While winning is important – and that will come – it is not the be-all and end-all for EP Elephants coach Peter de Villiers.
“My expectations are high, but it’s not only about winning and losing right now,” said De Villiers on Tuesday, two days after his side were thrashed 87-10 in a Preparation Series match against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
It was a first outing in years at this level of the game in South Africa for the Eastern Province side.
Previously, a team of more recognised and well-travelled and experienced men ran out as the Southern Kings, but following the liquidation of the Super Rugby franchise, rugby has ground to a halt in the province.
“What I am trying to do with the Elephants is revive rugby in the region,” said De Villiers, a former Springbok coach.
“The people, including the rugby players, of the Eastern Cape are looked down upon. My goal is to give rugby to the area again and for it to be something everyone is proud of.
“The Eastern Cape has been left behind, we’re at the lower end of the food chain because of what rugby administrators did here before my time.
“I want the youth to have local heroes again…a generation has missed out, and I want to bridge that gap with the Elephants. It’s going to take time, but it’s possible.”
The Elephants, a team made up mainly of semi-professionals, many of whom have day jobs, played together in a competitive environment for the first time last Sunday.
“I’d never seen these guys play together until Sunday,” said De Villiers. “Twenty-two of the 23 match day squad I’d never seen play competitively before. They’ve come from nowhere…none of them had played at Loftus before, none of them had played against opposition close to what the Bulls put out.
“We’re a R2 million team against a R50 million team… there are lots of imbalances.”
De Villiers said he’d learned a lot about his players on Sunday.
“They made a few errors; gave the ball away too easily and allowed the Bulls too much space, but they’ll be better off next time.
“The next game will show me whether the players learned anything. These (Preparation Series) games are about us laying a platform for the next big competition, to give us something to build on.
“The key thing is, just like everyone in South Africa wanted the Springboks to be up there with the best when they returned from isolation in the early 90s, people must want Eastern Province rugby to succeed and be up there competing with the best.”
The Elephants are next in action against the Lions next Wednesday.