The Springboks’ defeat at the Rugby World Cup last year still haunts him, Heyneke Meyer revealed.
The former Bok coach recently opened up to journalist Hanlie Retief on her chat show, ’n Halfuur met Hanlie.
He resigned in December after heavy criticism of his success rate, among other things. It was the most difficult decision of his life, he said.
“I said I was there to serve and if people thought I could no longer serve, I was prepared to leave.”
The Boks’ defeat by Japan was the worst day of his life, he said in the interview on his game farm near Memel on the border of Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, which he bought 15 years ago.
He spoke to each player after the match. “I also allowed each player to get up and say what he thought was wrong, where we could improve and if he still wanted to play for his country. I don’t understand the word ‘surrender’. It’s not in my vocabulary. I believed until the end that we could beat the All Blacks.”
But it didn’t happen.
“I know the media created a bleak picture but what’s unbelievable to me is that, wherever we go in South Africa – and I become emotional when I say this – the people support me.
“We lost against a good team and one should be able to lose sometimes too,” he says.
“I don’t really want to say it, but perhaps I should just go ahead: one was heavily criticised for transformation, something that completely overwhelmed me. When I was on holiday in the Western Cape the people of colour supported me even more and I think they’re sometimes more forgiving.”
How did he keep going while people were calling for his head to roll?
“That time was actually easy for me. That seems arrogant; it wasn’t that difficult for me,” he says. “I was more disappointed in myself because I knew we could have won the World Cup. Things didn’t work out the way they should have.
“One could have made lots of excuses. I’m not here to badmouth people. That’s really not my intention. All I can say is that I think one doesn’t realise how difficult it is politically off the field. I’m talking about rugby politics. It’s tough. And I think it’s going to be the great challenge for the next coach.
“Without making excuses or badmouthing people, I don’t think people realise how difficult it is for the national coach. There are things beyond his control; things off the field.”
It’s widely speculated that Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will take over as national coach. According to reports, the final announcement about the sought-after job will be made this week.
Meanwhile Heyneke says his wife, Linda, is his rock and he’s enjoying spending quality time with his family. The dad of three sons says, “She always teases. She says when we met we were 15/16 and I said rugby always came first, second and third, then her. But I think it’s turned around now – she now comes first, second and third, then rugby.”
He’s proudly South African and is positive about the Boks. “I think if South Africa gets the system right we can be unbeatable. I think the system is already better than it was. But there’s still a lot of work ahead.”