MARK KEOHANE, writing in SA Rugby magazine, says the next Springbok coach should be named now.
Not only has Fourie du Preez given Heyneke Meyer the endorsement to be the Springbok coach post the 2011 World Cup, he is emphatic that if Meyer were to be appointed he would make himself available for the national team in 2012.
Give Meyer that job now and ensure Du Preez wears the No 9 jersey in 2012. It would make such a statement of the leadership in South African rugby – a leadership that too often fails itself – if there was such forward planning and certainty in making the appointment.
Instead we will get the usual cat and mouse games. Coaches, including the incumbent Peter de Villiers, will be asked to apply and in the time it takes to interview contenders players will have made decisions based on the uncertainty of who heads up Bok rugby.
South African rugby, like any other national union, can’t afford an overseas exodus of top players at the end of 2011 or premature international retirements.
Meyer would be my choice to succeed De Villiers, but there is strong support in South African rugby for Stormers duo Rassie Erasmus and Allister Coetzee and New Zealanders John Plumtree and John Mitchell.
Italy and former Bok coach Nick Mallett is expected to be off contract after the World Cup, but it is doubtful Mallett would ever want to coach the Boks again given the despicable manner in which Saru ended his tenure in 2000.
Of those coaches based in South Africa Meyer has the most appeal, but it would be expecting too much for any commitment to be made at this early juncture. Succession plans have never found favour in South African rugby boardrooms.
De Villiers, victorious or not at the World Cup, will not be reappointed. The four years he will have served as national coach unfortunately would have been four years too many.
There will be a new face, but whoever that face is will determine how many of the familiar faces remain in 2012. If they knew that identity in advance of the World Cup it would simplify the decision to stay in South Africa.
Du Preez’s public support of Meyer, in an interview with colleague Ryan Vrede in this issue, should be noted with more than just a passing interest because Du Preez in 2012 can be as instrumental to a new generation of Bok rugby as he has been to the Bok glory years of 2007 and 2009.
Victor Matfield is huge on the world stage and even bigger in South Africa, but his imposing presence is secondary to what Du Preez offers the Boks. And that should tell anyone about Du Preez’s value and pedigree.
Du Preez’s fitness will determine whether the Boks can be the first team to defend the World Cup and with Du Preez at scrumhalf the Boks can be successful with the kick-and-chase game that failed them so miserably in 2010.
There is always place in the game for that approach if the right player is there to implement the kick. When it comes to Du Preez, he has no equal in that aspect of the game and as a scrumhalf none have matched his control of field position.
South African rugby should be doing everything it possibly can to keep Du Preez in the country after the 2011 World Cup. New Zealand, if they are to win the World Cup, can’t afford to lose Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, and South Africa simply can’t do without Du Preez.
He is the most complete and influential professional rugby player this country has known. There has to be a plan to keep him in South Africa, and that plan must involve his mentor of the last decade, Heyneke Meyer.
– This column first appeared in the March issue of SA Rugby magazine.