By George Byron
NEW Southern Kings rugby manager Willem Oliphant says growing up in rugby-mad Despatch and watching legends like Danie Gerber playing on his doorstep sparked a lifelong love affair with the game.
Oliphant, a successful businessman who owns a thriving property and facility management company (Gap Management), will have a key role to play when the Southern Kings make their Super Rugby debut next year.
“There is no time for hobbies in my life. It is just rugby, rugby, rugby and then more rugby,” the 41-year-old former South African under-20 team manager said.
“I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Despatch where my father, also Willem, was the manager of the famous Despatch team that included players like Gerber and Frans Erasmus.
“So I basically grew up next to the side of the field and was fortunate to enough to watch a star-studded Despatch team that qualified for ten national club rugby championship tournaments in a row.”
The new Kings manager said he was approached by SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux and his board about whether he would consider managing the new Super Rugby franchise because of his past work with the Baby Boks.
“Frankly, it was an opportunity I could not say no to because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of history.
“I know that because of my experience I am capable of doing the job and that is the most important thing. It is easy to say you are a manager even if you do not have any experience,” Oliphant said.
Oliphant said he would be working closely with Kings assistant manager Sydney Goba to ensure that everything went smoothly for the Kings.
The new manager said he had been involved in the background at the Kings for some time and he was now delighted to have the opportunity to work with the franchise on a full-time basis.
“I was first chosen to be manager of the SA under-20 team in 2008 and spent four years in the role, travelling with the team to Wales, Japan, Argentina and Italy.
“I would have been manager of the Baby Bok team this year, but could not take on the position because of business commitments. I am very proud of my time with the Baby Boks. Once the players are capped they are handed over to you and become your responsibility.
“Discipline and respect among the players are vital. The coaches do the coaching and the manager is responsible for everything off the field. Players must trust you with their lives when they are on tour.”
During his time as Baby Bok manager, Oliphant worked with many rising stars and he pointed to the fact that, when the All Blacks played the Springboks recently, eight of the team had played for the SA u-20 side.
“I have worked with players like Elton Jantjies, Francois Hougaard and Johan Goosen, which is a big plus for me. The players see me as a father figure.
“When I first started managing teams I received a great deal of good advice and help from Mervin Green, who is a manager at SA Rugby. He helped me a lot and I have a great deal to thank him for.”
Oliphant, who played Craven Week rugby for EP and represented Despatch on the flank, says it is vital that a family-type environment is established at the Kings.
“There are teams that play Super Rugby that do not have stars, but they are like a family and play for each other. That is the method we will apply here.”
Asked what he thought of the Kings’ chances in Super Rugby Oliphant said: “We have the squad and management to be successful. This group is good enough and there are going to be some surprises along the way.”
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, December 1, 2012.