JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, January 27 – Heyneke Meyer, a 44-year-old who guided Northern Bulls to one Super 14 and four Currie Cup titles, was named coach of the Springboks Friday by the South African Rugby Union.
He succeeds Peter de Villiers as coach of the two-time World Cup champions, four years after surprisingly losing out to him for one of the most coveted posts in international rugby union.
Although Meyer never played the game at provincial level, he is by far the most successful South African coach of the past decade, turning the Pretoria-based Bulls into a national and international force.
“It is difficult leaving your family (Bulls) behind, but I believe this is my calling and I want to be the coach of a whole nation, not just one province,” Meyer said after his appointment was announced in Cape Town.
“I want to unite our country through the team, but I cannot do this alone. I’m going to need every single South African citizen to help me make this the best team in the world.
“Winning is the most important thing and I accept that — but I have always coached to make a difference to the people of our country. I also want to thank the Bulls family and what they have done for me in the past.”
His mission during a four-year contract that takes him up to the 2015 World Cup in England will be to re-establish the green and gold as a global power after a 11-9 loss to Australia in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals.
De Villiers was criticised by the public and media for hanging on to players clearly past their best like captain and hooker John Smit, who has since retired from the Test scene and moved to English club Saracens.
Veteran lock Victor Matfield also quit after the World Cup while centre Jaque Fourie and scrum-half Fourie du Preez have moved to Japan and prop Gurthro Steenkamp and lock Bakkies Botha to France.
The policy of most previous Springbok coaches has been to use local-based players only although this was relaxed for the World Cup last year with back Francois Steyn from Paris-based Racing Metro included until he was injured.
Unlike outspoken De Villiers, who courted controversy regularly during his four-year reign with many ill-advised comments ranging from race to eye gouging, Meyer keeps a low profile.
Born in north eastern city Nelspruit in October 1967, he studied sports psychology at the University of Pretoria before making his coaching debut 14 years ago with minnows Eagles in western Cape town George.
He joined the Bulls, whose supporters rank among the most passionate and demanding in world rugby, two years later and after a slow start, turned them into a force with a game based on forward dominance and a kicking fly-half.
The highlight came in 2007 when the Bulls conceded an early try and then went on to score 60 points against New Zealand outfit Waikato Chiefs in the most one-sided southern hemisphere provincial championship final.
After a brief period at English Premiership club Leicester Tigers, he was appointed Bulls’ director of rugby and had served for one year when he realised a life-long ambition by being put in charge of the Springboks.