Lood de Jager says the World Cup-winning Springboks must crack on in the coming years and claim more victories and trophies. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Springboks enjoyed unprecedented success in 2019. They finished the season with the World Cup and Rugby Championship titles – becoming the first team to win both trophies in a calendar year – and moved to the top of the World Rugby rankings for the first time in a decade.
And yet, they remain hungry for more. New head coach Jacques Nienaber recently told this website that the Boks want to win the Freedom Cup – a trophy New Zealand has held on to since 2010 – and they want to crack on to beat the British & Irish Lions. They want to go all the way through the next World Cup cycle as the No 1 ranked side and become the first team in history to win four World Cup titles.
It remains to be seen whether they will realise those goals. England, New Zealand, Ireland and several other teams will make a point of improving in the wake of their respective failures at the 2019 World Cup. They will come back – eventually, when Test rugby resumes in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis – stronger and more determined to knock over the current world champions.
South Africa are fortunate in that they won’t lose much in terms of personnel over the next two years. Apart from Beast Mtawariria, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits – who all retired at the end fo 2019 – as many as 30 of the 33 World Cup-squad members should be available for the lead-up to the Lions series.
Lood de Jager says motivation won’t be a problem. As one of the more senior members of the group, he was there for the gutting losses to Japan and Argentina in 2015 and some of the humiliating results that followed in 2016 and 2017. This lock knows what can happen when a team loses focus and lets its standards slip.
‘2016 and 2017 were tough years for South African rugby,’ De Jager told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘However, there’s a group of us who started our Test careers a few years before that. If you think about the four-year period between 2014 and 2017, there were a lot of disappointments. So, when that group finally tasted some success for the first time in 2019, it tasted pretty damn sweet.
‘A lot of the players will stay together now and play through the next World Cup cycle. Some like Jesse Kriel could even get to 2027, given how well he takes care of his body. It certainly is an exciting time.’
Apart from a few veterans like Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn, most of the players who featured in Japan are entering the prime of their careers. De Jager highlighted the need to keep working towards the next major challenge, which will be the Test series against the Lions.
‘That opportunity to face the Lions only comes around once in a career. Then there’s the 2023 World Cup a couple of years later.
‘If you consider that most of the players will be available for the next four years, you can understand the chance we have here. There’s no other word for it but dynasty.
‘I’m not saying it will be easy,’ De Jager added. ‘A week can be a long time in rugby, and if we don’t keep working and improving we won’t achieve the level of consistency needed to win those big series and titles.
‘What’s important is that everyone in the group has a burning desire to improve and there is a lot of competition for places. We have a chance, and as the coaches have told us, we will have to go all out to make it count.’