Friday, August 3, 2007

Nothing is Impossible

Three years ago, one of the most athletic, competitive, world class rugby players of his generation retired prematurely after a bad car accident left him with a shattered knee. His name is Bobby Skinstad. He was in his early 20’s, Captain of the South African team, and the youngest, most attacking No. 8 on the scene. Two years ago, I was in my house in St. Tropez when the phone rang. It was Bobby, who had been given my number by All Blacks captain, Sean Fitzpatrick. Bobby was anxious to start a new life. Having had his own agency in South Africa, he was keen to hear what the future looked like in today’s advertising world and wanted some advice on how he should best go forward. I get plenty of phone calls like this from rugby players - all too few of which ever get followed up (by them!).

Anyway, I gave Bobby a few tasks to do and some questions to answer. Ten days later he was back on the phone with a set of very well thought through responses. It was obvious that even though he had retired from the game because of his injury, he was ready to commit himself to the hard yards needed to build a successful career. Saatchi & Saatchi and Bobby formed a joint venture called Esportif, designed to take a whole new look at sports marketing. During the course of this entrepreneurial adventure, Bob and I became friends, and I have come to admire his leadership, dedication, professionalism and eagerness to learn.

A couple of years later, Bob and Sean Fitzpatrick (universally known as Fitzy), came up to my old school, Lancaster Grammar, and held a Captain’s Dinner to raise funds for the school’s first 15 Tour of South Africa. They also coached the first 15 and second 15 sessions, and then ran a ‘coach the coach’ session for a bunch of school teachers around the Lancaster area. Lancaster Grammar had never seen the like. A Springbok and an All Blacks captain spreading the knowledge, and all through mateship and the love of rugby. I must admit a pretty big night followed, spearheaded by Colin Povey, ex Head Boy at Lancaster Grammar, ex MD of Carlsberg-Tetley, Director of Northampton Saints rugby, and CEO of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. He played water polo for England and probably drank a swimming pool full of Stella that night.

Last year, Bob called me again and said the World Cup was in his sights and dreams. His knee had recovered, and he was wondering whether he could regain his test place and represent South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. This kind of comeback is unheard of in professional rugby. Naturally, I thought it was a great idea! Bob went back to South Africa, dedicated himself to getting fit, and played in the Super 14. He then fought his way back onto the bench for South Africa and finally back on the team. He was then restored to the Captaincy shortly before he broke a rib. Last week he called me again from Johannesburg. He made the World Cup squad and will be representing South Africa in September.

Imagine it. The 2007 Rugby World Cup after four years out of the game. Let’s hope he goes all the way to October 20 and we get to see him run out on the Stade de France to face the All Blacks. It would be the ultimate Nothing is Impossible story.