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Round two: The Springboks return to regular scheduled programming

By Ben Smith
Springboks Damian Willemse and Lukhanyo Am. (Photos by Xavier Laine/Getty Images and (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Springboks start a second chapter as defending world champions in 2024 after claiming a 12-11 win over the 14-man All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final last November.

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South Africa is now the most successful men’s Rugby World Cup side in history with four titles, and the second-most successful Rugby World Cup team behind the Black Ferns who have six crowns.

From Suzie the waitress to Sam Cane’s red, the tier two quarterfinal opponents in three of the four titles, no nation has been as blessed at the showpiece event. They remain undefeated in the four finals they have featured in.

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The latest win is no doubt the greatest of the four, despite losing to Ireland in pool play, they were able to trump France, England, and New Zealand in three knockout games by one point. The improbable run looked dead multiple times as the team of destiny defied all odds.

Against France in the quarterfinal down 25-19 with 15 minutes remaining the Springboks had a 17 per cent chance based on historical outcomes of winning.

Against England in the semi-final it was even lower than that in single digits, with England ahead by nine points 15-6 heading into the last quarter.

In both games the Springboks rallied with tries that drastically changed the complex of the game and France and England choked, it must be said.

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In the final the Springboks were blessed with early penalties and the fateful red card to Sam Cane, the first of his professional career in 268 games of first class rugby.

In the end it was missed shots at goal from the All Blacks that were the saving grace, allowing South Africa to limp across the finish line. They were effectively on the ropes against a fighter with one arm tied behind his back and were saved by the bell.

Despite inspirational performances from individuals, like Pieter-Steph du Toit, outside of the first three minutes of the second half South Africa never looked like scoring. The closest they got was a Handre Pollard drop goal that was charged down and fell way short.

The All Blacks had all the running and are left to lament their missed opportunities, while the Boks became the second nation to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups.

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Following the 2019 win it didn’t take long to find out who the Springboks really were, swept by the seventh-ranked Wallabies in two Tests on Australian soil in 2021. The artificial aura of the World Cup glow quickly faded as the losses piled up.

They went 16-10 over two seasons once they returned to action. Their record against the other top five nations was porous, heading into 2023 they were 25 per cent against Australia, England, Ireland, France and New Zealand. They failed to win a single Rugby Championship in three years.

They were a competitive top four nation but never the undisputed number one. There was no dominance to speak of.

Now they have a second chance to prove their mettle as world champions after an improbable run, to back up the back-to-back achievement with something of substance.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber has joined Leinster, with Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus returning as the official head coach again.

First on the menu is Ireland. South Africa has not beaten them since 2016. Losses in 2017, 2022 and 2023 can be avenged when the Irish tour South Africa in July for two Tests.

Only a 2-0 sweep will suffice for the Boks. A loss on home soil to Ireland would detract once again from any claim this Springboks side are unrivalled world beaters.

Ireland are one of the big four, so there is no shame in defeat, but it would contradict any assertion that we have a dominant Bok team in the midst.

The return of the Rugby Championship starts with a bang when the Springboks host the All Blacks for two Tests in South Africa.

There is no better opportunity to show that the World Cup final wasn’t a gift-wrapped present by winning with 15 on 15 in front of the raucous Ellis Park crowd.

Finishing the job in Cape Town with a second win will emphatically prove the Boks are a cut above the All Blacks and go a long way to winning a fifth Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations title.

They would then travel to Australia to face the Wallabies twice, a trip that has haunted South Africa for decades.

The Wallabies have owned the Springboks on Australian soil. For such a proud rugby nation with four Rugby World Cups, the record Down Under is ugly with 13 wins from 43 Tests.

Rugby Australia fired the coach that had a 75 per cent winning record over the back-to-back champions, so 2024 is the perfect time to start repairing the ledger.

The world champion Boks with the super coach Rassie Erasmus cannot lose to the Wallabies who don’t even know who is coaching the side yet.

If they get through that run, the Springboks will be in a position to put together a statement season that they failed to do so after 2019.

The Springboks have four SANZAAR titles in 27 years, equal to their William Webb Ellis haul, a significant underachievement by comparison. For the team that has the most men’s Rugby World Cups, it is a fascinating anomaly.

The Boks seem to value the Rugby World Cup over everything else, to the detriment of everything else.

