CRAIG LEWIS looks back at five memorable moments from the 2018 rugby season.
Boks’ Wellington win
Immediately after the Springboks had claimed a famous win over the All Blacks on 15 September, the cameras panned to an emotional Pieter-Steph du Toit embracing Bongi Mbonambi with tears in his eyes. It was an image that epitomised just how much this result meant to the Boks at the start of a new era. Prior to that victory, the Boks had suffered back-to-back defeats against Argentina and Australia, and pressure on the team was beginning to build. Previously, the Boks’ last win in New Zealand had come way back in 2009, and yet they would go on to produce the performance of their season to stun the All Blacks on their home turf.
Kolisi leads the Boks out at Ellis Park
In a recent interview, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus admitted that he did not anticipate the reaction that followed Siya Kolisi’s appointment as captain. Becoming the Springboks’ first black Test captain, the move was widely hailed as a unifying masterstroke. The media and supporters could not get enough of Kolisi in the lead-up to the three-Test series against England, and there was much anticipation around the moment he would lead the team out for the first time. On 9 June, that occasion arrived, with over 50,000 supporters rising as one at Ellis Park to celebrate as a piece of history was made.
Dyantyi’s breakthrough year
Aphiwe Dyantyi received accolade upon accolade in 2018, but the highlight was undoubtedly his selection as World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year. It was an accolade that aptly celebrated the emergence of the sport’s latest superstar during a year in which the speedster defied all expectations. The highlight of an unforgettable 2018 was his two-try performance against the All Blacks in Wellington, but there were plenty of other moments to celebrate as he established himself a key performer for both the Lions and Springboks.
Lions reach third Super Rugby final
In a sense, the Lions will have been stung by their failure to secure a Super Rugby trophy, despite featuring in three successive finals. However, it was some achievement for the Johannesburg-based side to progress as far as they did in 2018. Despite the departure of coach Johan Ackermann, and injuries to key players at a crucial juncture in the Lions’ 2018 campaign, they still managed to peak at just the right time to power past both the Jaguares and Waratahs and reach the title decider once again. A clash against the Crusaders in Christchurch proved to be a bridge too far, but the Lions’ brand of rugby once again provided a breath of fresh air in 2018.
Blitzboks’ remarkable series win
One of the South African rugby highlights of 2018 can be traced back to 10 June when the Blitzboks retained their Sevens Series crown on a dramatic final day of action in Paris. Heading into that final tournament, Fiji looked a sure bet to clinch the title after a standout season in which they had impressively won five tournaments. However, a fifth-place finish in France opened the door for the Blitzboks, who duly overcame England in the Cup final to win the series by just two log points. It was a stunning sequence of events that saw the stars align again for the Springbok Sevens to celebrate emerging as the best of the rest.