By Dylan Cleaver
World Cup-winning coach Steve Hansen says England have made a “mistake” and that it’s a “sad day” for South African rugby.
Hansen, fresh from escorting the Webb Ellis Cup around New Zealand, has given his backing to the two high-profile coaches who have fallen on the sharp edge of the results business.
First England’s Stuart Lancaster and now Hansen’s South African friend and counterpart Heyneke Meyer have been removed or stepped down as national coach following the World Cup.
Meyer led the Springboks to a third-placed finish after a shocking opening-round loss to Japan, while Lancaster bore the full brunt of public and media opprobrium after failing to negotiate England out of pool play at their own tournament.
The Rugby Football Union has since appointed former Wallabies and Japan coach Eddie Jones. In South Africa, Allister Coetzee is the prohibitive favourite to take the top job.
“England have made a mistake,” Hansen said, saying it wasn’t long ago Lancaster’s bosses had enough faith in him to sign him through to 2020.
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“Woodward won one after losing one the All Blacks have one the last two after [showing faith] in the people that lost one in 2007.”
After a promising start at the helm at Twickenham, the relatively inexperienced Lancaster appeared befuddled at the World Cup, with his selections queried and his handling of league superstar Sam Burgess criticised.
Hansen’s close relationship with Meyer is well documented. The two make a point of sharing a beer together after their respective sides play each other, with the winner shouting. It would be fair to say Meyer hasn’t had to shell out too often and Hansen doesn’t envy the South African coaching environment his mate has been operating in.
“Heyneke has decided its right for him to go and his family. I can only imagine the pressure he’s under over there. It’s different circumstances that he lives in,” said Hansen, referencing the fact the Springboks coach is expected not only to win World Cup but also be at the vanguard of ‘transformation’ efforts.
The South African Rugby Union is also committed to non-whites making up half of all domestic and national squads by 2019. During the World Cup they were required to include seven non-white players, including two black Africans, in their 23-man match squads. At the same time, they are expected to maintain their historic winning record against every team outside the All Blacks.
“It’s a sad day for South Africa because they’ve lost a good coach and a good man. South African rugby is poorer for it, but he’s doing what’s right for him and I can only support him for doing it.”