JON CARDINELLI writes that Heyneke Meyer will bring a working rugby knowledge, a trophy cabinet of experience and some much needed integrity to the Springbok coaching position.
In a two-horse race where Meyer and Gert Smal were the competitors, South African rugby was always going to be the winner. Both are decorated coaches who have enjoyed title-winning success with their respective teams, and both are renowned for their cerebral approach to the game.
For four years, South Africa has been devoid of a leader who possesses such experience and qualities, and predictably those four years have witnessed South Africa finishing stone last in three out of four Tri-Nations tournaments and exiting the 2011 World Cup at the quarter-final stage.
It would appear that the dark days are over. Until a few days ago, Smal was touted as the favourite for the Bok coaching job, an appointment that should have been welcomed and celebrated as the dawn of a new era. Aside from his stint with the 2007 World Cup-winning side, he has also featured prominently for Ireland as a forwards coach and was rightly lauded following their Grand Slam win in 2009. His views on transformation are well-documented, and had he got the top job, he would have worked hard to influence a greater representation across all levels of South African rugby.
Unfortunately, Saru and Smal could not come to an agreement regarding his salary. There were other reasons that contributed to his decision to remain in Ireland, such as the fact that he has committed to the side until 2013 and his family have built a life in Dublin since settling there in 2008. Just as was the case four years ago, South Africa’s loss is Ireland’s gain.
In Meyer, however, the Boks have another outstanding and potentially game-changing candidate, and so the dawn of a new era should still come to pass. His career at the Bulls remains the stuff of legend, having arrived at the turn of the century and implemented changes and systems that formed the bedrock for a dynasty. If ever there was a man that could take a team that has failed in the past and restore them as champions, Meyer is that man.
The Bulls’ mentor has been offered the job by Saru and is likely to take it. Many felt he was ready for the responsibility in 2008, and only a late change by Saru saw Peter de Villiers walking into the Bok coach’s first official press conference. De Villiers walked into that presser wearing a Bulls blazer, a union synonymous with Meyer, and that should have triggered an alarm. De Villiers never fit that blazer just as he never fit the role. He also failed to grow into it as time progressed.
It could be speculated that Meyer would have avoided the mistakes and built on the success of Jake White’s tenure. It could be said that Meyer would have ensured that some of the best players ever to emerge from this country recorded more than a 62% winning ratio over the course of those four years. If Meyer was instated, future generations may have reflected on a golden age instead of one golden year (2009).
But that time has gone, and SA rugby has to move forward. While Meyer won’t have the benefit of working with a team stacked with grizzled title winners, he is the right man to nurture and develop the young talent that’s set to replace Victor Matfield and company. As his record at the Bulls will confirm, he has an exceptional eye for talent and his man-management is of the highest order.
The appointment will be confirmed this Friday, and all South Africans should mark this as a significant day for Bok rugby. Meyer has the means to restore some pride to a side that exited the 2011 World Cup in humiliating fashion. He will have a plan to bring the Boks immediate and long-term success, as a World Cup should never be the only tournament on which a top nation is judged. The Boks should win 80% of their matches, and with Meyer in charge that goal is certainly attainable.
A challenging yet exciting road lies ahead. Fortunately for South Africa, the right man will be driving the bus.