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Not so fast South Africa, don't crown yourselves

By Adam Julian
Siya Kolisi of South Africa poses for a photo with fans of South Africa at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Scotland at Stade Velodrome on September 10, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

There’s some suggestion that if the Springboks were to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup, in addition to winning a British and Irish Lions series in 2021, it would comprise the greatest rugby dynasty of all time.

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Though unquestionably worthy of respect, statistically the argument is flawed. There is even a case to be made that it isn’t even the strongest period in South African rugby history.

Since 2019 the Springboks have won 32 of 45 internationals but have yet to beat Ireland or France, consistently ranked the best teams in the world in that period.

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Furthermore, the Springboks are only 3-4 record against the All Blacks and have lost to weak Wales and Aussie outfits.

In football parlance, the Springboks are a ‘Cup’ team, not a ‘league’ team. They can reach lofty campaign peaks but are not consistently brilliant over a long span of time.

Unquestionably the most dominant rugby dynasty in history is the All Blacks run from a 33-6 win against Australia on September 19, 2009, to a 29-40 loss to Ireland in Chicago on November 9, 2016. In that span, the All Blacks won the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups and 88 of 97 Test matches.

Their dominance was so ridiculous that they set records for the three longest winning streaks of all time. In 2015-16 they won a record 18 Test in a row after winning 17 in a row between 2013 and 2014 and 16 on the trot from 2011 and 2012. At home, the All Blacks were 45-0.

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A Lions tour only happens every 12 years. Against England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the countries that make up the Lions, the All Blacks were 26-1 from 2009 to 2016. Against South Africa, their record was 13-2.

Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Brodie Retallick, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Aaron Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Conard Smith, Julian Savea and Ben Smith are all players worthy of consideration for inclusion in the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

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The only record the 2009-2016 All Blacks didn’t achieve was the record for the longest unbeaten run among Tier 1 Nations. After winning 16 in a row from 2011 to 2012 the All Blacks were held to an 18-18 draw by Australia in Brisbane. They won six consecutive Tests thereafter, before defeat to England at Twickenham.

From the start of the 1987 Rugby World Cup until 1990 the All Blacks went 23 Tests without defeat. The only blot on their copybook was a 19-19 draw against Australia at Ballymore, Brisbane in 1988 (the 11th Test in their run). The All Blacks didn’t defend the World Cup in 1991.

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Prior to the World Cup, it was hard to rival the sustained success of the All Blacks from 1962 to 1969. They only lost two out of 35 Test matches and were unblemished from the fourth Test against the Springboks in 1965 until 1969 winning 17 in a row.

When midweek games counted for something and were tough to win the All Blacks had 59 wins, two defeats and a draw in this period.

From the 1963-64 tour John Graham, Brian Lochore, Wilson Whineray, and Colin Meads were later knighted for their immense service to rugby and the community. Nobody would have complained if Ken Gray, Ian Kirkpatrick, and Waka Nathan received the same accolade.

The 1997 and 1998 Springboks matched the All Blacks streak of 17 consecutive victories, but at the 1999 World Cup were third.

The 1995 World Cup triumph was transformative, but the glorious Kitch Christie era was short-lived ending with 14 successive wins.

Pre-World Cup there are two periods of South African rugby that merit consideration as a ‘dynasty.’

The 1937 Springboks won 27 out of 29 matches on their New Zealand and Australian tour. They remain the only South African side to win a Test series in New Zealand winning the deciding Test at Eden Park 17-3, which was five tries and a conversion to nil.

Responses to their brilliance were unequivocal. WR King wrote in the Standard that “the South African forwards were simply magnificent, and the backs played with machine-line accuracy in every phase of the game.”

New Zealand Truth recorded that “on the day they would have beaten any other team in the world,” while Arthur Carman said that they won “not with mere power, but by their superior brainpower.”

To legendary first-five Bert Cooke, they were “no doubt about it, a great team.”

In 1938 the Springboks carried on the momentum when they beat the British and Irish Lions in a three-match series only dropping the last rubber after winning the first two Tests resoundingly by a combined margin of 45-15. Dannie Craven, Boy Louw, and Philip Nel were just some of the legends of this era.

The Springboks of 1949 to 1954 were arguably more formidable. They only lost a solitary Test in half a dozen years and swept the All Blacks 4-0 in 1949. Goal-kicking prop Okey Geffin famously scored 32 of the 47 points in the series. The 1951-52 tour of the UK and France was completed with a 30-1 record and a Grand Slam. The 44-0 thrashing of Scotland was rated by doyen commentator Bill McLaren as one of the greatest performances he ever witnessed.

