Springbok Rugby Back to Where it Should Be

Springbok Rugby Back to Where it Should Be

It seems that when every Rugby World Cup campaign comes around, the Springboks are relatively off the pace heading into the tournament. By their own high standards, they’re usually not where they should be in terms of their status in world rugby and their form is not always hitting the heights it should be as a World Cup draws nearer. In past World Cups, South Africa has had a disruptive build-up to most of the tournaments that they’ve been involved in.

Criticism seems to fly left, right and centre when the Springboks aren’t playing their best rugby in months and weeks leading into a Rugby World Cup. Most teams would crumble under the pressure of scathing comments from the rugby public, but not the South Africans. They love it when people doubt the team’s capabilities on the world stage. When the chips are down and they’re not having their best moments on the rugby field, doubters start asking questions of can they really prove it at this level with the form that they’re in? This is when we get to see the real South Africa. To even contemplate that South Africa haven’t a chance when it comes to competing for the sport’s biggest prize on every occasion, it’s just baffling. They’ve been in this situation so many times in the past, to prove their critics wrong and to show them that they can do it at the highest level.

Cast your minds back to South Africa’s involvement in the Rugby World Cup in 1995. They were the hosts’ of the competition and even then, they had their doubters. The fact that this was their first appearance in a World Cup, not many from outside of the country knew much about the South African team, so the majority of the doubts came from their own rugby public. Due to apartheid, South Africa was unable to participate in the two previous tournaments in 1987 and 1991. Despite having the advantage of playing at home in every game, it was a rocky build up to the competition for the Boks. In the warm up matches, results didn’t go their way, there were player selection issues and so that led to changes to the coaching staff. Not ideal preparation if you want to make a positive impression as hosts’ of one of the world’s biggest sporting occasions events. South Africa was in dire need of assistance and fast. Step forward, Nelson Mandela. Having being elected President of South Africa, Mandela set out to help create something truly special and change the face of his country forever. He spoke to the team captain Francois Pienaar, along with the whole Springbok squad. He attended the opening match against Australia, which South Africa won and the platform was set from there. They went onto beat New Zealand in the final and achieve something worth more than winning the trophy; they won the hearts of the South African nation.

Fast forward to 2007 and it was France’s turn to play host to rugby’s greatest show on earth. In the three months prior to the tournament kicking off, South Africa was involved in the annual Tri Nations series, which also consists of the New Zealand and Australia rugby teams. The Springboks decided to rest key personnel in the competition in preparation for the World Cup later that year. South Africa finished the series bottom of the table, winning just one match out of the four played. Most teams would have been affected by the losses psychologically and mentally, as confidence can be dented sufficiently. However, the Boks had their eyes on the bigger picture and that was to win the Webb Ellis trophy. They never allowed anyone from their squad to be affected by the sub-standard performances in the Tri Nations. They just re-focused and stuck to the tasks that needed to be done to be successful and win their second World Cup title and that’s exactly what they did. Beating holders England 15-6 in Paris, South Africa achieved what they set out not in one year, but in a four year cycle. Each year building up to that World Cup, the Springboks had a process which they stuck to and when the moment arrived for them to deliver, they were able to do it.

Now in 2015, South Africa has another opportunity to write their names in the history books. They have made the Quarter finals for the sixth time in succession, having endured an indifferent start to their campaign. In their first outing at this World Cup, they were involved in what has been said to be the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history. South Africa are notoriously fast starters at these tournaments, however this was anything but. Japan was the beneficiaries of all the accolades that started to be branded around the rugby universe following their outstanding efforts and sheer determination to go all out for the win against one of rugby super powers. This was South African rugby’s darkest moment in their proud rugby tradition, but beware a wounded Springbok. South Africa’s next opponent lay in wait in the shape of Samoa and everyone was expecting a reaction from the Boks. The Samoans were hit with everything that the Springboks possessed and it set the tempo for the whole game as South Africa cruised to 46-6 victory.  Another big encounter lay ahead in what was the pool B decider against Scotland. This is where we saw South Africa play to their strengths and demonstrate to us all why they are a force to be reckoned with, with some quality attacking rugby and an accurate kicking game to match. Taking points virtually every time they entered the Scottish half, it was a very clinical display from the Springboks as they secured a comfortable score line of 34-16 to take control of the pool. In the final pool match against U.S.A, South Africa knew that a win would put them through to the Quarter finals. Despite a relatively slow start, the Springboks began to exert their dominance on the scoreboard, and in the second half especially, they ran in some great tries and defeated the Americans 64-0.

Wales are the next to test South Africa’s resolve as the two go head-to-head on Saturday for a place in the Semi-final. For me, it’s too close to call. Both sides are evenly matched and play a similar brand of rugby to each other. But, if I had to pick a winner, it would have to be South Africa. Momentum plays a massive part in sport and at this moment in time, the Bokke certainly have it and everyone knows that when the Springbok juggernaut starts to rumble forward, it’s very difficult to stop.

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