With 2016 finally behind our backs, JON CARDINELLI reflects on a year that witnessed far more lows than highs for South African rugby.
FIRST LOSS TO IRELAND AT HOME
The Springboks went into the series against a weakened Ireland side as overwhelming favourites. In the first match, however, they failed to capitalise when Ireland flanker CJ Stander was sent off, or when Ireland were reduced to 13 men later in the contest. Ireland hung on to secure a 26-20 win, their first on South African soil. The Boks had begun the new season under coach Allister Coetzee in the worst possible fashion. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
BLITZBOKS WIN BRONZE IN RIO
We should count this as a positive moment. More was expected of the Blitzboks at the Olympic Games, and they were abjectly disappointing in the semi-final clash against Great Britain. Yet, they still managed to win a bronze medal and ensure that Team South Africa finished the Games with a record-equalling haul of 10.
LIONS MAKE FIRST FINAL
The Lions impressed with their brand of rugby in 2016, and with their results. Johan Ackermann’s charges smashed the Crusaders and then the Highlanders to qualify for their first Super Rugby final. They were taught a tactical lesson by a smarter Hurricanes side in the decider, though.
BOKS SINK IN SALTA
After beating the Pumas via a thrilling comeback in Nelspruit, the Boks came unstuck in Salta the following week. The 26-24 result marked South Africa’s first-ever loss in Argentina, and only their second-ever defeat to the South American side.
CANED IN CHRISTCHURCH
The Boks conceded six tries in the 41-13 defeat to the All Blacks in Christchurch. Never before had the Boks lost all three of their away Tests in the Rugby Championship. Many critics, including those Down Under, started to express their concerns about a South African team that had lost its aura.
HEAVIEST HOME LOSS IN HISTORY
The Boks completed their transition from bad to plain sad in the final Rugby Championship clash at Kings Park. The home side leaked nine tries and as many as 57 points to the All Blacks in what was their heaviest home loss in history. Coetzee and Bok captain Adriaan Strauss confirmed afterwards that it was an embarrassing performance and a dark day for South African rugby.
THE OLD ENEMY STRIKES BACK
The 37-21 defeat to England at Twickenham marked South Africa’s first loss to the old enemy since 2006. Some members of the English press lamented the decline of the Boks. One writer wondered if a worse South African side had ever played at the home of rugby.
FIRST DEFEAT TO ITALY
The 20-18 scoreline in Florence flattered the Boks, as Italy were denied a try in the dying stages. To put things in perspective, Italy finished last in the Six Nations. A week after beating the Boks, Italy went down to lowly Tonga. Given the quality of the opposition, this was the Boks’ worst defeat in 2016.
ROCK BOTTOM IN CARDIFF
A dejected and disorganised Bok side capitulated again in Cardiff. In the final moments before Wales claimed a resounding 27-13 win, British commentator Brian Moore described Coetzee’s Boks as the worst South African side he had ever seen. The Boks finished the year without a win away from home, and with the worst win record in the professional era (33% for the year).
REASON TO SMILE IN DUBAI
The Blitzboks dominated in the first tournament of the 2016/17 World Rugby Sevens Series, and went on to secure the title. Neil Powell’s charges looked to be on course for another title in Cape Town a week later. They progressed to the final, where they lost to England.
Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/Getty Images
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