The idea that a foreigner could succeed Heyneke Meyer as the coach of the Springboks was not discounted by South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins on Friday, but a strengthened emphasis on transformation means Allister Coetzee surely remains the hot favourite to take over the poisoned chalice.
Meyer’s dignified exit from the role means Saru have a week in which to hunt down his successor and, with former Stormers coach Coetzee and current Lions mastermind Johan Ackermann the only realistic local candidates, speculation has been rife that the Springboks might have their first overseas coach.
“Yes, a foreigner is an option. We shouldn’t rule out anyone because we want best for South Africa, so we have to consider all the possibilities. There were 13 foreign coaches in charge at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, that’s the way things are going in rugby,” Hoskins said at Saru House in Cape Town on Friday as he addressed media about the Springbok coaching position.
John Plumtree and John Mitchell are the leading candidates in terms of overseas-born coaches, with both of them having led South African franchises in SuperRugby.
But Mitchell is likely to have a long list of demands – such as a four-year contract and being able to choose his own support team – which has been a sticking point in his negotiations to take over the Stormers coaching role.
Plumtree coached the Sharks for four years from 2008, winning two Currie Cup titles but generally under-performing in SuperRugby. Following his dismissal by the Sharks, the New Zealander became the Ireland forwards coach, before joining the successful Hurricanes side as an assistant in this year’s SuperRugby competition.
Former All Black Wayne Smith, a visonary attack coach for New Zealand’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup triumphs, has also been mentioned as a candidate but, like Mitchell and Plumtree, he would appear to be more likely to be involved as an assistant.
Coetzee, the backline coach in the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup win, has always been the favourite to succeed Meyer, having controversially lost out in 2008 when Peter de Villiers was appointed, but what has certainly caused his stock to rise were Hoskins’ comments that transformation would be a priority for the next coach of the national team.
“For the next four years, transformation will be key for us – we signed an agreement with Sascoc and the government. It has been Saru’s policy that the leadership doesn’t interfere in team selection, but we might have to look at that. It’s very difficult to have Saru interfering in team selection, but if policy is not implemented, then we would address that discreetly and find solutions. Anybody applying for Bok coach needs to know transformation is at the top of the agenda – otherwise don’t apply,” Hoskins said.
An overseas coach would probably struggle with the implementation of such transformation policy, while it is an area in which Coetzee, a former scrumhalf star in non-racial rugby, excelled during his time in Cape Town, while still guiding them to four appearances in the SuperRugby knockout phase as well as two Currie Cup titles.
Other favourites of the South African rugby public are Nick Mallett, who has however said he does not want to return to coaching, Robbie Deans, who, like Coetzee is currently coaching in Japan, and Ackermann.
The viewpoint of those involved in making the decision, however, would seem to be that Ackermann needs to gain more experience and win trophies with the Lions over the next four years.
Coetzee as head coach with a high-profile overseas assistant, and the involvement of Saru rugby general manager Rassie Erasmus, would appear to be what the governing body are currently angling for ahead of the expected announcement of the new Springbok management next Friday.