P.S. Tier II nation Lithuania won 18 Test matches in a row between 2006 and 2010. Lithuania’s record was passed by Cyprus who won 24 Test matches in a row between 2008 and 2014, eventually stopped by Latvia. England holds the world record for the most consecutive wins in international rugby (male or female) with the Red Roses women achieving 30 consecutive wins between 2019 and 2022. They failed, however, to win the 2021 Rugby World Cup Final played on November 12, 2022, against the Black Ferns. From 2002 to 2009 the Black Ferns won 24 consecutive Tests by more than a converted try. That includes the 2002 and 2006 World Cup titles.

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44 Comments
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Sam 283 days ago

All Blacks is making the same mistake again they peaked before the World Cup. Adam above wrights all the records they broke and the long winning streak between 2020 & 2023, which is awesome and have greatest respect for that, however let the Boks enjoy themselves with the fans they are peaking at the right time to make history.

J
Jen 283 days ago

What is this tripe? It feels kinda mean spirited. Just let the Bok supporters have some fricking joy and enjoy their team being amazing. No-one is thinking this stuff except the writer.

m
metal ghost 283 days ago

cheese and rice.. we've played Ireland and France once in the last 4 years.

C
Chris 283 days ago

sure, the All Blacks were incredible 2015, but the other teams were pretty average then. Hard to compare era's.

S
Snash 283 days ago

If boks win the rwc this year, they will have won 50% of the world cups they have entered, leaving ABs on 33%, that's quite a mountain to climb

s
sean 283 days ago

What’s your point journo? Have you resorted to hypnosis’s on what springbok fans will say if we defend our worldcup? We are already have a better ratio in world cups than NZ given we only played in 7.. if the boks win this worldcup they will be up there and rightly so

B
BoerBok 283 days ago

So Adam dreams up a hypothesis and then argues with himself?!

J
Johan 283 days ago

I've also heard from reliable sources that most South Africans self identify as ducks. Perhaps write an article about that? You can just cite this comment as your source...

C
Coen 283 days ago

Hi Adam,
I wonder how legitimate & representative is your source for that suggestion? I am South African but do not share the view as portrayed in your article.

Perhaps criteria for greatest rugby dynasty could be weighted on the following key aspects:

1) Historic win rate % since inception of the game: NZ 77%, SA 63%, ENG 56%, FRA 55%, WAL 53%, AUS 50%, IRE 47%, SCO 44%. This is a good starting point.

2) World Rankings (frequency & duration of time spent at given ranking) - you mention's Ireland & France's recent time at the top of the rankings, but they are both lacking in the #1 ranking from a historic perspective

3) World Cup trophy count

4) World Cup win ratio %. Keep in mind not all nations have played in the 9 x previous RWCs. (e.g. the Springboks did not participate in the 1st 2 World Cups, winning 3/7 tournaments = 43% win rate vs. All Blacks won 3/9 = 33% win rate)

5) Social capital index: if rugby can be used to transform & solve the challenges that politicians fail to resolve, it creates unity & hope for the people. Surely CapGemini can construct something to measure the social, political & goodwill aspects of how the sport of rugby is positively impacting each nation domestically?

6) any other measures to include? i welcome your suggestions

Best of luck to your team.

Go Bokke!

f
finn 283 days ago

If south Africa win the world cup it will be the greatest achievement by any team in history, given their absurdly hard draw, lack of form prior to the AB test, and ageing squad.

That's not the same as being the greatest dynasty of all time, but it is something.

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Brumbies the best team in Australia but still nothing to show for it

The Brumbies have been the strongest side in Australia for a long time and that was down to their forwards and set piece which has always been good and has always been able to dominate their Australian counterparts. This year the lack of maul tries and also the lack of a stable scrum has been a real problem which was also something Nick alluded to in his article this week about the creaking brumbies tight five. Home advantage is key as you say and the Brumbies must find a way to score more bonus points. If the Brumbies are really serious about winning a title they need to do what Kiwi sides at the top do. They need to smash every Aus side with a bonus point at home while claiming losing bonus points in every game they lose and denying their rivals bonus points. In their 3 losses in NZ this year they were smashed. They only scored 60 tries which is middle of the road, their scrum came in at 73% which was one of the worst in the comp, tackle success at just 83% which was right at the bottom and in terms of metres, clean breaks, carries, offloads and rucks built they were in the middle plus they had the most yellows. They basically were just not dominant enough wile they can improve their discipline. They excelled at kicking and won plenty of lineout ball plus their rucks were secure at 97%. Not sure about turnovers but they weren’t bad there. They just need to be more clinical and give away less and they will give themselves the best chance to win the title.

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