The 44-year-old Meyer, who steered the Bulls to four Currie Cup titles between 2002 and 2006 and then their first Super 14 crown in 2007, has been appointed on a four-year contract.
“It’s truly humbling but also a huge honour and responsibility because the Springboks carry the hopes and dreams of the whole country,” Meyer said at a news conference in Cape Town on Friday. “I want to get the support of everyone behind the team and to do that I have to pick the best possible team. I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep, it would be easy to promise the world, but I need to plan very thoroughly.”
Former Leicester coach Meyer succeeds the controversial Peter de Villiers, who won a single Tri-Nations title and beat the British and Irish Lions in 2009 before guiding the Springboks to the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
Meyer had initially been the favourite to succeed Jake White in 2008 when De Villiers was appointed, and he subsequently quit rugby before joining Leicester in June 2008.
South African Rugby Union (Saru) chief executive Jurie Roux said they had head-hunted Meyer this time around.
“This process started on June 9 last year and the timeline was set to today. We decided to head-hunt the Springbok coach because we knew exactly what we required. Our mandate was simple – to get the best coach to make the Springboks a winning team,” Roux said.
The qualified sports psychologist has been named by lock Victor Matfield, the most-capped Springbok, as the best coach he ever worked under.
Meyer is currently the rugby executive at the Bulls, but Roux said they had no option but to release him for the Springbok job.
“There is no breach of contract because Heyneke had a very definite exit clause for the appropriate position, which this obviously is,” Roux said.
Former Springbok and current Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal was thought to be the frontrunner to succeed De Villiers, but has recently signed an extension until 2013 to his contract with Ireland, leading to Saru’s seemingly rushed negotiations with the Bulls.
Meyer said that he believed it was his calling to eventually coach the Springboks.
“It’s been a long path with the Bulls, but we both realise there are bigger things. I believe that it is my calling to be the coach of the whole nation, not just one province.”
Meyer said that his first task would be to appoint his back-up staff, in consultation with Roux.
“It’s very important that we have the best people involved and a lot of them are in contract – if they aren’t it means that they’re probably not good enough. So there will have to be a lot of negotiation. The national coach shouldn’t have an ego and it would be arrogant for me just to rely on my own resources.”
Meyer said he will also be travelling around the franchises to learn about the character of the men he will be considering for the Springbok team and that it would be too early to name a captain in the wake of John Smit’s retirement.
“We have a very tough start against England, but I’m up for the challenge and we have brilliant players. There are only two types of rugby I know – winning rugby and losing rugby – and I prefer the first one.
“The World Cup is obviously very important to win, but I’m a big believer that whenever you’re on the field, you have to want to win.
“I’m not there to build a Springbok team, I’m there to win,” Meyer said.
England will be the new coach’s first opponents when they come to South Africa in June to play three tests.