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2012 hints at bright SA future

The 2012 South African season served as a beacon of hope for the country's rugby future as a new wave of promising young stars burst onto the scene.

A new era dawned in South African rugby in the post-World Cup year with several stalwarts retiring or taking up lucrative overseas contracts.

The South African Rugby Union’s first order of business was to appoint a successor for Peter de Villiers, and the governing body identified Heyneke Meyer as the man to mastermind the Springboks' quest to regain the Webb Ellis Cup in England in 2015.

Following a spate of injuries to key players such as Schalk Burger and Bismarck du Plessis, Meyer entrusted veteran centre Jean de Villiers with the captaincy.

Meyer conceded from the start that his first year in charge would be challenging, but the consistent rate of players sustaining injuries throughout the season further complicated matters for the former Bulls boss.

"It was a tough year for us. We lost around 10 players after the World Cup last year and another 10 through injury," Meyer said after his first season in charge.

The injuries forced Meyer to blood a number of young players at Test level perhaps sooner than he would have anticipated at the beginning of the year.

Suddenly, the future had arrived and the young talents selected for the opening assignment of the season, a three-Test home series against England in June, didn’t disappoint.

Imposing lock Eben Etzebeth and tireless flank Marcell Coetzee, 20 and 21 at the time, were two of the most influential players in the new-look side and helped the Springboks to a series victory over the English with two wins and a 14-14 draw in the third and final Test.

In the majority of their 12 Test matches, the Boks scraped through by the skin of their teeth, making a habit out of "winning ugly".

Winning in any style, however, is preferred to "losing pretty" and Meyer's record in his first season reflected that the Boks had lost only three of their 12 games.

The introduction of rookies continued throughout the newly expanded Rugby Championship and end-of-year tour with flyhalves Johan Goosen and Elton Jantjies, centre Jaco Taute, loose forwards Duane Vermeulen and Jacques Potgieter and prop Dean Greyling among those to get their first taste of Test rugby.

The Boks won the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Cape Town but hit some turbulent waters on their tours of Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, starting with a 16-16 draw against the Pumas in South America.

South Africa lost 26-19 to Australia in their next match in Perth, and despite going down 21-11 to the All Blacks, they finally showed some promise.

The match in Dunedin could have gone either way but debutant prop Greyling's half-witted attack on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw earned him a two-week suspension and the ire of the rugby fraternity.

Meyer demonstrated his no-nonsense approach to discipline by publicly castigating his player after the match.

On their return to South Africa, the Boks dished up an impressive performance as they dismantled the Wallabies 31-8 in Pretoria.

However, they could not repeat the performance against a rampant New Zealand side, handing the All Blacks their 16th consecutive victory in the process.

While the Boks' performances on the year-end-tour were anything but convincing, they nevertheless won all three matches against Ireland, Scotland and England.

Meanwhile, three South African franchises finished in the top six on the Super Rugby log, although none of them managed to claim silverware.

The Stormers once again showed promise as they topped the standings at the end of the league phase.

For the second consecutive year, though, they failed to advance past the semifinals when they lost 26-19 to the Sharks despite having home ground advantage.

The extensive travelling ultimately took its toll on the Sharks as they were unceremoniously dumped by the Chiefs in Hamilton, going down 37-6. The Bulls, who had finished fifth, were knocked out of the competition following a 28-13 loss to the Crusaders in their qualifier in Christchurch.

It was announced in August that the Lions, who finished bottom of the table, would make way for the Southern Kings in next season's southern hemisphere provincial championship.

In local competition, the Capetonians soon had their revenge on the Durbanites when Western Province beat the Sharks 25-18 in an enthralling final to end their 11-year Currie Cup drought.

Province's dogged determination finally paid off as they caused a major upset by uprooting the heavily favoured Sharks.

The South African Under-20 team proved that the future of the game in the country is in capable hands following their 22-16 triumph over the Baby Blacks to claim the 2012 IRB World Junior Championship on home soil.

The Junior Springboks ended the New Zealanders' domination after they won the previous four editions since its introduction in 2008.

South Africa's Sevens rugby team struggled to find their groove in the 2011/12 IRB Sevens World Series, finishing fifth overall, 42 points adrift of champions New Zealand.

The Blitzbokke made a promising start in the opening round of the 2012/13 IRB Sevens World Series when they finished third at the Gold Coast Sevens.

However, the wheels came off in Dubai where they were beaten by Argentina in the Bowl final, losing three of their six matches in the tournament.

They saved some face on home soil, taking the bronze medal at the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens tournament in Port Elizabeth in December.

The Blitzbokke finished the year in fourth place in the standings, 19 points behind log leaders New Zealand.

Playing their first matches on South African soil in almost four years, the Springbok women's team completed a 2-0 series win over the international Nomads.

The result was a marked improvement from the 2008 series when the Nomads – consisting of players from New Zealand, Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland and Sweden – won both matches.



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