NEW DEPTHS: Peter de Villiers's autobiography reintroduces the man we thought we knew. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

PETER de Villiers whose autobiography, Politically Incorrect (Zebra Press), recently hit the shelves, needs no introduction. Amid raised eyebrows and detractors prematurely denouncing his ability, he assumed the mantle of Springbok coach with humility and honour, yet there was no getting away from the hype and hullabaloo that followed him when he took over from Jake White.

Because he lacked the articulate polish of his predecessor, De Villiers quickly became known for his gaffes. In one of his earliest colourful exchanges with the media, in the build-up to the British and Irish Lions tour of 2009, he made use of a Biblical analogy: "Between the pit and the palace Daniel had to go a through a moerse load of kak!"

It didn't matter at the time that the Biblical character he referred to wasn't Daniel but Joseph. More prescient was that it confirmed perceptions of him being a meat-and-potatoes man; an avuncular coach physically dwarfed by his charges but firmly in charge.

His sound-bite style made him a hit at press conferences even though he didn't always get along with journalists, especially when they probed through the affable veneer to the acid core.

When the headlines referred to "Div" or "Snor" - his Harley-handle moustache is legendary - everyone knew who was up for discussion.

Sadly one too many foot-in -mouth incidents took its toll and by the time he left for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year, "P Divvy", the accidental riddler, had become something of a caricature. All the more reason, then, for the real Peter de Villiers to stand up.

In this respect, acclaimed rugby writer Gavin Rich has done a sterling job in reintroducing the man everyone thinks they know, but don't.

"I didn't want to write a controversial book. I wanted to demystify Peter," Rich says.

That De Villiers picked Rich to do the job, is mystifying in itself. As one of his fiercest critics, Rich was gobsmacked when De Villiers's agent, Hilton Houghton, contacted him about the project: "Hilton said to me: 'Peter said that you were gonna pack up laughing.'"

But a few days later De Villiers and Rich met. Rich told De Villiers he always suspected he might be mad - and now he knew it. Nevertheless, in September last year they started meeting, two hours at a time, eventually recording about some 30 hours of taped recollection.

Says De Villiers: "The important thing to remember is that throughout my career I never kept score. I never wrote anything down. Gavin had to sit back and listen to the rubbish, write everything down and put it in the book."

By the time of the World Cup he was working like a Trojan: "I started the writing in November and throughout January rewrote the last chapters after the announcement of the new coach."

Where Rich really excels is in capturing De Villiers's voice, not the squeak we came to know when he was hot and bothered, but the bare-facts, no-BS manner with which he deals with matters.

"Usually you give the tapes to students to transcribe," Rich says. "But I did it myself because I wanted to capture his voice."

Once the book was out, some of De Villiers's people started calling him, "like my church leader. He said: 'I have to commend Gavin. I feel as if I'm sitting across from you and you're talking to me.'"

The title also sits very well. For a book that's supposed not to be controversial, De Villiers is letting them have it; from South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins for casting a patronising shadow over his appointment, to Cheeky Watson and other hidden-agenda meddlers who allegedly tried to sabotage his tenure with a so-called "sex tape scandal".

He's at his most acerbic, however, when he takes on the referees and the highest higher-ups at the International Rugby Board (IRB). He recalls a meeting with Paddy O'Brien, chief of the IRB's referee's board. It started off badly. O'Brien, meeting with De Villiers in South Africa, wanted to know if he should open proceedings. De Villiers, who had actually called the meeting, suffered not a second of O'Brien's "condescending attitude".

He said: "You know Paddy, ever since (my school days) it has been a dream of mine to meet God. I now feel like that dream has (come true). I feel God is finally in the room."

Alain Rolland also didn't get off lightly. Reflecting on a spat he had with the Irish ref, De Villiers told Rich: "Perhaps I was wrong to remind him that he would be nothing without the game of rugby."

Also in De Villiers's cross hairs is Nigel Owens and Samoa's off-the-ball action he left unpunished in the last Pool D group match before the Boks proceeded to face Australia in the quarterfinals. It's when he gets to that game and South Africa's unfortunate exit from the World Cup, that he pulls out all the stops for Bryce Lawrence, the 16th Wallaby on the field that day. De Villiers is obviously still hurting from that experience and its inevitable outcome, the nonrenewal of his contract.

"My journey had ended with the Boks in the cruellest way imaginable."

It's with this point that Politically Incorrect actually kicks off, in the chapter Even the Bad Days are Good.

Such is De Villiers's fair assessment of events, taking the most bitter experience and extracting something of value from it. Although it may come across that he's burying the hatchet in the backs of a few referees, he's not really. It's all backed up with brass tacks.

If there has ever been any doubt about skullduggery at Saru, and test match referees acting as if they're a "protected species", Politically Incorrect confirms that something's rotten in rugby. Thirty-six years of living under apartheid made De Villiers something of an activist.

"You squeal about everything," senior Saru official Johan Prinsloo once said to him. De Villiers though, couldn't give a tinker's cuss.

"I wanted to write a story that'll stay with people, that will set the record straight."

He was never one of die manne. As a teetotaller who fears only God, he never took a drink with the guys, and has never shied away from stepping on their toes. The book, however, isn't just about back-stabbing shenanigans and brouhaha behind the Bok scenes; it covers the whole story, from De Villiers's youth in Paarl through to his contact with the game's lesser-known figures, people such as Dumpies Ontong and Cassiem Jabaar, to his player days at Griqualand West.

What's the pinnacle point of his career though? Is it that Tri-Nations victory in Hamilton? Or is it Ricky January's game-winning try in Dunedin, the first time the Boks clipped the All Blacks at The House of Pain?

Actually, it was in Soweto one day. "This little boy came running to me shouting: 'Coach, coach, I want to play for you!'"

De Villiers really did make a difference, albeit it being in a politically incorrect manner.