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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

L McGregor’s Springbok Factory Launched with John Dobson at The Book Lounge

Liz McGregor

Popular independent bookshop, The Book Lounge, was abuzz last week with an audience that included some exceedingly tall and broad gentlemen who truly tested the capacity of the plastic chairs put out for their comfort. Amongst the rugby players and fans who packed in to hear Western Province rugby coach, John Dobson, and well-known author, Liz McGregor, were a number who had never attended a book launch previously.

Springbok FactoryDobson praised McGregor as a formidable writer whose previous publications, Khabzela: The Life and Times of a South African and Touch, Pause, Engage!, placed her on the map as a non-fiction author. He quipped that Touch, Pause, Engage! had forced the IRB to change the rules of engagement…

Proprietor Mervyn Sloman bid everyone a hearty welcome, saying that he knew of no two authors who could make books and rugby equally cool. Dobson, who wrote The Year of the Gherkin, was credited with giving McGregor her title. He chatted to her, reflecting on her dramatic growth as an enormously insightful commentator on the sport. McGregor recalled a discussion with her brother early on in her rugby writing career. “I had breakfast with him early in 2008, shortly after I was commissioned to write Touch, Pause, Engage! I said: I suppose I’d better interview Graeme Smith. He replied: ‘I think you will find he is cricket.’”

Dobson reflected on the amazing energy and devotion that McGregor had invested over two years, while doing the research for this book. He spoke of how she had travelled with the team, staying in various hotels around the country while the players were on tour. The author shared a tender moment regarding how she discovered Brian Habana in the laundromat doing his wife’s washing. She had also been the single face appearing at every press conference “with a single-minded focus that shines through in this book”.

McGregor turned her lens on the remarkable family values that she had observed through her interactions with Jean de Villiers’ and Bismarck and Jannie Du Plessis’ family. De Villiers’ parents were at the book launch and heard her praise their Springbok captain son as an excellent leader with a subtle emotional intelligence. She spoke of how parents such as the De Villiers encouraged their sons to do their best always. They taught them that winning isn’t everything and that you have to develop the wisdom to lose graciously at times and the grit to return to the field after a loss.

The author said that SARU had not done nearly enough to develop black talent and that the SARU general meeting, its highest body, was bloated. At least six of the 14 unions needed to be culled, and the SARU executive council replaced with skilled independent directors.

She believes that South African rugby players need to be better managed. “They are not well-treated, nor are they paid enough. They can’t throw tantrums because they’re perceived as sacred creatures, heroes and soldiers.” She believes there are many problems that SARU’s highest body should answer for.

Many in the audience were in agreement, expressing their optimism that this book will enable relevant discussions and remedial action to take place. There is the hope that South African rugby administrators will facilitate the growth and development of the individuals and the community that makes this game one that glues the nation together.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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