De Villiers dodges racism row

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South Africa coach Peter de Villiers has refused to describe Craig Dowd’s description of him as a “puppet” as racism.

In a radio interview earlier this week, former New Zealand prop Dowd suggested De Villiers, the first non-white Springboks coach, was merely a figurehead and questioned if he knew anything about rugby.

“While the Springboks have some good staff, De Villiers is merely a puppet,” Dowd said.

His comments have sparked outcry in South Africa with the South African Rugby Union (SARU) demanding an apology from Dowd.

“I don’t know Craig Dowd. The closest I got to him was my TV in my sitting room. I don’t know if he ever saw me or if he knows me. It’s quite stupid to make a call like that,” De Villiers said.

“I don’t know what his agenda is, if it is racism or not.

“In South Africa racism is a big thing and in other countries it’s really big too. So maybe, I don’t know, you can ask him that.”

SARU chairman Mpumelelo Tshume demanded a public apology from the New Zealander on yesterday.

“SA Rugby has noted with shock and disgust comments made by former All Black Craig Dowd in which he described Peter de Villiers, the Springbok coach, as a puppet, among other things,” Tshume said in a statement.

“Mr Dowd’s comments are not only deeply and personally offensive to Peter de Villiers and SARU but also comically ill-informed on the affairs of South African rugby.

“We trust he will show rather better judgement in having the good grace to apologise to Peter de Villiers and to the South African rugby community for the profound offence and hurt he has caused.”

It was clear South Africa’s management did not wish the issue to be pursued further during during the build-up to tomorrow’s Test in Dunedin after a week in which the All Blacks and Springboks have fired accusations of illegal play at each other following the first Tri-Nations clash in Wellington last weekend.

Springboks team manager Andy Marinos would only say: “A statement went out from SA Rugby yesterday and that’s where we’re leaving it.”

De Villiers’ appointment in January as the successor to Jake White was cloaked in controversy amid claims it was politically motivated.

New Leicester boss Heyneke Meyer was clear favourite to replace White but De Villiers, 51, edged his rival for the post, becoming the Springboks’ first black coach.

Even South African Rugby Football Union president Oregan Hoskins admitted at the time that De Villiers was not picked for rugby reasons alone.

But De Villiers has made it clear from the outset that race will be irrelevant in his player selection process.