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End of a colourful era as De Villiers opts to step down

The Editor, The Times Newspaper | 2011-10-10 00:41:47.0

The Times Editorial: Love him or hate him, rugby will be poorer without Peter de Villiers. The Springbok coach has declared his intention to step down, a decision that will provoke relief, sympathy and even some sadness, probably not in equal measure.

Certainly the Boks are sad to see him go. Skipper John Smit himself said so yesterday after the team had lost a heartbreak quarterfinal 11-9 to a Wallaby side that had been there for the taking.

De Villiers is one of the colourful characters in world rugby, which is desperately short of them. Portrayed, especially by the British press as something of a buffoon when he refused to condemn the eye-gouging of a Lions player by Springbok hero Schalk Burger, De Villiers ended up by proving many of his detractors wrong. His winning percentage is 62.5%, not bad when compared with predecessor Jake White's 67% and far better than England's Martin Johnson, with 56.6% from 38 tests.

De Villiers had a difficult start to his term. Apart from taking over from White, who was revered by conservative South African rugby followers, he had to endure being labelled a "political" appointment by his boss, the president of SA Rugby.

The new coach did not get off to a good start. His battle with the English idiom, his declared devotion to the ANC and his stubborn refusal to seek good advice at first counted against him, especially with the South African rugby establishment, of which he had never been part.

But within a year of his appointment, he had shown himself to be his own man. He realised he needed the support of the experienced Bok players and he beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, a feat not achieved in 10 years. The following year he won a series against the British and Irish Lions as well as the Tri-Nations.

Now he has emerged with some honour from the World Cup. If he could be faulted, it would be for holding on too long to some ageing players. But he would be not the first Bok coach to do so.

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