The Old Diocesan Issue5 Mar2020 - Page 42



Hilton “outpaces the Rondebosch defence”, according to the DC magazine,
with Gary Skeeles, Arnold Gcilitshana and James Winfield in support, 1992.
Happily, after more than a
decade out of the game, and
despite his pace and silky handskills being a thing of a past,
he still had the mind for rugby.
And so the players came: Pedrie
Wannenburg and Ryan Kankowski
were two early names, and later
a particularly big fish and “the
ultimate professional”, Jaque
Fourie. He developed relationships
with coaches and CEOs, and
would get calls from the likes
of John Dobson and Mike Bayly
(1983S) identifying young players
to watch. (Today he manages John,
while Mike is Director of Rugby
at Rugby School in the UK.)
He describes spotting a young
Siya Kolisi – “along with every other
agent in South Africa, probably” –
at Craven Week in 2009. “He was
a big, strong player. I guess I took
the reverse psychology route with
him – I waited for every other agent
to have a crack and promise him
the world before I spoke to him.
Then, when we did talk, I told him
he was too lazy for such a gifted
player, hanging around the centres.”
It wasn’t a planned strategy, but it
worked: Hilton has helped guide a
boy from the Eastern Cape all the
way to the Springbok captaincy
and World Cup glory. This year
40 | THE OLD DIOCESAN
Siya’s son Nick started at Bishops,
and so “the circle is complete”.
“It’s an honour to be involved
with Siya, Eben and any player
who makes the Boks,” says Hilton.
“The loss of my rugby career is the
reason I work so hard with my
players. I made the mistakes they
don’t have to, and I know the
consequences. I won’t allow them
to repeat my mistakes.”
He emphasises the importance
of the close relationships he builds
with his players: “Like family. I need
a player to know he can show up
at my house when he needs to; it’s
that kind of relationship. Kendra
is like a mother figure to many
of the players.”
He is also philosophical about
a business with its fair share of
ego and personal politics, and
he looks to identify players with
both the mental strength to make
it to the top and the personality
to complement his. Long-term
relationships are the ideal, though
it’s important to recognise when
it’s time to part ways, and to do it
without taking things personally.
While he would “run through
a brick wall” for those who have
been loyal to him, he also admits
that many of his players have
supported him in difficult times,
most notably when he chose to
part ways with the second largest
rugby agency in the world in 2018
and had to take gardening leave
for a year. Having signed up for
the corporate gig representing
250 players around the globe, he
soon found himself jet-setting,
taking meetings in suits and
filling in strategy documents.
It wasn’t him. Older and wiser, he
recognised the wrong path earlier
this time, and chose to return to
what he knew best, even though
it officially meant a year on the
bench. He has returned refreshed.
“I now have a small, elite
company, representing just 25
players locally,” he explains. There
is a core of senior Springboks (see
p43); those on the fringes, such
as Scarra Ntubeni, Warren Gelant
and Dillyn Leyds (2010S); and the
next generation, including three
matric boys at Bishops: Connor
Evans, Sacha Mnggomezulu and
head boy Michael Ford. (Remember
those names.) The suits are gone
and the family atmosphere has
returned. And to top it off, South
African rugby is suddenly filled
with energy and optimism. With
the Webb Ellis trophy in the bag,
many players are committed to
staying in the country at least until
the Lions Tour in two years’ time.
“I think it will take a special
team to knock us off the top,” says
Hilton of Rassie Erasmus’s current
team. “For the first time in a very
long time we have consistency in
Springbok rugby. After every World
Cup, SARU has fired the coach or
he’s been forced to resign. Now we
see consistency in the players and
the coaching staff. A lot of credit
has to go to SA Rugby CEO Jurie
Roux for giving Rassie free rein.
With such a young team, I’m
excited for the future.”
For more of Hilton’s story and approach
to player management, read on.





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