Eric Sauls, who coached several SA age-group sides, including the World Cup-winning Baby Boks, died on Thursday afternoon.
The highly rated rugby coach made history when he guided the Baby Boks to the SANZAR/UAR Under-21 championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the 1999 tournament. It was the first time South Africa had won an age-group tournament at the World Cup level.
Apart from the Baby Boks, Sauls also coached several national junior sides such as SA Schools, SA Under-19 and SA Under-21. Some of these teams were captained by the likes of Corné Krige, Bobby Skinstad and John Smit, all of whom later became Springbok captains.
On occasions, Jake White, who later became a World Cup-winning coach, was his assistant or served as technical adviser to the teams Sauls coached.
He made such an impact as a coach that former Springbok centre Brendan Venter, who had an astute rugby brain and a reputation as an innovative coach, boldly proclaimed in 2008 that Sauls should be the next Springbok coach.
At the time, Venter said he once shared a South African Under-19 training camp with Sauls and had been very impressed with him as a person.
Said Venter: "The environment he created, and the discipline were very good."
Later Sauls coached SWD Eagles and became the Manager of Coaching Development at the Eastern Province Rugby Union.
Sauls, who was born and bred in Uitenhage, was one of the finest rugby talents to emerge from the Eastern Cape. He was a natural flyhalf but on occasions are also played fullback.
Some of the teams he played for included Uitenhage, Peninsula Technikon, UWC and Tygerberg where he formed a formidable partnership with scrumhalf Ronnie Korkee.
Sauls and Korkee were later capped for the SARU national team.
Korkee, a lifelong friend of Sauls, said his halfback partner passed on in hospital after an illness. They had been friends since high school days when their rugby talents first came to the fore.
"Eric was known as 'The Boot' because he was a prolific points scorer," said Korkee.
"He was tremendously gifted and could cause havoc in the opposition defence. We played in many lesser fancied sides, but with Eric leading the way, we caused many upsets."
Strangely, Sauls, according to Korkee, started studying theology because he had visions of becoming a ‘dominee’ but once his rugby career took an upward curve, he decided to become a teacher instead.