Viljoen resigns to leave Springboks without a coach

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South African rugby is today searching for its ninth national coach since returning to the international arena in 1992, after Harry Viljoen surprisingly resigned from the Springbok position yesterday. He cited "unbearable pressures", but his decision was unexpected, despite a moderate record of eight wins, six defeats and one draw in 15 matches at the helm since taking over from Nick Mallett in November 2000.

"I have had tremendous support from a lot of people. The players have been fantastic, but the media are unrelenting in South Africa. Frankly, I could not deal with the constant negatives. The intrusions into my life are elements I refuse to live with," said Viljoen in a statement.

Only last week he had been given full support from the South African Rugby Football Union hierarchy, with his contract confirmed up to the 2003 World Cup despite an end-of-season tour that had resulted in defeats against France and England.

Viljoen, who attempted to implement a radical, if incon-sistent, new playing style with the 1995 world champions, is a self-made millionaire who has now resigned from four top coaching posts before seeing out his contract.

Two former Springbok No 8s are said to be at the head of the list of possible replacements. Rudolf Straueli, a popular face around Bedford during his time with the English club in the twilight of his playing career, and Gert Smal would be popular choices with the public and media.

Straueli's coaching rise has been meteoric after his return to South Africa, where he was handed the reins of provincial outfit Border. He made a success of that position and is currently the head coach of the Durban-based Sharks, runners-up in both the domestic Currie Cup and southern-hemisphere Super 12 competitions last season.

Smal's coaching career also included a stint with Border before he moved to Cape Town, where he took Western Province to the Currie Cup title last season. He is also in charge of the Stormers in the Super 12.

However, the chief executive of Sarfu, Rian Oberholzer, said there would be no immediate rush to appoint a successor. "If there is one positive it is that we have time to consider the way forward," he said. "At this stage I do not want to speculate on potential candidates. The matter will be discussed by the Board of SA Rugby and a plan of action will be put in place."

Oberholzer did add though that he was "very disap-pointed" that Viljoen was "not able to see through the process that he has initiated to the 2003 Rugby World Cup. A lot has been invested in putting in place the present structure and we will ensure that this will not be laid to waste when we appoint a successor."

Newport moved confidently towards landing their first Welsh/Scottish League Cup title on Friday night with a 24-9 victory over Llanelli at Rodney Parade to replace their rivals at the top of the table. A try in each half from flanker Jason Forster and prop Adrian Garvey added a lop-sided nature to the scoreline.

Shane Howarth, the Newport outside-half, kicked three penalties before leaving the field injured in the second half. However, it was a game that could hardly be called a classic, and the admittedly under-strength visitors were forced to rely on Gareth Bowen's boot for their points.

Newport, in their first season under the eye of former Springbok coach Ian McIntosh, are now heavy favourites to land the championship following the victory. Having led 14-6 at half-time, they put together one of the tries of the season four minutes after the interval to take the game beyond Llanelli's reach.

A thrilling handling move began deep inside their own half, and after several backs and forwards handled at pace, Garvey, their mobile international front-ranker playing his first game following a six-match ban, crossed wide out with the defence in tatters.