The Springboks enjoyed their most successful season in the professional era when they claimed two major trophies, 10 wins and several other accolades, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Remember the days when South African rugby was desperate for any sort of success?
Last February, I had the chance to interview Rassie Erasmus at the SA Rugby offices in Plattekloof. As I waited for the newly appointed Bok coach to conclude a meeting, I couldn’t help but notice the largely empty trophy cabinet at reception.
In a matter of months, Erasmus transformed a laughing stock into a world force. The Boks went on to beat a more-fancied England side in a three-match series played at home. While they stumbled in Argentina and Australia, they became the first individual nation to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand in eight years.
They beat the odds to win the 2019 Rugby Championship and then went on to claim their first world title in 12 years. They finished the season at the top of the World Rugby rankings.
No other side in history has managed to win the double of the Rugby Championship and World Cup in the same season. No side has gone on to win the World Cup title after losing a game in the pool stage.
The latter campaign registered several significant milestones. Makazole Mapimpi scored South Africa’s first-ever try in a World Cup final when the Boks thumped England 32-12 in Yokohama. Siya Kolisi became the first black African to lead the Boks to glory.
It’s fair to say that the Boks enjoyed their most successful season in the professional era. Past teams may have won more games in a single season, but no side has dominated to such a telling degree.
Indeed, the trophy cabinet at the SA Rugby HQ has never looked better.
BOK WIN RECORD BY SEASON IN PRO ERA
|2019||83%||RWC winners, Rugby Championship winners|
|2009||67%||Tri-Nations winners, Lions series winners|
When last did the Boks win 10 or more Tests in a calendar year?
Nick Mallett presided over a quality side – of which Erasmus himself was a part – that racked up 17 consecutive wins over two seasons. In 1998, the Boks won 11 out of 12 matches and were rightly recognised as the best team in the world.
In 2013, Heyneke Meyer steered the Boks to 10 wins in 12 games. Meyer’s side lost two games to the All Blacks, though, and finished the season ranked second in the world.
Most coaches have failed to realise the twin ambition of winning consistently and claiming big trophies. In 2004, Jake White took a relatively young group of players and turned them into Tri-Nations champions yet finished the season with a 69% win record.
White’s charges struck a fantastic balance in 2007 when they won 14 of their 17 Tests and subsequently claimed the World Cup. While a case could be made for 2007 as the finest season of the pro era, White did sacrifice the Tri-Nations campaign – the Boks lost three of the four games – to ensure that the players peaked at the global showpiece in France.
The 2009 season witnessed several big victories for South African rugby. The Boks won the British & Irish Lions series as well as the subsequent Tri-Nations. The Vodacom Bulls won the Super Rugby tournament.
The Boks beat the All Blacks in three consecutive Tests that season, and some South African fans may feel that it doesn’t get any better than that. The side went on to lose to France and Ireland, though, and finished 2009 with a 67% win record.
The class of 2019 failed to beat the All Blacks. Erasmus’ charges drew with New Zealand in Wellington in the Rugby Championship. They went down 23-13 to Steve Hansen’s side in the opening game of the World Cup in Japan.
And yet, it’s not as if this group hasn’t enjoyed success against the All Blacks in recent times.
The Boks certainly proved themselves with that win in Wellington last year – and with a performance that included a record number of tries and points. They may well have won the next match against New Zealand in Pretoria if not for a late lapse.
It’s hard to argue with the numbers that matter. Ten wins plus two trophies in the shape of the Rugby Championship title and Webb Ellis Cup make for an unprecedented sum of success.
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