Jake White's Springboks began their journey to the top of the world with victory in the 2004 Tri-Nations.
A year after a disastrous 2003 World Cup campaign, the Springbok revival started under the watchful eye of coach Jake White. A master tactician, White took charge of a fine generation of South African rugby players in 2004 and shaped them into eventual World Cup winners three years later.
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Two years after winning the U21 World Cup, White was promoted to senior Springbok coach, a move widely lauded by the South African rugby public.
It had been six lean years for Springbok rugby since the team had last won the Tri-Nations under Nick Mallett and there was a need for change.
White would open his tenure on a high as the Boks won their three incoming tour matches against Ireland and Wales before dispatching the Pacific Islanders in Australia ahead of the Tri-Nations. It was, however, their performance in the Tri-Nations that signalled to the world that South Africa was again a force to be reckoned with.
They started with a tough tour of Australasia, where they went toe-to-toe with the mighty All Blacks, before eventually going down 23-21 in Christchurch. The Boks were well on their way to a rare victory in a thrilling encounter until Doug Howlett ghosted over for a last-minute try to break Bok hearts.
Buoyed by that performance, the side also came close to a victory over the Wallabies in Perth. It was former SA U21 captain Clyde Rathbone who scored eight minutes from time to give his adopted country a 30-26 victory and ensure the Boks returned home winless.
On the return leg in South Africa, the Boks were in an unforgiving mood, as the title race was still wide open.
Former president Nelson Mandela again provided ‘Madiba Magic’ at Ellis Park, as centre Marius Joubert grabbed a hat-trick to inspire the Springboks to an impressive 40-26 victory over the All Blacks. The result ended an eight-match losing streak against New Zealand and set up a series-deciding clash against Australia in Durban.
It was the first time in the history of the tournament that the winner would be decided in the final match.
With nine minutes still left in the match, the Boks enjoyed a 23-7 lead. The visitors hit back though with two quick tries to set up a tense finale. Despite two yellow cards and a spirited charge from the Wallabies, the Boks held on for a famous 23-19 victory to be crowned Tri-Nations champions for only the second time.
While they would go on to greater achievements, it was the Tri-Nations title in 2004 that gave them the belief that they could compete with the world's best.
Vodacom – proud telecoms partner to the Springboks since 1995.