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Are we jumping the gun again?

It seems to be the worst-kept secret in South Africa – the fact that Heyneke Meyer is set to be named the new Springbok coach on Friday. But, the big question is: Are we jumping the gun… again?

There are so many parallels between January 2008 and January 2012 that we shouldn’t be popping the champagne corks just yet.

Yes, as this website has reported for the last couple of weeks, Meyer is the sole name remaining on the South African Rugby Union’s list of.”preferred candidates” – with Peter de Villiers always a non-starter (even though he was on the list as a matter of courtesy), Allister Coetzee didn’t get a look-in either and Gert Smal was informed last week that he was no longer in the running.

Meyer, a late starter in the race, was confirmed as the preferred candidate in dispatches from both SARU and the Blue Bulls Company.

“The South African Rugby Union confirmed on Wednesday that discussions had been held with Heyneke Meyer regarding his possible appointment as Springbok coach,” SARU said this week.

In turn, the BBC said: “At a meeting called by SARU, on Tuesday, 24 January 2012, with the Blue Bulls Company’s Board of Directors, SARU informed the Blue Bulls Board of their intention to offer Heyneke Meyer the position of national coach.”

However, those of us who have been around long enough to understand the internal politics of South African rugby – as well as those who know what transpired behind the scenes in 2008 – cannot be blamed for approaching Friday’s scheduled media conference with a sense of apprehension.

First we have to remember what happened in 2008, after Jake White’s contract was not renewed – despite having just won the World Cup – and the new Bok coach was to be unveiled.

In the lead-up to that media conference Meyer was also the much-favoured candidate… by some distance. As is the case this time round, a few familiar names were bandied about and a few no-hopers also made it into media dispatches.

But Meyer was favoured to win the race on the back of his successes with the Bulls – a Super Rugby title in 2007 and four Currie Cup titles between 2002 and 2007.

However, after some extraordinary behind the scenes lobbying by rugby’s most astute politicians – those experienced in the art and science of guileful double-dealing – saw Peter de Villiers, rugby’s king of controversy, become the first non-white coach of the Springboks.

As SARU President Oregan Hoskins so succinctly put it: His appointment was for reasons other than just rugby. Many observes believed then that SARU was forced to accept De Villiers because of some ANC-connected officials within the organisation.

Who is to say the same won’t happen again this time round?

As SARU pointed out this week: The Executive Council of SARU will be provided with a report back on the discussions SARU CEO Jurie Roux and vice-President James Stoffberg had with Meyer at a meeting in Pretoria earlier this week. That report back took place at Newlands on Thursday. The Exco is constitutionally responsible for the appointment of the Springbok coach.

However, their “recommendation” has to be ratified by a General Meeting of SARU.

And that is where it all went wrong four years ago.

Something else to keep in mind is what Meyer did back in 2008.

In anticipation of the announcement of the name of the new Bok coach back in 2008, Meyer had resigned from his position at the Bulls and Frans Ludeke was appointed as head coach. When SARU made an abrupt U-turn, Meyer was left without a job. He found employment at Leicester Tigers in England, but had to return home due to family bereavement and was eventually re-employed by the Bulls.

This time Meyer has not made the same mistake. He has clearly learnt from the ignominious manner in which he was treated back then.

As the Bulls pointed out this week, should Meyer decide to accept the position of national coach, he needs to inform the Blue Bulls Company’s board of his decision to “abdicate” his responsibilities and commitments to the Bulls – which includes a new four-year contract.

Meyer, knowing full well that his proposed appointment still has to be ratified by a general council of SARU on Friday, has not yet resigned from the Bulls.

It appears even he may have some apprehension ahead of Friday’s media conference – scheduled for around noon.

We wait with bated breath!

By Jan de Koning

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