Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The South African Rugby Union (SARU) could spring a massive surprise next week and retain incumbent Springbok coach Peter de Villiers as a caretaker coach for the upcoming three-Test series against England.
This is one of the options being mulled as the deadline to appoint the new Bok coach fast approaches, with all three of the contenders on the shortlist currently under contract at other Rugby Unions.
According to top sources close to the process, this is more than just a possibility at the moment. SARU have previously indicated that they are aiming for January 27 as the date to ratify the appointment of the coach, after receiving the recommendation a day earlier. But if the right candidate cannot be secured by this date, this proposed option has been put forward as an alternative, to ensure the Springboks get the right coach for the future.
While SARU Chief Executive Jurie Roux has been hard at work in head-hunting the new coach, the contractual commitments that three of the four short-listed candidates have has made it difficult to snare the right candidate before next week’s deadline.
It has now emerged that SARU are considering an option to ask De Villiers to stay on for six months so that his successor can be successfully signed on. This would mean he would prepare the Bok team for the England series in June, before handing over the reins to his successor for the Castle Rugby Championship in September.
"This is the most important decision we have to make as SARU and appointing the best man for the job is critical," Roux said in December, underlining the importance in getting the right candidate. "The skills and qualities required by a Springbok coach are confined to only a small number of potential candidates.”
De Villiers has said more than once that he is willing to stay on to mentor his successor, and has publicly indicated that a proper handover would be necessary to ensure the succession process is handled as it should be.
The three week tour by England is looming large as it comes in the middle of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, and stars a week after local players play in two massive derbies in the competition. While the Boks will run out against England on June 9, the previous weekend sees the Sharks taking on the Cheetahs while the Stormers face the Bulls. A day later the Bok coach will start his preparations for the England games.
While SARU have made no public acknowledgements, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, Bulls Director of coaching Heyneke Meyer and Ireland assistant coach Gert Smal are rumoured to be on the shortlist, with De Villiers completing the quartet as the incumbent.
However while Smal is said to be the front runner, his contractual obligations to Ireland, where he recently signed a three year extension to his contract, have made things difficult in negotiations. Coupled with the fact that his son finishes school in Ireland in June, it has made Smal a difficult proposition as coach.
Meyer was only appointed in his position last year and while he was prevented by a political decision from getting the job in 2007, his track record and motivational capabilities are beyond question. The Bulls however would not be keen to part with him as he has just begun rebuilding the Bulls franchise with head coach Frans Ludeke after the exodus of Springbok players after the World Cup.
The Stormers sit with the same conundrum with Allister Coetzee. After Rassie Erasmus’ resignation last week, the Stormers coach is unlikely to find favour with his own Board of Directors if SA Rugby does come knocking.
The scenario to keep De Villiers on for another six months has found some favour especially as it would allow Smal to complete the Six Nations tournament with Ireland while the Bulls and Stormers may be more accepting if they knew they had their assets available for the Super Rugby competition.
Smal and Coetzee were assistant coaches to Jake White when he won the World Cup in 2007, with Smal also boasting two Currie Cup titles to his name. Meyer, assistant coach to Nick Mallett in the World-record equalling run of 17 unbeaten wins, built the Bulls empire in the last decade with a Super 14 win in 2007 and four Currie Cup titles in-between.
SARU have stuck to their pledge not to comment on the appointment, with GM: Communications Andy Colquhoun confirming only “that Peter de Villiers is on the shortlist”.