About 18 months ago, Mzwandile Stick had to deal with a humiliating demotion from the Springbok setup.
The national team had become the laughing stock of the world rugby, losing eight of their 12 Tests in 2016 and suffering an embarrassing first defeat to Italy.
Coach Allister Coetzee wasn’t the man who paid the price.
VIDEO: Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick on his return to the national side.
Posted by The Citizen Sport on Tuesday, 29 May 2018
It was Stick, his promising but inexperienced backline coach.
Worst of all, no-one seemed to really bat an eye over his treatment.
Critics were just too happy to see the back of an ideal scapegoat.
On Tuesday, the 33-year-old former Blitzboks star proudly stood on the touchline of St Stithians College’s main rugby field, having just conducted a closed training session.
Coetzee and most of his underperforming staff are gone, a testament that chopping Stick wasn’t going cure the Boks’ ills.
Now, the man from Kwamagxaki near Port Elizabeth is back in a more refined coaching role but also one where he doesn’t hesitate to repeat he’s fully backed in.
“Let me tell you, I’m a very strong character, especially from where I come from,” said Stick.
“I’m stronger after those previous 18 months.”
Refreshingly, Stick isn’t oblivious to the perception (and probably even reality) of his initial demotion.
It’s indeed difficult not to feel it was easy to sideline the rookie black coach.
“Every day is a struggle, where you have to wake up and make sure you bring your best,” he said.
“At that stage, when I was shifted from the Boks, it was a big punch to the stomach. You start asking yourself some questions and start doubting yourself. But then I realised I’ve face these type of challenges all of my life.
“There are a lot of challenges we face in this country. I came to the conclusion that when I signed up to become a coach, these challenges are going to be part of the journey. I knew I would hit speed bumps and potholes but I now also know my value.”
Stick, who’s focusing on off-the-ball offensive and defensive skills, currently shares backline coaching duties with Lions head coach Swys de Bruin, who’s being employed as a consultant for the international window.
There’s no butting of heads in this regard because the two men actually enjoy a father and son relationship of sorts.
“The funny thing about us two is that I actually played under him as a junior at the Sharks,” said Stick.
“He was my coach at Under-21 level. I think I was one of his favourites! Our relationship has always been good. We’re complementing each other at the moment.”