Good luck to Peter de Villiers; he’s certainly going to need it.
According to reports, his election to South African rugby coaching’s top job was a close-run thing, with many on the presidents’ council in favour of Heyneke Meyer.
So, even before De Villiers has set a foot on his new coaching path, there is a band of rugby administrators that has not got its own way. And we all know the rumblings a disaffected rugby administrator can cause in this country; not for us the reading of actual sport on the sport pages.
Further, De Villiers takes over a team who have just won the World Cup and are currently ranked number one in the world. So, should he not maintain the current ranking, or not achieve a success rate in keeping with being world champions, this would be ammunition for detractors.
When Jake White took over as Bok coach, he inherited a bedraggled and dispirited team who had lost self-confidence and the respect of many opponents — and just plain lost games. Jake thus had nothing to lose, and following in the footsteps of the pilloried Rudolf Straeuli made things that much easier. The trick was sustaining this initial improvement, which White did for the most part.
De Villiers won’t be faced with a situation where the only way to go is up.
There will also be those waiting to shoot down De Villiers at the first sign of failure because he was elected, according to Oregan Hoskins, for reasons that were not entirely rugby related. At the other end of the spectrum there will be pressure to achieve satisfactory progress in transformation. Failure to do this adequately will necessarily draw a backlash from those quarters.
Then there is also the task of getting the buy-in of senior players, always important for stability in the set-up. It is no secret that Meyer was highly regarded by his provincial players, and a few influential Boks are Meyer disciples. There is a need to get these players — who may have been more comfortable with Meyer — on board, as their experience cannot be discounted. Here one thinks of the likes of Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Du Preez, Habana — all regarded as the best in their positions in the country.
It seems that for De Villiers to stay in this job for any length of time, he will have to keep everyone happy all the time, a near-impossible task.
And if winning a World Cup does not give a coach enough bargaining power to dictate terms, what level of independence will administrators allow De Villiers to implement his plans?
It’s daunting, whichever way you look at it.
But I wish him all the best, because if he succeeds, rugby succeeds.
Good luck, Peter.