Boks' golden chance at Rugby Champs
OPINION: @rugby365com contributor Angus Opperman dissects the Springboks’ state after reaching the pinnacle of rugby.
It is almost notorious of the Springboks that after winning a World Cup, they tend to go into an idle state before peaking to the next one.
Take a look at the 1995 World Cup, no one gave them much of a chance even though they were the host country. They haven’t had much time back in the post-isolation era yet they managed to do the unthinkable and win the granddaddy in their very first attempt.
The achievement sparked a huge deal in rugby becoming professional in 1996 when the Super 12 competition and SANZAR body were formed.
However also in 1996, came the crashing down from the hype of 95′ when the New Zealand All Blacks won a test series for the first time on South African soil by two tests to one, and being dubbed ‘The Incomparables’ as the first side to have managed that feature.
In 1997, the British and Irish Lions came to tour and yet again, the world champions were on the wrong side of the result losing that series 2-1 as well due to a drop goal by Jeremy Guscott to clinch a win of 18-15 at Kings Park in Durban.
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Following their 2007 triumph in Paris, things went significantly better. After a shaky start in 2008 with new head coach Peter de Villiers they defied the odds to win the Tri-Nations (now the Rugby Championship) and beat New Zealand three times in one year resulting in also claiming the Freedom Cup but failing to secure the Nelson Mandela challenge plate against Australia.
2019’s World Cup win was a bonus to many, considering the slumps the Springboks found themselves in between 2016 and 2018.
The Boks slipped down as far as sixth in the world rankings and took record losses to Argentina, New Zealand, Ireland and Italy.
Nonetheless, in that same year, they managed to claim the Rugby Championship and World Cup – despite losing a pool match to New Zealand – they remain the only team to have completed these feats.
Yet a global pandemic saw them being unable to build on that momentum and South Africa found itself isolated from international rugby for the whole of 2020.
In 2021 they managed to sneak a British and Irish Lions series win at home without a single fan in attendance and they blew hot and cold during both Rugby Championship campaigns in the following years.
Now in 2024, they have a golden opportunity to fill up the trophy cabinet that contains a fourth World Cup and a British and Irish Lions trophy.
They haven’t won the Freedom Cup since 2009 and they are facing an unknown New Zealand team twice at home, first in Johannesburg and then in Cape Town where New Zealand does enjoy a lot or support.
Scott Robertson enjoyed the greatest success at the provincial and franchise level with Canterbury and the Crusaders, but he is a rookie coach in the test arena.
It also doesn’t help that he won’t be able to call on many big names who are ineligible for selection due to playing their rugby offshore or simply because of retirement like Richie Mo’unga, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Dane Coles, Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala and Leicester Fainga’anuku.
Ardie Savea will take a break from New Zealand rugby in 2024 before returning in 2025 whilst Beauden Barrett will return from Japan for Super Rugby duty with the Blues in 2024 which makes him eligible for test selection.
Australia is also an unknown factor. After a disastrous tenure under Eddie Jones, former Ireland head coach and All Blacks assistant coach Joe Schmidt will take control of the Wallabies. It’s no secret that the Wallabies had more coaches than trophies in the past couple of years but if Schmidt will be able to drink from the poisoned chalice remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the Springboks who finally got an away win in Australia in 2022 breaking a nine-year drought down under should still be strong and experienced enough to bring home the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate as well as aim to beat New Zealand twice at home and ultimately win the Rugby Championship and the Freedom Cup to fill up the trophy cabinet.