Rugby Union: Teichmann's new challenge in Newport

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The Independent Online
WHERE DOES a great Springbok captain run to when, in the course of a single phone call to his friend and national coach, he sees the walls of his sporting world come tumbling down like some South African Jericho? Gary Teichmann might have reached for his surfboard and set up camp on Durban's North Beach, or packed a few rolls of film and headed for the Serengeti. Instead, he chose Newport. As in Newport, Gwent. Would you care to explain, Gary? "Well, look at the weather," he laughs. And sure enough, the fierce autumn sunshine is burning a hole in the Rodney Parade pitch.

He knows the heatwave will not last - "It's a bit of a tease, I think" - but there is nothing temporary about his sense of perspective. Stripped of his Springbok status, both as captain and player with extraordinary abruptness during the summer - by the same Nick Mallett who had lionised him throughout a record-equalling run of 17 consecutive Test victories - the 32-year-old No 8 might easily have gone very noisily indeed. That is not his way, though; Teichmann may not fully understand his hero-to- zero demise - he has not spoken to Mallett since the fateful day - but he knows all there is to know about dignity.

"I still find it difficult to accept Nick's reasons, but there is no point whining about it," he said yesterday as he surfaced at a Newport club still entirely gobsmacked at the thought of landing a mega-name from Natal after years of recruiting from Pontrhydyrun and Pwllmeyric.

"Nick is under pressure in World Cup year and perhaps the pressure got to him. When you're under real pressure, things can slip. I'm not going to slate Nick as a coach, but our success had been based on honesty and straight talking and, looking back, I realise now that our relationship changed. He used to call me, to talk about the team and its individual players. Then, for some reason, he stopped calling."

Teichmann stopped well short of accusing Mallett of losing the plot; in fact, he suggested that with Henry Honiball back at outside-half, the Springbok spine might just be strong enough to ensure a meaningful defence of their world title. "It's just that they're not making life very easy for themselves," he said, sadly.

"When Nick makes a decision, he sticks to it. Hence Andre Joubert's departure from the Test squad, hence my own. I know he felt that with defences getting stronger we could not continue to win, playing as we were. But why chuck everything away? Why not keep the best of what you have? The Springboks should play to Springbok strengths. It may not work for France or the All Blacks, but it worked for us through 17 successive matches."

Although Teichmann would consider rejoining the Springbok squad if a rash of injuries forced Mallett into an emergency reconciliation - "If I did it, I'd do it for the players, but I can't see the situation arising" - his sole motivation is to maximise the return on Tony Brown's seven- figure investment at Rodney Parade. Together with his fellow Springbok Franco Smith, who also arrived in Wales yesterday, he goes straight into the starting line-up for this weekend's Welsh-Scottish League match with Pontypridd - a local rumble that may pull in Newport's biggest crowd for a decade.

"I get the feeling that this is a club striving to get somewhere," said Teichmann. "It's not just a matter of coming over here to play a bit of rugby, but of throwing some weight behind a very proud club. There's a hell of a buzz about the game in Wales right now and if I do decide to get involved with coaching at some point, the northern hemisphere influence will be of value. You can get a little closed off from the world, down there in South Africa."

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Joost van der Westhuizen and Bobby Skinstad will scale such green and gold heights over the next seven weeks that the strange circumstances surrounding the most precipitous fall from grace in recent rugby history will be conveniently forgotten. If the Boks fail to hit the button, though, Mallett himself may feel a little closed off, not just from rugby but from society at large.

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