Having led the South Africa Emerging Team and the Under-21s, De Villiers was a good bet to succeed Jake White as coach of the senior team.
White was infuriated when his job was advertised while he was in the process of piloting his team to the Webb Ellis Cup, believing his achievements alone were enough to keep him in the hot seat. Subsequently he elected to step down.
Former Bulls boss Heyneke Meyer had been the favourite to succeed White, claiming 198 out of 258 votes from the members of the South African Players Union (SARPA) in a poll this week on who should be the next coach.
But the South African Rugby Union (SARU) committee had their own ideas, naming De Villiers as their man at President's Council meeting on Wednesday.
Springbok assistant coach Allister Coetzee and former Cats and Pumas coach Chester Williams were also in the running to succeed White.
De Villiers has been highly successful in his former jobs with SARU, boasting an even better record than White did as under-21 coach.
And like White, De Villiers has never coached at Super rugby level, meaning that accusations of provincialism can never be levelled at him when it comes to squad selection.
Meyer led the Bulls to the Super 14 title last season and has also guided them to three Currie Cup titles since 2002.
De Villiers began his career as a scrum-half with Young Gardens in the SARU non-racial competition in 1976. From 1977 to 1978 he played for Perseverance College and during this time he was chosen for the Griqualand West SARU team.
His first coaching role came with Young Gardens in 1981, a position he combined with his on-pitch duties until his retirement from playing in 1992.
A spell at Athlone Training College followed before he made the move to Cape Town's Tygerberg in 1996.
One year later, De Villiers grabbed the attention of SARU top-brass when he guided Tygerberg to the top tier after winning the Super League B title.
In 1998 he was appointed coach of the South Africa Under-19 team, where he served for two years, while in 2005 his association with SARU was renewed when he was handed the reins of the Under-21 squad.
In 2006, De Villiers led his young charges to the final of IRB Under-21 World Championship, where they lost 24-13 to host nation France, but he managed to go one better 12 months later, taking the Emerging Springboks to Nations Cup success in Romania.
Now, however, the stakes for De Villiers are considerably higher, and building a Springboks side to defend their world crown in New Zealand in 2011 will be an undertaking unlike anything he has tackled before.