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Meyer to 'transform' the Boks?

In terms of ‘rugby reasons’, Heyneke Meyer was the best choice as new Bok coach, but we all know there is more to the job in a unique country like South Africa. So, with that in mind, what are Meyer’s ‘transformation’ credentials?

Four years ago SARU President Oregan Hoskins famously (or should that be infamously?) declared that Meyer had lost out to Peter de Villiers, the first-ever black Springbok coach, for reasons other than their respective rugby-coaching abilities.

At this point it is worth reflecting on what De Villiers brought to the job other than his work as a rugby coach, as there is clearly far more to the job description.

First of all there was the obvious symbolic power of the appointment. The Springboks have been used as a strategic tool to foster national unity in South Africa for a long time and his appointment alone satisfied SARU’s need for ‘transformation’.

Four years later at the press conference to announce Meyer as De Villiers’s replacement the elephant in the room refused to budge as SARU was grilled on whether this was a backwards step from a coach who blooded hardly any non-white talent in his time in charge anyway.

It should be noted that SARU seem to be worryingly muddled on what exactly ‘transformation’ is.When he was asked for a definition, SARU President Oregan Hoskins seemed unprepared for a question about something that is apparently one of his organisation’s chief concerns.

“Transformation is an all-embracing concept, it is about transforming minds, transforming the way we think. It is an important concept that enables us as a society to become successful.

“Like all societies that have had to transform we have had to transform as well and I don’t think there is a South African who doesn’t want to transform,” he said, leaving everyone quite confused.

The point is that ‘transformation’ is about more than that horrid term: quotas.

The vague and often misguided efforts are aimed at broadening the support base for rugby in South Africa to both bring people together and make the sport stronger.

This is why SARU were so keen to hail De Villiers’s achievements in making the Springboks “a team of the people”, it is on this front that he has achieved the most success and there is clearly pressure on Meyer to carry on the good work in this regard.

Despite his battles with the media and any shortcomings he may have had as a coach, there is no denying that De Villiers is (or was) a man of the people.

He took the Boks to places in South Africa that they had never been before and his affable personal demeanour made the team accessible to all.

However, Hoskins, on Friday, assured the nation that Meyer understood ‘transformation’ and its importance, and it was clear that at least having a strategy on this front was part of the deal.

Hoskins said: “Without doubt the issue of transformation was taken into account, I have spoken to Heyneke in the past and recently about transformation and he understands the dynamics of South Africa, he is a loyal and faithful South African and he understands our society and the dynamics of our society.”

It must be acknowledged that Meyer has a great track record of developing young non-white players at the Bulls and could end up capping more black Springboks than De Villiers did during his tenure.

He is more than aware that making the team accessible to all is a key part of being the Springbok coach, and he was quick to acknowledge the contributions that De Villiers had made to South African rugby before pledging to continue on that path.

He commented: “I would like to build on the platform he [De Villiers] has laid especially in bringing the team to the people which is also important to me.

“I want to be a Springbok coach for the people, and for all South Africans out there. I want to make the Springboks accessible to all people,” said Meyer.

SARU Chief Executive Jurie Roux was also quick to praise De Villiers’ contribution, comparing the end of his tenure to a relationship ending on good terms.

“Often when you come to the end of a relationship you tend to focus on those things that went wrong, and I think it is important that we celebrate Peter de Villiers for what he did right rather than what he did wrong,” said Roux.

“He did a lot of things very well and he made changes within that team. First and foremost, he made that team the team of this country.”

So how does Meyer plan to carry De Villiers’s ‘transformation’ torch?

His strategy, it seems, is simple: pick the best team and win as often as possible to widen the support base that already exists thanks to the groundwork laid by those who have come before him.

“I think my best chance is going to be to unite everybody and get everyone’s support behind the team, and then to work together for the best interests of the team,” said Meyer.

“I would like to pick the best possible Springbok team, I said I want our country to be proud of the team and you have to look at what is the best for the team.

“I want all of our supporters to be proud of the Springbok team, the Springbok jersey and what it stands for because to me that is very important and this is the country that I love,” he added.

Although ‘transformation’ might be dismissed by many as just arbitrary political rhetoric that has not been clearly defined, sport and politics can never really be separated in South Africa and there is clear pressure on SARU – and by extension, Meyer – to make an effort.

Meyer plans to strike his blow for ‘transformation’ by playing to his strengths and meticulously plotting for success, which will appeal to supporters of all descriptions.

If he manages this then we could see a situation where everyone wins, both on the field and in terms of the prickly topic that is ‘transformation’.

By Michael de Vries

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