In January this year, popular former Blue Bulls trainer, Heyneke Meyer, was appointed coach for the South African national rugby team on a four-year term, replacing Peter de Villiers – however, despite a successful career, Meyer’s path to coaching the Boks has been anything but smooth.
As the only coach whose achievements included winning the Super 14, Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup competitions he was a strong contender to succeed Jake White at the helm of Springbok rugby in 2008, but De Villiers got the job. Meyer quit rugby taking on a senior role in a sports supplement company before being enticed back to coach the UK’s Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership.
Now finally charged with leading the Boks to success, Meyer, who by his own admission is not a “quick-fix coach”, faces the tough challenge of taking over a team in the rebuilding phase and developing them into a winning team.
Born in Nelspruit on October 6, 1967, Meyer completed his schooling at Nelspruit’s Bergvlam Hoerskool before studying sports psychology at the University of Pretoria.
He graduated from Tukkies with a Bachelor of Arts with majors in psychology, human movement science and geography and went on to complete an honours degree in geography and an HED. Meyer was both a player and a coach during his time at Tukkies, as well as a part-time sports administrator and the member of his house committee responsible for sport.
Between 1988 and 1996 he coached a variety of teams from high school first teams, Under 21 sides to Carlton League first teams. His notable achievement during this time was that all the teams under his care reached the semi-finals in every season.
Meyer’s professional career stepped up a gear in 1997 when he was appointed assistant coach for the George-based Eagles, responsible for coaching and developing the forwards. In 1998 Meyer was promoted head coach of the South West District team and the Eagles finished the Currie Cup in seventh position – their best finish on record. The following year the Eagles made it into the Currie Cup semi-finals under Meyer’s watchful coaching.
He was appointed assistant coach of the Springboks during the 1999 World Cup, before heading for the hallowed ground of Loftus Versveld as head coach for the Northern Bulls in the Super 12s (as it was known then) in 2000 and as coach for the Blue Bulls in 2002. He overcame personal stresses (including the hospitalisation of both his father and wife on the same day in 2002) and coached the Blue Bulls from 2002 to 2007, leading them to the finals in all six Currie Cups as well has winning four Currie Cup titles. In 2007 the Blue Bulls, under Meyer’s leadership, became the first South African team to win the Super 14 competition – as well as the first team to win three away games on an Australasian tour.
Meyer was nominated as coach of the year by SA Rugby magazine in 2005, inducted into the University of Pretoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and was a Tukkies Laureate winner in 2007. His stellar performance earned him a reputation as South Africa’s most successful coach, and Meyer was a popular choice to take over from Jake White as national rugby coach in 2008 – but that was not to be.
The father of three sons, feeling disillusioned, resigned from rugby that year but was enticed back to coaching by an offer to take up a position of head coach for the UK-based Leicester Tigers. He filled the role for eight months before retuning to South Africa for personal reasons and then taking up an executive oversight role with the Blue Bulls as well as taking on an advisory role for the Tuks Varsity Cup.
Four years after missing out on the coveted top job, Meyer, known as a tough coach who demands the best of his players, was the top contender for national coach again this year.
With the retirement of key players and a disappointing quarter-final in the 2011 Rugby World Cup under De Villiers, Meyer has inherited a team in the rebuilding stage – something Meyer has excelled at with the Blue Bulls in the past – and the unenviable task of balancing rebuilding a national team with the expectation of producing wins from the outset.
His decision to use younger players in recent matches against England has already drawn some harsh criticism, despite winning the first game. But it’s time to throw our support behind one of South Africa’s most successful coaches to date, and give him time to build our fine rugby players into a strong winning team and do the job the Rugby Union has hired him to do.