CRAIG LEWIS makes a five-point Christmas wish list of what would make for a more festive 2018 in South African rugby.
New Springbok coach and approach
SA Rugby will finally deliver its verdict on the future of Allister Coetzee when an annual review is completed in January. It was at the beginning of this year that Coetzee fortunately received his first lifeline despite returning a shocking 33% win record in his first season at the helm. However, that act of generosity is unlikely to be repeated. The Boks made some improvements in 2017, but any progress was largely overshadowed by record losses against the All Blacks and Ireland, not to mention an inability to record wins over either Australia or New Zealand. It’s been enough to see the Boks stagnate in sixth position in the world rankings, and a new year will surely present an opportunity for a new leader to take charge. Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is set to serve at the helm of the coaching ranks, and he desperately needs to ensure the Boks rediscover a winning mentality and clearly-defined identity in 2018.
A more competitive and consistent Bok team
The Boks appeared to be heading in the right direction when they claimed five successive wins at the start of the 2017 Test season, while scoring 35 or more points in each encounter. However, the only victories over the next eight Tests came against hapless France and Italy. The Boks’ inconsistencies were aptly illustrated by the manner in which they suffered a 57-0 blowout against the All Blacks in Albany, before coming within a couple of points of achieving a famous victory over the world champs at Newlands. Yet, just a month after that close encounter in Cape Town, the Boks were humbled 38-3 by Ireland in Dublin. The Springboks desperately need to iron out these inconsistencies, and not only begin competing with the top Test teams on a regular basis, but winning as well.
South African sides to make a meaningful impact in Super Rugby
The Lions have unequivocally established themselves as the leading South African side over the past two seasons of Super Rugby, but there has been very little else to celebrate. Both the Sharks and Stormers have reached the quarter-finals over the past two years of Super Rugby, but failed to be regarded as genuine title contenders. The Bulls have endured a period of regression, while the Cheetahs and Kings have now been axed from the competition after failing to achieve results of any real significance. However, there is reason to believe that the Lions could launch another competitive campaign. The Sharks have boosted their squad in key areas, the Stormers are also heading into their third season under the guidance of Robbie Fleck, and John Mitchell appears to be inspiring a revolution of sorts at the Bulls. It now remains to be seen whether our South African sides can begin putting an end to the New Zealand hegemony in Super Rugby.
Emergence of a talented young scrumhalf
Former Springbok scrumhalf Werner Swanepoel hit the mark when he recently highlighted the fact that South Africa’s lack of depth at scrumhalf was a real concern. Currently, South African scrumhalves such as Cobus Reinach, Ruan Pienaar, Charl McLeod, Faf de Klerk, Francois Hougaard, Ricky Januarie and Piet van Zyl will all ply their trade overseas in 2018. It’s left South African rugby crying out for a young scrumhalf to put his hand up and begin providing exciting competition to the likes of reliable Ross Cronjé, Rudy Paige and Louis Schreuder. Former Junior Springbok Marco Jansen van Vuren is one exciting youngster who is highly regarded, while the Bulls’ Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier are two other talented players to look out for.
Blitzboks to defend World Rugby Sevens Series title
Over the course of the 2016-17 season, the Blitzboks emerged as the much-needed good news story in South African rugby as they powered their way to a first Sevens Series title since 2008-09. The hope throughout SA rugby is that they will be able to back that up with a successful title defence this season. The signs certainly looked good when the Blitzboks claimed an impressive victory at the opening Dubai Sevens tournament in early December, but certain vulnerabilities were then exposed at the Cape Town Sevens. Nevertheless, the Blitzboks boast a powerful, experienced squad that appears to have all the firepower necessary to remain at the top of the sevens pile.
Photo: Yoan Valat/EPA