• Can SA teams defy the odds?

    South Africa’s depleted Vodacom Super Rugby teams will be hard-pressed to replicate the Springboks’ success in the 2020 tournament, writes JEAN DE VILLIERS.

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    Last year was a great one for South African rugby, as far as the national side was concerned. The Springboks won the World Cup and the Rugby Championship and finished the season at the top of the World Rugby rankings.

    It’s important to note how long South Africa had to wait for each of those titles and accolades. It took the Boks 10 years to end their Rugby Championship drought and 12 years to win another World Cup. Consistency was evidently a problem.

    Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has spoken about the importance of continuity in the period that follows a World Cup tournament. Most of the South African coaches have been retained and this will – as I mentioned in my previous column – ensure the Boks begin the 2020 season on the front foot. Only three players retired in the wake of the recent World Cup and the bulk of the squad should still be available over the next four years.

    The situation is very different at Super Rugby level, though. Three of the four local franchises will go into the 2020 tournament with a new head coach. All four teams have suffered significant personnel losses with many Boks and senior players opting to further their careers abroad.

    Billionaire Patrice Motsepe has invested in the Vodacom Bulls and that is a big positive for the future of the franchise. In the short term, however, they will face a number of challenges with a largely inexperienced squad. While they have retained coach Pote Human, they have been hit by the departures of senior players.

    The biggest issue at the Stormers is at administration level. It’s always concerning to hear there might be issues with payment of salaries and that has an impact on the players’ and team morale. New coach John Dobson may also be under pressure to produce results after the side failed to make the playoffs last year. He will have some quality players at his disposal, though. A number of the forwards who starred at the World Cup will be running out for the Stormers in 2020.

    Sharks coach Sean Everitt was promoted in the wake of Robert du Preez Snr’s departure. This may allow the team to build on the structures that have been put in place over the past few seasons. On the other hand, the franchise has lost a number of key players, such as Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez. It will be interesting to see how that influences their approach.

    The Lions will miss coach Swys de Bruin, who left the franchise at the end of last season, as well as several Boks. That said, they’ve developed a reputation for performing without the big names and may spring a few surprises in the coming months.

    Even though the circumstances aren’t ideal at any of the franchises, there will be an opportunity to turn things around. We need to remember how the Boks were written off two years ago, and how they were not given much of a chance at the World Cup in Japan.

    They went on to win the title. South Africans tend to thrive when they are tagged as underdogs. We have the ability to overcome obstacles that are thrown our way to compete globally on so many levels.

    It’s been 10 years since the Bulls won the Super Rugby title. It’s time for a South African franchise to do so again and to build on the momentum created by the Boks. Yes, these are challenging times for our franchises, but how many times have we seen South Africans pulling together and defying the odds to produce something special?

    The opportunity is there.

    De Villiers is a former Bok captain and World Cup winner, who earned 109 Test caps. He now serves as the head of philanthropy at Citadel. Follow him on Instagram @jean_devilliers.