Mark Andrews is unquestionably a Springbok legend. Having played 77 Tests for South Africa, he was part of the World Cup winning side in 1995 that proudly held the cup aloft next to Nelson Mandela.
I have been fortunate to talk to Mark about all things rugby.
Name: Mark Andrews
Super Rugby Team: The Sharks
English Premiership Team: Newcastle Falcons
National Team: Springboks
Springbok Tests: 77
How/Why did you start playing rugby?
I played my first game as a 6 year old in the U/9 division, though my debut was as an outside centre and not in the forwards where I ended my career. It was a taken that all the Andrews boys played rugby so I never even saw ‘not playing rugby’ as an option. It was simply expected.
Who was the greatest influence on your career?
I had no real stand out influences, but rather a host of people who have played an important part in helping me become an international player. My father was always there for me and had an almost fanatical optimism about my ability which certainly helped. And certain school boy coaches, and then older players that I played with at The Sharks all helped me along the way. I would though have to mention Ian Macintosh as possibly the best coach I ever played for, although he could be wildly eccentric at times!
Who was the toughest player you played against?
Without being clichéd, my toughest opponent was often myself. I would say that the most skilled player was probably John Eales, and the toughest physically and mentally was Martin Johnson of England.
What was your favourite stadium to play in?
My home stadium of Kings Park in Durban was simply awesome for Sharks games, but as a Test venue my favourite would have to be Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The surface was always brilliant and the Springbok supporters passionate to a fault.
Other than the RWC win, what was another career highlight?
Beating the French by 50 points in the last Test match at the old Parc des Princes in Paris was pretty special.
What was your biggest disappointment?
Injury, and having had to play under 7 different Springbok coaches in my 9 years as a Springbok.
What are the biggest obstacles facing today’s game?
Rugby spectator fatigue. With every country trying to put together their own championship (Heineken Cup, French super rugby, SANZAR Super 15, Tri Nations, 6 Nations, etc, etc), the viewers are bombarded by rugby for most of the year and this creates spectator apathy. Many players appear to simply play for who pays the most, and that integral part of rugby which is “playing for the jersey” is sadly being seen less and less.
Where would you like to see rugby in 10 years time?
Having a clear structure between amateur, semi-professional and professional. Too many kids chase the dream of playing big-time rugby at the expense of getting an education and this is a poor reflection on rugby and themselves.
I would like to see the rules of the game simplified, so it is easier understood by players and spectators alike (and by some referees). I would also like to see a shorter season for all countries, which would lead to less player injuries and longer careers.
Who do you support?
I support The Sharks as an ex-Sharks player, but I really enjoy watching the teams that play the best rugby. I am liking the way the Reds are playing at the moment, so I am supporting them in their games – unless they play The Sharks of course!
What are your thoughts on the Super Rugby season so far?
Same rugby; repackaged into a different format. I preferred the old format where every team plays every team. In the current format it is possible for a team to get to the final never having had to play the Crusaders, which is not really fair.
Which player has impressed you the most so far?
Though he is a back-line player I have been pretty impressed with Quade Cooper from the Reds, and Bismark Du Plessis from The Sharks.
Which team has impressed you the most so far?
The Reds have been pretty impressive up to this stage.
Who do you think are the team to beat this year?
The Crusaders have once again proven that they have the depth and talent to win the competition.
Rugby World Cup
What was it like to play in the Rugby World Cup final in 1995?
The only way that I can ever explain it is to liken the experience to having your 1st child. The sense of anticipation, and then the euphoria when the doctor hands you your child is possibly the closest description of what it felt like to be handed the World Cup trophy.
Who do you think are the team(s) to beat in the 2011 Rugby World Cup?
The All Blacks. Although they do seem to have a history of ‘beating themselves’ in World Cups, so if they do their usual trick I would have to say watch out for the Aussies and the Boks.
Southern Hemisphere v Northern Hemisphere?
Did you enjoy your time playing for the Newcastle Falcons?
No! How could I when I was moving from one of the most dynamic rugby teams in the world (The Sharks) and playing in front of crowds of 50,000 in beautiful weather to going to the extreme of playing in the mud and snow in front of 3,000 people and a few dogs.
Was there a huge difference between the style of play in the English Premiership than in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby?
Yes. The weather in the Northern Hemisphere forces teams to play crash rugby, followed by kicking the ball into the corners or up-and-unders. Skill levels are sacrificed at the expense of the game, as possession becomes key while penalties dominate due to the close ball hit-ups and rucks.
How are you enjoying life after rugby?
Loving it! I can now do things over weekends and am trying my best to catch up on activities that I could not do for 13 years while I played rugby.
You retired at a relatively young age, does the likes of Tana Umaga pulling on the boots at 37 inspire you to make a comeback?
No, I think he is a bit crazy to be honest! I am happy watching and do not wish for one second that I was back on the field.
I think that it becomes hard to walk away from such good money and that some players try to stretch that pay cheque for another year. Make no mistake, if you are talented and the body can handle the punishment then playing rugby is a pretty good way to earn your money, and it is hard to earn the same amount in the real world.
Do you think players are prepared enough for life/career after rugby?
No. It can be hard moving from rugby – which is a lifestyle which has little relation to the ‘real world’, and has allowed many players to begin earning good money without having to study? The reality is that with the player’s salaries nowadays, it is difficult to retire from rugby and maintain that lifestyle without a solid education to fall back on.
Are you still involved with rugby?
Not really. I do help out now and again with club teams and go to most local games. Playing rugby was a big part of my life and I loved nearly every minute of it, but I believe that it is important that I don’t dwell on the past as it gets in the way of living in the present.