While the Blitzboks and Lions gave supporters a few reasons to smile, 2017 witnessed more lows than highs for South African rugby, writes JON CARDINELLI.
BLITZBOKS BEST SA TEAM IN EIGHT YEARS
Neil Powell’s side became the first Blitzboks team to win the World Rugby Sevens Series since 2009, and in doing so became the first South African outfit to win a major trophy in nearly eight years (the Springboks won the Tri-Nations back in September 2009). That title triumph was built on a pragmatic game plan as well as a strong team culture.
BOKS RESTORE PRIDE … KIND OF
The Boks hammered a poor France side 3-0 in the series played in June. The hosts impressed with their physical display at the gainline and with the quality of their defence. South Africa were unforgivably poor at the collisions in 2016, and so the showings against France gave many reason to believe that progress had been made.
LIONS FIGHTBACK FLOORS CANES
The Lions finished the Super Rugby regular season at the top of the overall standings. They were less impressive in their quarter-final against the Sharks though, and in the first half of the semi-final against the Hurricanes. What followed was one of the great comebacks, as Jaco Kriel’s charges rebounded from a 19-point deficit to beat a star-studded Hurricanes outfit 44-29.
ELLIS PARK ANTI-CLIMAX
South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises combined for 13 losses in 15 games against New Zealand opposition during the conference stage. Nevertheless, most believed that the Lions would be too strong for the Crusaders in the decider at Ellis Park, as the Kiwis were forced to travel all the way from New Zealand for the game. The Lions started the final poorly though, and hopes of them winning a first Super Rugby title were dashed after Kwagga Smith received a red card at the end of the first half.
ANNIHILATED IN ALBANY
Allister Coetzee’s charges made history for all the wrong reasons in 2016. Rock bottom of the nightmare was the 57-15 defeat to the All Blacks in Durban. Many believed that the Boks would never sink so low again. Less than a year later, however, Coetzee’s Boks went down 57-0 to the All Blacks to record South Africa’s heaviest defeat in history. The All Blacks – who were missing a host of players due to sabbaticals and injuries – put eight tries past the Boks. Afterwards, coach Allister Coetzee had the nerve to state that his team ‘could take positives out of the performance’.
BOKS PLUMB NEW DEPTHS IN DUBLIN
Coetzee’s Boks made history again when they sustained a record 38-3 defeat to Ireland in Dublin. The international press hammered the Bok performance, with one Irish writer declaring that South Africa was in danger of becoming a minnow rugby nation.
2023 WORLD CUP BID BLOW
In late October, an independent committee recommended South Africa as the preferred host candidate for the 2023 World Cup. Two weeks later, however, the World Rugby Council voted against the recommendation, and in doing so made a mockery of an elaborate and expensive process. That aside, the outcome marked another bid loss for SA Rugby, who failed to secure hosting rights for the 2011, 2015 and 2019 tournaments.
The Boks ended the tour to Europe as well as their 2017 season in diabolical fashion. Wales scored three early tries as the Boks made a series of errors on defence and under the high ball. The visitors hit back in the second stanza, but were unable to prevent their second consecutive loss to Wales – and only their fourth defeat to Wales in history. The Boks ended the year with a seven from 13 win record. Coetzee finished his second year at the helm with a 44% win record overall.
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo
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