De Villiers named as new Bok coach

Peter de Villiers made history on Wednesday by being named the first black coach of the world-champion Springbok rugby team, before making clear he would pick his teams based on merit, not colour.

De Villiers, currently coach of the Under-21 side, was the surprise choice of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to succeed Jake White—a decision Saru bosses admitted was influenced by the desire to help transform the Boks’ overwhelmingly white racial profile.

But at a press conference at Saru headquarters at the Newlands in Cape Town, the straight-talking De Villiers said he did not want people to dwell on his colour.

“The fact that I am the first black coach must end now,” he said. “Players out there must understand they will all stand an equal chance ... If they are good enough, talented enough and work hard enough they will be part of the squad.”

His appointment is a surprise, with most commentators predicting that the job would go to Heyneke Meyer, a former coach of the Pretoria-based Bulls Super 14 franchise.

Former South Africa assistant coach Allister Coetzee and former Super 12 Cats coach Chester Williams were also on the four-man shortlist.

However, Saru has been under heavy pressure from the African National Congress government over its failure to pick more players of colour, with whites accounting for 13 of the 15 players to start in October’s World Cup final against England in Paris.

Saru president Oregan Hoskins, who was hauled over the coals when he appeared before a committee of lawmakers last year, acknowledged the desire to broaden the racial base of rugby had been a factor in the appointment.

“I want to be honest with South Africa and say the appointment did not take into account only rugby reasons,” Hoskins told reporters.
“We took into account the issue of transformation in rugby very, very seriously when we made the appointment.”

Hoskins said the significance of De Villiers’s appointment stretched beyond the borders of South Africa.

“South Africa is the leading rugby nation, having just won the World Cup. If you look at the leading nations, the top 10 in particular, South Africa has a black coach now and that is fantastic for the game in all parts of the world,” he said.

“We as an organisation value the importance of transformation in a society that is chanting all the time.”

Saru chief executive Johan Prinsloo said that the choice of De Villiers had been made after a narrow vote, praising him as “a strong leader, a coach with proven track record”.

“We have embraced transformation in South Africa,” Prinsloo added.

De Villiers, who has been given an initial two-year contract, made his name as a provincial scrumhalf for Griqualand West and Boland before cutting his teeth as a coach in club rugby in the Cape region.

He led the Under-21 side to the World Championship final last year after winning the title in 2005. He has also coached the Emerging Bok team, winning an IRB tournament held in Romania last year.

Asked why he was wearing a Bulls blazer at Wednesday’s press conference, given his background in the Cape, De Villiers quipped: “I just wanted to show you I have nothing against anybody.”

White departed from the post at the turn of the year, angry that Saru wanted him to reapply for his position even though he had steered the Springboks to World Cup glory in France in October.—AFP

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