Wanted: Next Bok coach, capt
Johannesburg - South Africa will have a new coach, captain, stars and possibly style in 2012 as they make a fresh start after surrendering the Rugby World Cup trophy last October.
Hoping to become the first country to achieve back-to-back titles, the Springboks lost 11-9 to Australia in a quarter-final they dominated territorially only to be let down by poor finishing.
A South African pundit noted that the green and gold had become so used to playing without the ball in a kick-and-chase approach, they did not know what to do with it when given bountiful possession.
The Springboks have a 12-Test schedule next year, starting with three on consecutive June weekends at home to England, another country to make a last-eight exit from the World Cup in New Zealand.
These games will be followed by home and away Tests with Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in The Rugby Championship - the new name for the southern hemisphere championship with the Pumas joining the fold.
A traditional November tour includes matches in Ireland, Scotland and England and draws the curtains on a long campaign for top South Africans with a Super Rugby season plus possible Currie Cup commitments.
South African Rugby Union (SARU) officials say a successor to Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, whose four-year contract expired this month, will be named on January 27 in Cape Town.
Contractual obligations mean De Villiers will be considered as a coach is head hunted, but few pundits believe the Western Cape-based handler is going to get a second chance.
The media list of candidates includes Ireland assistant and former Springbok flank Gert Smal plus Super Rugby coaches Allister Coetzee of the Stormers, John Mitchell of the Lions and John Plumtree of the Sharks.
Rassie Erasmus and Heyneke Meyer, directors of coaching at Stormers and Bulls respectively, have also been mentioned as has Reds Super Rugby-winning coach Ewen McKenzie.
Retired Springbok lock Victor Matfield says Bulls coach Frans Ludeke should be considered and there was also backing for Australian Eddie Jones until he took over Japan this month.
Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett received support, too, but says he will not be returning to a post that has had 11 occupants in 19 years since South Africa returned from apartheid-induced isolation.
Coetzee, the only black among those likely to replace De Villiers, was the early media favourite but recent reports suggest ex-Springbok assistant coach Smal tops the SARU wish list.
Among the first tasks of the new boss will be to pick a successor to retired hooker John Smit as skipper and flank Schalk Burger is favoured ahead of older fellow loose forward Juan Smith, who missed the World Cup through injury.
Although Smit and Matfield are the only Boks to have quit the Test scene, centre Jaque Fourie and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez are off to Japan and prop Gurthro Steenkamp and lock Bakkies Botha to France.
De Villiers followed a tradition of concentrating on home-based stars although whoever takes over will surely consider Paris-based utility back Francois Steyn after his outstanding World Cup.
Bismarck du Plessis is an obvious replacement for Smit, Andries Bekker for Matfield, Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira for Steenkamp and Francois Hougaard for Du Preez.
Super Rugby form should decide who fills the giant shoes of 'enforcer' Botha if the coach sticks to local talent while Juan de Jongh could step up for Fourie and there will be pressure on wing Bryan Habana after an indifferent World Cup.
There is no shortage of rising stars with Patrick Lambie, Elton Jantjies and Johan Goosen eyeing the No 10 shirt worn by Morne Steyn and surprise World Cup omission Lwazi Mvovo is poised to put pressure on Habana.
But choosing the right coach will be crucial with a desperate need for a strong man who will not be held hostage by senior players and is brave enough to introduce a more expansive and less predictable game plan.
South Africa 2012 Test dates:
9 v England, Durban
16 v England, Johannesburg
23 v England, Port Elizabeth
18 v Argentina, Cape Town
25 v Argentina, Mendoza
8 v Australia, Perth
15 v New Zealand, Dunedin
29 v Australia, Pretoria
6 v New Zealand, Soweto
10 v Ireland, Dublin
17 v Scotland, Edinburgh
24 v England, London