres. They won and won a series there and NZ recovering from that difficult blow of smashed all and sundry.
For 25 years?
For 25 years, you know.
At Eden Park, but this isn’t at Eden Park?
No, this is not at Eden Park and I think that’s a factor. Also, the Springboks are coming off a draw, and I mentioned earlier, I think that’s a factor. I think you almost feel as if you’ve done all this preparation and you don’t have a result yet. You have a result, in terms of the log, etcetera but you don’t have a win on tour so, I think the Springboks will be at a real high. Also, the NZ team, despite an incredibly athletic performance from this youngster, Fifita, weren’t that good against the Pumas, you know and Argentina really chucked it to them. They led them at half-time in NZ. Sure, it wasn’t their full-strength team but NZ’s second strength team would be anybody else’s full-strength team so, it was an incredible game to watch and one that showed a few, little chinks in the armour. I still think NZ will be overwhelming favourites going into this game but the Springboks and players, if they disregard all of the things that have gone before and go in with playing to the best of their ability – I think they’ve got a real chance.
So, this time last year, Matt Pearce said, ‘he knew there was no chance that the Springboks could win,’ and clearly, they were in a very different place. This year, people who might not have turned up to watch the game last year, or switch on their television sets, will definitely be in front of it.
Yes, I think so. Let’s look at last season versus this season. We’re undefeated this season. Last season was ’annus horribilis’ for the Springboks. NZ away, just the appetite for NZ vs SA rugby was demonstrated by Newlands selling out before the tickets went on sale, effectively so, all the season ticket holders snapped up their allocations. All the corporate suites were sold out, and these were R950 a ticket, at the low end. Didn’t Nick Mallett get fired for complaining when they were R300 a ticket? I know it’s a long time ago but if you think about the demand for this game I think everybody will be up and watching this one. I’m going to be covering this for Sky Sports and I’m really looking forward to it because I think we’ve got a chance and, if nothing else NZ and SA play great rugby against each other. It’s big hits, it’s incredible tries, because you have to be superhuman to breach the defence on either one of these teams and I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a smashing game.
Are they good enough, the Boks, to win?
Yes, I think they’ll be better in a year’s time but a win like this could give you a lot more belief, and I think Allister, and Brendan they’re all guys who’ve won in difficult situations. Who’ve got really incredible victories under their belt and I think it will make a difference to give the players the belief that they need because you need the belief first. It exists in the head first, before anywhere else.
Bob Skinstad, that’s our Team Talk for episode 2, and we’re back again next week for episode 3.