Sauls, who excelled at flyhalf during his playing days and played for the erstwhile SARU team in 1986, took up coaching after hanging up his boots and quickly started moving up the ranks at age-group level.

In 1994, he travelled to France as assistant coach of the South African U19 team which, under the captaincy of Corne Krige, returned victorious from the international FIRA tournament.

In 1999, he was head coach of the South African team that won the country’s first U21 world title when they defeated New Zealand by 27-25 in the final in Buenos Aires. John Smit, who went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup with the Springboks in 2007, captained the side to Argentina.

Sauls also coached the Junior Springboks in the first three years of the World Rugby U20 Championship, from 2008 to 2010. The SA U20s finished third in all three tournaments under Sauls’ coaching, in Wales, Japan and Argentina, while he also worked with the national U18 team.

At provincial level, Sauls worked at the Bulls, SWD Eagles and Eastern Province, while he also worked in Ireland and Italy. Along with Allister Coetzee, he was one of the first black head coaches at senior provincial level in post-democracy South Africa.

“Eric was a trailblazer for black coaches in South Africa and played a very important role in the transformation of our game during the first decade after unity,” said Mr Alexander.

“He helped hone the skills of an entire generation of junior players in South Africa, working with players such as Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi at age-group level, all of whom have gone to become great Springboks.

“Rugby was always a big part of his life since the days he played as a young barefoot boy in Uitenhage, all the way to when he was selected to play in green and gold in 1986.

“As a teacher, working with young players came naturally to Eric. A deeply religious man, he was a strong leader, selfless, humble and very passionate about the game, and always willing to learn and help others.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Belinda, their family, friends and other loved ones during this very sad and difficult time.”