Which is why 2024 is likely going to be a return to the regular scheduled programming once again.

The famine seems to come after the feast, and what a glorious feast it was.

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Comments

41 Comments
W
Wayneo 155 days ago

Thanks for another article Ben.

Like they say no publicity is bad publicity.

In this day and age, it’s all about clicks to drive revenue and nobody comes close to Ben in driving revenue straight into the coffers of SA Rugby.

S
Snash 156 days ago

Ben click-bait-king Smith strikes again. Gee no mention of ABs record loss to Boks on eve of RWC23. Was it Suzie? The ref? Jet-lag? Parochialism? Better team lose? W anchor.

L
Luke 156 days ago

Ben thanks for the article. Nothing gets this team performing better than people writing them off. You are their biggest fan and thanks for the continued support : )

M
MattJH 156 days ago

South Africans only care about winning the World Cup. All other tests are just stepping stones to that.

K
Kostya 156 days ago

“From Suzie the waitress” - a disproven myth; “to Sam Cane’s red” - a red that is in line with every shoulder-on-head red that has come since the new rules were put in place. AB fans went from blaming the ref and defending SBW in 2017 v Lions to blaming the ref and defending Cane… they never learn do they? Even Squidge agreed that this was a clear red.

Oh and that wallabies sweep was after 1.5 years of not even being able to practice together due to covid.

Try again Benny boy.

F
Flankly 156 days ago

Does anyone remember the prognostications about the Boks prior to any of the RWCs that they won? They all sounded like this article, in essence giving the no chance before the tournament followed by reluctant credit when they won.

And did anyone listen to Rassie on the topic of what his big-picture plan was? He said that they started 6 years ago on a plan to win the 2023 RWC. He also said that this was the first step towards capturing the #1 ranking in the longer term, and he said that the 2019 RWC win was a bonus. He and Jacques both said that 2022 was about depth-building, and implicitly not about win rate.

So far he has checked all of the boxes. Two RWC wins in succession, a coherent winning culture, strong systems, and a squad with legit competition in every position. It seems he has also been working on relationships with franchise coaches, and on development pathways, not to mention transformation along the way.

SA is not unbeatable, and there are clearly some very impressive national sides out there. But the Boks are setting a very high bar, with stronger foundations than they have ever had, and a new generation of players coming through. They may or may not retain the #1 spot this year, but they are not going to concede it lightly.

Any of the top 4 sides (SA, NZ, Ireland, France) can beat any of the others on any given day, and England will soon also be a contender in that group. All of them will treat year one of the 4-year cycle as a time to make the bigger adjustments, as they figure out how to peak in 2027. But of all of them, SA is the one that least needs to take risks this year. Over the next 3.5 years Rassie will be able to field a gently changing group with gradually evolving game plans and structures, and no need for a rethink.

If Rassie is allowed to keep to the plan, the Boks will be fine in 2024, and will be a serious contender for RWC 2027.

M
Mark 156 days ago

This is little more than an embittered smear piece written through a blur of spite and vindictiveness. Whoever the author, they have descended into twitteresque pique using their platform to damn the Boks with faint praise laced with backhanded insults. Citing Suzi, red cards, tier two nations to besmirch the victories is indicative of bankrupt thinking. Can Rugby Pass not find journalists with anything interesting to add?

B
Bob Marler 156 days ago

Yawn.

If SA win 6/6 against Ireland, NZ and the wallabies. It will be because of the ref, home ground advantage, the better team losing on the day or some or other BS conspiracy theory.

If they lose just one of those games, we’ll never hear the end of that loss either. Let alone 2, 3 or heaven forbid all of them.

No matter what the boks do, the most hated team in international rugby can do no right in the eyes of fools like this idiot writer and the haters he panders to.

Which is just how the boks and their fans like it. Being written-off is what we want.

Keep it up Ben and co. Keep it up.

G
Gert 156 days ago

Champions know when to win. You can look at any sport. Tennis for example, no use winning more points but losing the match. BMT is something NZ fans and pundits seem to forget. No use winning the small stuff but choking when it matters. Champions know how. The Boks know how.

Greatest RWC team in history. You can take the scraps while we remain the champions.

B
BD 156 days ago

Shame, what a pathetic tone to an even worse article. Go cry some more, Kiwis. 4>3 all day.

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