Two days to go now then it is all systems go for the Springboks’ 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign. But first we continue our look back at the last 5 years with Irfaan Adam, on how the Boks worked their way to Japan as one of the challengers for the Webb Ellis Cup.
2018 – The dawn of a new era was announced on 1 March as Rassie Erasmus took over the reins from Coetzee. After his appointment Erasmus shook things up; a new emphasis on youth allowed players like Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi an opportunity to stake a claim on the international stage, while overseas based stars were also given a new lease on life with the 30-Test rule being scrapped. Perhaps though, his biggest call was appointing Siya Kolisi as the first black Springbok Test Captain.
Erasmus saying he had confidence in his leadership qualities, having known Kolisi since he was a youngster.
Rassie’s first call of duty, a once-off Test match against Wales in the United States…
A new look Bok outfit took to the pitch but it was a late try from hooker Ryan Elias which handed Wales a 22-20 victory in Washington D.C.
Old foe England was visitors to South Africa in June for a three-match Test series under the guidance of Eddie Jones. A much talked about rivalry made for an interesting sub-plot but on the field Erasmus made his mark in emphatic style. In the first Test in Johannesburg, the Boks found themselves 24-3 down in a matter of minutes. It didn’t look good and supporters were starting to ask questions, but they Rassie’s men found something from somewhere and began playing some attractive, expansive rugby. The Boks emerged as 42-39 winners in a thriller that was also Kolisi’s first Test as Bok skipper. A new era of South African rugby was starting.
A win in Bloemfontein not only secured the series honors but also allowed Tendai Mtawarira to celebrate his 100th cap in style, but the following week in treacherous Cape Town conditions, the Boks were brought back down to Earth. Albeit with a weakened Springbok team doing duty.
The Castle Rugby Championship kicked off with a convincing home win over Argentina but the Boks South American woes haunted them yet again. They fell to a heavy 32-19 defeat in Mendoza, effectively ending a title challenge before it had even started and the fans were asking questions yet again…
After a loss to the Wallabies, which hurt like hell, a daunting trip to Wellington loomed.
This would not just be a turning point, but a game against the All Blacks that would be defining. Not given a chance before the game, the Boks put in a heroic effort to secure a 36-34 win in Wellington. While every player pulled his weight, Pieter-Steph du Toit was monumental and images of the towering forward breaking down in tears after the final whistle will live long in the memory of every Springbok supporter.
A home win against the Wallabies followed but there was more late drama against the All Blacks. A try by Ardie Savea a minute from time secured the World Champions a 2-point win at Loftus, ultimately leaving the Boks and Kiwis on even terms for the year. Bok supporters were starting to believe in the Green & Gold again and Rassie and his management started building their Rugby World Cup puzzle.
The end of year tour got underway at Twickenham for a clash against England. In what was seen as a revenge match, saw Owen Farrell’s last minute “no-arms” tackle on André Esterhuizen make all of the headlines. It was his boot however which proved to be clinical in a 12 – 11 victory to England, which wasn’t the best of starts for South Africa.
Across the channel in France though – there was to be a game for the ages. Needing a response after the loss at Twickenham, the Boks were far from their best on the day. 26-22 down going into the final 10 minutes, the Boks had a try from Dyantyi ruled out, but they found a way over the line after the hooter to secure a famous last-gasp win thanks to replacement hooker and unlikely hero, Bongi Mbonambi.
Scotland were beaten next to make it 2 from 2, but as was the case for most parts of the year, with the up’s came the downs. Maybe it was down to a long season, but the Boks were not at the races against Wales, yet again. Poor execution and ill-discipline saw South Africa fall to a 20-11 defeat in Cardiff and that result was a stark reminder that there was still much work to be done.
With less than 11 months to go to World Rugby’s global showpiece in Japan, time was running out for Rassie and his men, who only had 5 matches left before their opening fixture against the All Blacks on 21 September 2019 in Yokohama City.
Don’t miss the last part in our series of South Africa’s road to Japan tomorrow and please share with your friends.