By Brendan Nel
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is gone.
The Bok coach decided eight days before his position was to be a talking point at the South African Rugby Union’s General Council to call it a day and informed his bosses he no longer wishes to be considered a candidate for the position.
While some newspapers had continuously run with the story that Meyer had signed a new contract and it was a done deal that he continue as Bok coach, nothing was ever the case, and Meyer chose to exit on his own terms, rather than wait for SARU to do it for him.
Despite leading the Springboks to third place at the Rugby World Cup, and losing an epic semifinal against the All Blacks by two points in the rain at Twickenham, Meyer was never forgiven by the public for losses against Argentina and Japan.
Ironically though, the loss against Japan came as his senior players – those he put so much faith in, and was vilified for – let him down by ignoring coaching calls during the game that has now become the Rugby World Cup’s greatest shock.
It is hardly surprising that Meyer chose to close the door on the Springbok job, after this week two provincial unions publicly called for a change, but what was surprising was the timing of the event, as Meyer decided to walk before he was pushed.
The Bok coach said he decided to stand aside as coach, “a decision he considers to be in the best interests of South African rugby”. But while his winning record was better than many of his predecessors, the losses to Japan and Argentina would forever haunt him.
That, as well as a controversial transformation record, were the main reasons why so many of the rugby public turned against him at the end of his four year tenure.
This despite the fact the Boks finished third in the World Rankings this year, one up from where they were when he took over the job, and a tenure that included two unbeaten end-of-year tours, a record breaking win over Australia in Brisbane (38-12), a Castle Lager Rugby Championship victory over Argentina (73-13) and the first away win in France in 16 years.
All in all the Boks scored a 66.7% winning record under Meyer, and scored 143 test tries – second only to the All Blacks in his time in charge.
The failure to win major trophies in a time when the All Blacks were dominant, and only one win in eight against the double World Champs also was a major drawback for the Boks.
Still, the Bok coach said he departs knowing he is doing what is best for the Springboks.
“I have always put the Springboks first in my time as coach and since returning from England I have realised that as much as I believe I still have a lot to offer, the time has come for change,” said Meyer.
“My integrity has always been very important and I feel I can leave with my head held high. I’ve always maintained that my only motivation was to serve my country and to do what was best for the Springboks.
“I have greatly enjoyed my time as Springbok coach – although it has been highly pressured at times and especially tough on my family, and I would like to thank them for their unwavering support in the last four years.
“I have put my heart and soul into the job and did my very best. I believe that, overall, I leave the team with much to look forward to in 2016, with new structures in place to ensure the Springboks will remain competitive on the world stage.
“The number of young players that have been blooded over the past four seasons, who chose to remain in South Africa, leave the team in a great position to move on in the next few years. I would like to wish the next coach all the success in this wonderful position.
“The Springboks are a special team and carrying the hopes of a nation is a huge responsibility and great privilege. I realised that yet again with all the support I received from ordinary South Africans, both at the World Cup and upon our return to the country. Thank you to the countless faithful, positive and passionate supporters that have made my job as coach a joy.
“To everyone at SARU and for the hard work and commitment of my management and support team, I will be forever thankful. And finally to the players – you are ultimately the reason why I coach and you’ve enriched my life in the last four years.”
While there was much criticism over Meyer’s tactics during his tenure, the coach is also largely responsible for many of the structures in place and a better working relationship with the Super Rugby franchises, as well as the move to a central contract system to try and keep talent in South Africa.
SARU president Oregan Hoskins thanked Meyer for his services to South African rugby.
“We have reached a natural watershed in many ways with a significant number of senior players either retiring or moving overseas as well as the fact that our Strategic Transformation Plan is now in full swing,” said Mr Hoskins.
“Heyneke gave his all for the Springboks and it was a great pleasure to work with such a passionate South African. There were many highlights during his time as coach and those are the moments we will remember.
“He also set very high standards of behaviour for himself, his management team and his players and he was and is a credit to South African rugby. I’m sure all my colleagues join me in wishing him the very best of luck in whatever coaching path his career now takes him.”
SARU said that the search for a successor would begin immediately.
The CEO will present the process of recruitment as per the recommendation of the High Performance Committee for approval to the Executive Council on Wednesday, after which it will be shared with the provincial unions at the General Council meeting two days later.