There is an eerie similarity between what unfolded at the 2007 World Cup and what’s happening 12 years later in Japan. And that is good news for the Springboks, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Sunday marks the 12th anniversary of the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup triumph when John Smit lifted the Webb Ellis Cup with his left hand and held former president Thabo Mbeki’s right.
Sunday is also the day when the Boks try to keep their dream alive to win the 2019 edition, as they take on hosts Japan in the quarter-finals.
For obvious reasons, the 2007 win isn’t celebrated with as much gusto as the miracle of 1995. There’s been no movie featuring Hollywood stars and coach Jake White wasn’t awarded the freedom of the city Cape Town.
But it remains one of the greatest and most glorious nights in the history of South African rugby. The 15-6 victory over England was also celebrated long into the night by all South Africans from vastly different backgrounds.
It was also that World Cup win that started a golden period in South African rugby, with a Tri-Nations win, a series triumph over the British & Irish Lions and multiple home and away victories over the All Blacks.
From that class of 2007 emerged some of the greatest rugby players to ever don a Springbok jersey. The indefatigable Schalk Burger, the colossal Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, the master tactician Fourie du Preez, and the electrifying Bryan Habana left an indelible mark on the world stage in the green-and-gold jersey.
But less than a year before that World Cup, you wouldn’t have bet on White’s men lifting the trophy under the Paris night sky. The Boks had lost seven of their 12 Test matches in 2006, including an embarrassing 49-0 away defeat by Australia.
White was even called back in the middle of their end-of-year tour to explain the team’s results following successive defeats by Ireland and England. However, the Boks, on White’s return, had managed to beat England in their final match.
But on 20 October 2007 White watched the fireworks go off on the roof of the Stade de France with a tear in his eye. He and his team were World Cup champions.
But those fireworks were nothing compared to the ones that rocked the World Cup, which led to the Boks playing an England team in the final – a team who they effortlessly destroyed 36-0 in their pool match.
It remains one of the most bizarre World Cups, with upset after upset and plot twist after plot twist. It started in the opening match of the tournament when Argentina downed France 17-12, before Fiji upset Wales in their pool game to book an unlikely quarter-final spot against the Boks.
But it was in the quarter-finals when all hell broke loose.
The same England team who copped a beating against the Boks knocked out Australia, while the unpredictable French managed to shock tournament favourites, the All Blacks.
England then dropped France cold in the semis, before the Boks made light work of Los Pumas, who went on to beat France again to secure the well-deserved bronze medal.
The Boks then met England in the final and the rest, as they say in the classics, is history.
If you had given White and Smit the option of playing Fiji and Argentina in the playoffs and England in the final before the tournament kicked off, they would have sacrificed a limb to get it. Yes, you still have to play out of your skin to win a World Cup, but that turned out be a dream draw.
It’s difficult not to feel like history is repeating itself 12 years later as far as the Boks are concerned . Who would have thought they would be playing Japan in the quarter-finals after they lost to the All Blacks in their opening match?
Nobody in their right mind would have also put on money on Japan beating Ireland and Scotland to end up topping their group. Not even Nostradamus could have seen that coming.
The Boks also find themselves on the – dare we say it – ‘easier’ side of the draw, with a possible semi-final against either Wales or France.
If the Boks do get to the final, the other team they’ll face on 2 November could be battered and bruised, with England, Australia, Ireland and the All Blacks fighting it out for one spot in the showpiece game.
I’m sure Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus would have chosen this scenario with their eyes closed if they were offered it ahead of the tournament.
The other good omen for the Boks is that their 2007 win came 12 years after they won it on that glorious winter’s day at Ellis Park in 1995.
Are the stars aligning for Kolisi’s Springboks? It certainly looks like it.