Saru sidestep no surprise

Hot on the heels of Springbok coach Jake White’s announcement of his imminent departure, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) seems set to add the name of Dick Muir to its shortlist of candidates to replace White.

This is the same Saru that claimed White could not be considered for an extension of his post because he had missed the deadline for applications.

On Monday Saru vice-president Mike Stofile said: “It has come to our attention that Dick is interested and this is pleasing but, with applications having closed, the only thing we can do now is discuss it at our scheduled meeting on Thursday and then give a report back to the President’s Council. It would be up to them if there is to be a revision of our current shortlist.”

The President’s Council meeting, which came too late for the Mail & Guardian‘s deadline, should have been a lulu.
In addition to agreeing to allow late submissions, there was the touchy little issue of whether to allow overseas-based players to turn out for the Springboks. Here we are, less than a month after winning the World Cup, having done away with the coach and about to turn our backs on the World Cup-winning captain and a host of his lieutenants. Nothing should ever surprise us anymore.

Remember what happened after the World Cup win in 1995? First the victorious coach Kitch Christie stepped down, then his successor, André Markgraaff, did away with François Pienaar. The Springbok captain was snapped up by English club side Saracens and the British floodgates opened for his World Cup teammates.

Match winners such as Joel Stransky placed themselves beyond the pale by choosing to play overseas. Sarfu (as Saru was known back then) chief executive Rian Oberholzer justified blatant xenophobia by quoting the Sanzar constitution, which demanded full-strength teams for its competitions and frowned upon player migration.

Only as the 1999 World Cup hove into view did the goalposts shift. Finding himself short of playing resources in key positions, Springbok coach Nick Mallett persuaded his bosses to lure Jannie de Beer, Brendan Venter and Fritz van Heerden back to play in South Africa for a brief period to make themselves eligible for selection for the World Cup team.

Whatever decision the president’s council made on Thursday will surely not be carved in stone, but subject to change without notice, just like the system to appoint White’s successor.

It was intriguing to hear Muir’s rationale for allowing his name to be put forward. He said: “The reason I did not apply for the job [initially] was because Jake was still in the picture and I did not feel it was appropriate to go against him. Out of respect for him, I did not apply. He had just won the World Cup and I thought it right that he should continue in the job if that was what he wanted. But now that he has removed himself from the equation, the situation is obviously different and, yes, I am interested.”

If Muir were to leapfrog the other four candidates on the shortlist it would scarcely be unprecedented. That’s exactly how White got the job in 2004, while Mallett, in 1997, was the third coach to be appointed until after the 1999 World Cup. Of the other two, Markgraaff fell on his sword after racist statements and Carel du Plessis lasted for just eight matches.

It transpires that the committee appointed to rule on White’s successor this time numbers nine people, only one of whom has ever coached a provincial side or played for the Springboks. He is Dawie Snyman, former Western Province and Springbok fullback and coach of Province in the mid-1990s.

The other eight are Stofile, Sharks chief executive Brian van Zyl, Lions president Jannie Ferreira, Leopards president James Stofberg, Saru managing director Jonathan Stones, Saru chief executive Johan Prinsloo, human resources expert Elna van Niekerk and, most bizarrely of all, Stellenbosch University rector Julian Smith.

Given the foregoing it would be wise to expect the unexpected. Van Zyl will recuse himself if Muir’s name is added to the shortlist—because of a conflict of interests.

Interestingly, the Sharks chief executive has put contingency plans in place already.

He said: “There are obviously two conditions to releasing him from his Sharks contract. First, that SA Rugby accepts his application and second, that his application is successful.”

Muir is an engaging fellow with a profound knowledge and love of the game. News of his interest in the job will have delighted many people but, presumably, landed like a lead balloon at the feet of the four men who got their applications in on time: Heyneke Meyer, Chester Williams, Allister Coetzee and Pieter de Villiers.

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