JOHANNESBURG, December 3- Heyneke Meyer is to step down as Springboks coach, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) announced in a statement Thursday.
“Heyneke Meyer has advised SARU that he no longer wished to be considered as a candidate to coach the Springboks,” the union said.
“Meyer said he had decided to stand aside as coach, a decision he considers to be in the best interests of South African rugby, following recent developments.”
The announcement comes a day before a union meeting — where a top agenda item to be discussed by the executive council was the position of Springbok coach.
In a statement thanking him for his service to the team — and calling him “a credit to South African rugby” — SARU praised Meyer’s track record of 34 victories and two draws in 50 matches.
SARU president Oregan Hoskins said the coach “gave his all for the Springboks… There were many highlights during his time as coach and those are the moments we will remember.”
“During his tenure, the Springboks recorded a 66.7% winning record in Tests and scored 143 Test tries –- second only to New Zealand in that time,” the union said.
But it was a tenure marred by continual criticism, both of what detractors called Meyer’s use of outdated, obsessively physical tactics and his failure to meet transformation targets.
In the last year the national team lost five of 11 Tests, including a humiliating 34-32 World Cup group defeat to second-tier rugby nation Japan — the biggest shock in the 29-year history of the global showpiece.
South Africa recovered to reach the semi-finals before losing 20-18 to eventual champions New Zealand.
An agreement between SARU and the South African sports ministry set Meyer a target of choosing at least seven black players in each 23-man matchday squad.
But Meyer never reached the target and his use of three black starters in key World Cup matches meant there was no change from four years ago.
Ninety percent of South Africans are black.
Meyer had previously dismissed the criticism, insisting he should be given another four-year contract.
– Head held high –
But in the SARU statement he was quoted as saying it was “time for change”.
“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,” Meyer was quoted as saying in the SARU statement.
“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.”
SARU said its “search for a successor would begin immediately”.
The union added an announcement would be made only once the process was complete.
But several names are already being floated by the bookies, including New Zealand-born former Coastal Sharks coach John Plumtree, Golden Lions coach John Mitchell and ex-Springboks handler Nick Mallett.