take a bow, div

PETER de Villiers' appointment as Springbok coach last year attracted its share of controversy and his sometimes misdirected comments caused confusion, but he has silenced his critics by leading his charges to greater heights.

He now finds himself in charge of the world's No 1 team and arguably the greatest Springbok team of all time.

When the Boks touched down at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday, they brought home the Tri-Nations trophy, won for the first time since 2004, and the Mandela Plate and Freedom Cup (for overall wins against Australia and New Zealand). These will be added to the impressive stash of silverware that now includes the Webb Ellis Trophy for winning the World Cup and the Unity Cup, for victory over the British and Irish Lions.

De Villiers inherited a strong core of experienced players and leaders from the Jake White era, but he has managed to maintain the continuity and make crucial decisions early on.

One of De Villiers' first actions was to contact the two most crucial leaders of the 2007 World Cup-winning squad, captain John Smit and vice-captain Victor Matfield, and convince them to return from France in June last year.

Smit now holds the record for the most capped captain in world rugby, while Matfield is the most capped lock in Springbok history and carries an intimidating reputation as the world's premier line-out forward. Both also have the opportunity to defend their World Cup title two years from now.

Also rejoining the 2008 Bok squad was veteran fullback Percy Montgomery who, under De Villiers' coaching, racked up a record 102 Test caps before his retirement earlier this year. Reluctant to let that experience slip away, De Villiers brought him back as a kicking coach.

Before the end-of-year tour to the northern hemisphere that the Springboks traditionally embark on, De Villiers again made two crucial decisions, which were questioned at the time but have begun to bear fruit.

The first one was moving gifted Sharks man Ruan Pienaar from scrumhalf to flyhalf, where he has played since. This allowed Pienaar to sidestep the contest with Fourie du Preez for the Bok No 9 jersey, and yet still get game time in the starting XV.

The second tricky decision was moving Smit from hooker to tighthead prop. This allowed De Villiers to have both his captain and the world's best hooker, Bismarck du Plessis, in his front row.

Smit has taken some flak for his performances at tighthead, particularly against Wallaby Benn Robinson, but he has held his own this season against some of the world's best looseheads, and his technique can only improve.

Under De Villiers' tenure, new players have been brought into the squad and cemented their own reputations as world beaters.

Beast Mtawarira, Heinrich Brussow and Morne Steyn have all become vital cogs in the green machine.

De Villiers' Boks broke a 10-year duck by defeating their oldest rivals, the All Blacks, on home soil in Dunedin last year, and their victory in Hamilton means that by beating the New Zealanders three times in a row they have accomplished something a Bok team has not managed since the late 1940s.

Unlike some previous Bok coaches who took a more dictatorial and abrasive coaching style, De Villiers' style is less top down and more cooperative.

It seems everybody is now fully behind the first black Bok coach.

His skills as a man manager were alluded to by star centre Jean de Villiers in an interview with Sapa. The player, who leaves this week to join Irish team Munster, said "I think Peter has taken a lot of criticism. But the fact is he is the right guy for the job at the right time. He got it spot-on and worked well to get the victories and he must take credit for being able to bring the team together," he said.

The sentiments should be shared by other Springboks and the fans.

In his Coach's Corner in the SA Rugby website, De Villies said beating the All Blacks was a great achievement but the team remains ambitious.

"We are yet to achieve the ultimate goal that we have set for ourselves."