- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) - Heyneke Meyer has decided to stand down as coach after four years in charge of the Springboks.

The possibility of Meyer being offered a contract extension was due to be discussed by the South African Rugby Union general council at a meeting in Cape Town on Dec. 11, but he told president Oregan Hoskins and chief executive Jurie Roux he was walking away.

He considered the move to be “in the best interests of South African rugby,” after the team finished third at the recent Rugby World Cup in England, SARU said in a statement on Thursday.

SARU said it will search for a new coach immediately.

“I have always put the Springboks first in my time as coach, and since returning from England I have realized that as much as I believe I still have a lot to offer, the time has come for change,” Meyer said.

The decision backtracks on his stated desire at the Rugby World Cup to keep coaching the Springboks, despite growing criticism this year of his results, selections, and commitment to transformation before and during the tournament.

His predecessor, Peter de Villiers, accused Meyer of taking South African rugby “into the gutters,” then the campaign started with a 34-32 loss to Japan, one of the biggest upsets in rugby history.

The Springboks rebounded to reach the semifinals, where they were convincingly beaten by eventual champion New Zealand. After defeating Argentina for third, Meyer wanted to carry on, even though he said, “you can never win as coach of South Africa, but I just love coaching, I love my team, and I love my country.”

Meyer coached the Springboks in 50 matches, winning 34 of them and drawing two, giving him a win percentage that was second only to New Zealand among top-tier teams in the last four years.

“My integrity has always been very important, and I feel I can leave with my head held high,” he said. “I’ve always maintained that my only motivation was to serve my country, and to do what was best for the Springboks.”

His contribution was praised by Hoskins.

“Heyneke gave his all for the Springboks, and it was a great pleasure to work with such a passionate South African,” he said. “There were many highlights during his time as coach and those are the moments we will remember.

“He also set very high standards of behavior for himself, his management team, and his players, and he was and is a credit to South African rugby. I’m sure all my colleagues join me in wishing him the very best of luck in whatever coaching path his career now takes him.”

The increasing pressure to transform the racial makeup of the Springboks from a white-dominated side to one that mirrors the demographics of the country, which is almost 80 percent black, is likely to inform SARU’s decision on a successor.

This was outlined in a brief statement from Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.

“The resignation of Mr. Meyer should not distract us on what we seek to achieve, rather it should serve as another opportunity to enhance our efforts of sport transformation,” Mbalula said. “In May this year I signed Transformation Agreements with federations, SARU was one of them.

“SARU agreed and committed to transformation; it’s a prerequisite then that whoever comes in as a new coach of the Springboks is conscious to our transformation needs, and will meet our objectives as outlined in the Transformation Agreement before the next Rugby World Cup.”

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