- Former Springbok prop Gurtho Steenkamp talks about being dropped by Peter de Villiers after the famous Dunedin win in 2008 and bouncing back from adversity.
- The ex-Blue Bulls front ranker addresses whether or not the scrum is killing the game and what players and coaches can do in order to assist professional referees.
- The current scrum coach also offers his pick of the top three props in the game today and comes out in support of Frans Malherbe who was recently fat-shamed.
Sport24 asked: Since hanging up your boots what has kept you busy?
Gurthro Steenkamp: I finished up my Diploma in Management through Toulouse Business School and then I did the French rugby coaching course, which was one week per month for a year. Post-career I always knew that I wanted to help front rowers and coaches evolve in terms of the scrum. Even though I had a great career, there were key moments where I struggled and would have loved some mentorship. I started a company called Steenkamp Sport which is designed to help front rowers and coaches learn all the skills and draw from my techniques. I have also explored different training methods and am now a certified ZUU instructor which is high-intensity, low-impact training.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the Currie Cup final last Saturday?
Gurthro Steenkamp: It was an intense final and hats off to the Sharks who really brought it and pushed eventual winners the Bulls all the way. I was live tweeting during the match and saw some people commenting that the final was boring. And I was like, "Come on, get out of here! It's a final - who cares if it's pretty?" The great thing was seeing the way in which the Bulls won the final. We can talk about an expansive game but the final was won by tactics that the Bulls of old were synonymous with. The Bulls foundation has always been a strong pack of forwards which then allows the backline to play. Having the mental ability to stay focused for 100 minutes is next level. The Bulls kept on grinding and pushing forward which was special and they deservedly won their 24th Currie Cup title.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the Jake White-inspired turnaround?
Gurthro Steenkamp: I haven't spoken to Jake in a while but we touch base from time to time. He afforded me my opportunity as an under-21 player and has always possessed the ability to put a great team into place and get good results. From a distance, the one thing I can see he has done right at the Bulls is that he has reset the culture. The golden era at the Bulls happened because we had a solid culture in place and we knew who we were and had our own unique bond and identity. Jake has brought that back to the Bulls coupled with bringing in certain key players such as Duane Vermeulen. It has given some real leadership because at a stage in South Africa, many leaders headed abroad and that left a massive chasm between the senior players and the new generation.
Sport24 asked: Your appraisal of the standard of refereeing?
Gurthro Steenkamp: There were a few decisions during the Currie Cup final which I didn't agree with but, in the heat of the moment, it's not that easy for a referee. He has certain directives which he has to follow which I understand. I always tell players you need to give a good image to the referee. The scrum is a platform from which to launch but coaches and players have been abusing the set-piece. Back in my playing days, I didn't worry about cheating and wanted to win my battle. Nowadays you are seeing players hinging and slipping their bind. They are trying to exploit the scrum and take advantage. The poor referees, who have never played in the front row, don't have what we call the coach's eye - the ability to spot what went wrong and whose fault it was. Players need to respect the rules - here in France it's a shambles in that regard. I spoke to Romain Poite a while ago and I said, "You guys are getting it wrong," and he replied, "Gurthro, you have all got different opinions." I just want referees to have a clearer picture with what is going on in the scrum. Would I ever consider becoming a referee? Hell no, it's too much pressure! Respect to the referees for what they do because without them the game cannot exist. With the officials, at least it's organised chaos.
Sport24 asked: Who do you rate as the top three props today?
Gurthro Steenkamp: Steven Kitshoff is a brilliant player and boasts the ability to become one of the legends within South African rugby. The way Beast Mtawarira ended his international career was due to Kitshoff. The latter was right up there and it was a tough selection call for Rassie Erasmus to make in terms of his starting prop. I see a great future for Kitshoff. He works hard and epitomises the modern day prop. He possesses power, great reaction speed and rugby intelligence - namely the ability to read and fit into the game plan. Moreover, he is an unbelievable ball-carrier and has a high work-rate. You often find props are either good scrummagers or have a high work-rate. In the modern day game it's very tough to find props that have everything in their arsenal and Kitshoff has it. England's Mako Vunipola is another prop that stands out. Vunipola is quite a heavy guy but he gets around the park and makes over 15 tackles per game and performs in the scrum. I also rate Tadhg Furlong highly. Traditionally tightheads don't have high work-rates but he's all over the place.
Sport24 asked: Your view on the Frans Malherbe fat-shaming?
Gurthro Steenkamp: During my career my weight yo-yoed. Weight gain happens and Malherbe may be overweight but we must ask is he still performing? And the answer is yes. Sometimes people become so consumed with things not going well in their own lives that they lash out at someone else. I believe a stigma exists within modern rugby that front row players should have six packs but that is the biggest bunch of nonsense I have heard. I agree they must be able to see their toes otherwise they shouldn't be in the modern game but players shouldn't be judged on how they look. If your weight is holding you back and you can't repeat efforts and be in service for the team, the criticism is warranted. However, if players are performing they must be supported and not shamed.
Sport24 asked: What moments defined your 53-Test career?
Gurthro Steenkamp: There were two key moments in my international career which changed everything. In 2008, I played the Test match in Dunedin which we won and then two games later I was out of the mix. We were in Pretoria on our way to go to Cape Town and, with the bus set to leave in an hour, I got pulled aside. Then coach Peter de Villiers said, "Sorry, you're not going with us to Cape Town." That hit hard and for two years I was in the wilderness. I was part of the Springbok setup but started very few Test matches. But honestly I don't blame Peter and respect him as a coach and human being... In 2009, the Springboks faced Leicester Tigers and I got smashed in the scrum and humiliated. I spoke to me dad post-match and he said, "Son, I don't think you should come home - maybe go visit your friends in the UK and France." And that is what I did because the media were crucifying me and I was told I must hang up my boots. I was at a crossroads and had to decide if I was going to succumb to all that criticism or step up and make difference. I was written off in 2009 and told I would never play for the Springboks again. However, I started working like a beast, identified my weaknesses and took responsibility. 2010 was one of my greatest years as a player (Steenkamp was named SA Rugby Player of the Year) and I would not have been able to have evolved into that player if 2009 didn't happen. You can always blame others in life but I was honest with myself and took accountability. I started looking at everything: my attitude, conditioning and mindset. Even though I was playing in a losing Springbok team in 2010, I had this fire inside me to prove to myself what I was capable of and also to show respect to those who always supported me.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests. Who's invited?
Gurthro Steenkamp: Trevor Noah is hilarious but for me it's more about his journey. From where he came from in South Africa to land that gig in the US is massive. It didn't just come about because he's funny and people don't realise the hard work comedians put in. I would also invite John Smit. The 2007 World Cup-winning captain has been an unbelievable leader for South African rugby. The way he led our team back in the day was special and the manner in which he managed the dynamics within the environment made him a real leader. My third guest for the evening would be Nathan Helberg who is the founder of ZUU. He has been a mentor to me and the programme has helped me with life after rugby. He once said to me, "G, I don't have good days and bad days, I just have days." That rings true. We need to reinvent ourselves with the pandemic in mind and reset our goals. It's about adapting to this new world and then envisioning who you want to become by the end of 2021.