“It was a brilliant journey,” De Villiers said at a news conference in Wellington yesterday following his team’s 11-9 loss to the Wallabies. “There’s a time to come and a time to go and I think the journey for me is over.”
De Villiers, 54, was appointed as the first black coach of the Springboks in January 2008, replacing Jake White, who steered the national team to its second World Cup title in 2007.
During his tenure, the Springboks won 30 of 48 games including a 2009 series victory over the touring British & Irish Lions and three straight wins over New Zealand the same year to secure South Africa’s first Tri-Nations championship since 2004.
It was often his public comments that gained him international attention. He escaped sanction from southern hemisphere rugby’s umbrella governing body 14 months ago for suggesting that New Zealand was being favored to boost the All Blacks’ popularity and sell more World Cup tickets.
In 2009, he defended Springboks flanker Schalk Burger over an eye-gouging incident during the series against the Lions.
“Why don’t we go to the nearest ballet shop, get some nice tutus, get a great dancing show going, no eye-gouging, no tackling,” de Villiers told reporters at the time. Burger was given an eight-week ban for making contact with the eye area of an opponent.
Springboks captain John Smit, who lifted the World Cup in 2007 under White’s tenure, credited De Villiers with helping lift team spirits with his approach to the job.
“He was not the mold of coach we were used to,” Smit, whose international career also came to an end with yesterday’s loss, told reporters. “He’s been a great man and he’s helped us enjoy these four years. It’s disappointing to end it like this.”
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