Springbok rugby 2021 presented fans with a real fruit cocktail of results, controversies and a multitude of talking points.
With the soundtrack playing in the background, Ryan Jordan highlights the good, the bad and the ugly of Springbok rugby in 2021.
The good side of Springbok rugby 2021
There can’t be any complaint about where Springbok rugby and the Blitzboks ended the calendar year of 2021. The Springboks regained the number one position in World Rugby’s rankings. Some may say that they were “lucky” to do so, but such is the nature of World Rugby’s points exchange system. New Zealand lost two games against teams ranked below them, the Springboks lost one.
The Blitzboks end the year atop World Rugby’s sevens standings. It is worthy to note that these standings are competition points driven and not the points exchange system used in the Test arena. New Zealand and Samoa have not yet competed in the 2022 sevens season. Fiji also claimed the Olympic gold medal.
The bad points
The bad points are mostly a matter of opinion and maybe more disappointments than bad points.. The most obvious candidate though is the Springboks two losses right at the death of the game. One each against Australia and New Zealand. The games were lost, but with better game management and discipline, two additional wins would have made 2021 a really good vintage.
Squad development has been fine, with plenty of depth available in most positions. Players like Rosco Specman, Aphelele Fassi, Jasper Wiese, and Joseph Dweba were handed debuts. However, other than Wiese, none of them were given meaningful game time in important games. Willie le Roux’s importance as a playmaker is under-rated yet his error-rate fielding high kicks and his own kicks out of hand, has been far too high for an International of his quality.
The clamour for Fassi to get some game time has become louder. It would appear though that Nienaber has set his sights on Damian Willemse as his Le Roux ‘clone’. The 2023 Rugby World Cup in France is less than two years away. Le Roux will be 34 then. Frans Steyn will be 36! This assumes that both make it to Rugby World Cup 2023. If Willemse is the chosen one and Le Roux and Steyn don’t make it to France, who fills in as second choice fullback? It might have to be Cheslyn Kolbe as we haven’t seen anything of Fassi in that position.
2021 was bad for grassroots competitions
Special mention should be made of how badly disrupted South African club and schools rugby was affected in 2021. Many grassroots competitions simply did not happen due to various levels of Covid-19 lockdowns. This is especially painful for South Africa’s strong secondary school rugby culture. Not being able to play in derby days or to be selected for their provincial Craven Week teams will disappoint many schoolboys.
The downright ugly
There were three ugly events that the Springbok rugby 2021 could have done without. Although technically correct, the Rassie Erasmus video attracted more negative responses than positive. What Erasmus did do was challenge World Rugby’s processes. After banning him, World Rugby did state that processes would be reviewed. No indication was given as to who would be responsible for this when the results would be made public. This is typical of a self-regulating, politically driven organization and we can’t expect much change from World Rugby.
The battle on social media between opposing fan bases also became toxic. Contrasting opinions were defended to the hilt. A timeout from Twitter and Facebook was necessary for many rugby fans as keyboard warriors were fighting it out.
Although it produced the result that the Springboks were looking for, it was certainly not a pretty example of rugby. It was simply brutal and forwards based. Ugly, but effective.
Springbok rugby 2021 final thoughts
In the final analysis, the Springboks 2021 calendar year wasn’t a bad year. There was a lot of controversy, negativity and showmanship. On the other side of the scale, there was a series win against the touring British and Irish Lions. Their UK tour presented them with two wins out of three. Their Rugby Championship result was a disappointing third. That could have been very different if their game management and discipline were better in the games they lost in the final minutes.
What is not mentioned enough is how long the Springbok squad was subject to Covid-19 bio-bubble life. For most of them, this was from 4 June to the end of November. Most had a very short break between the Rugby Championship and the End of Year Tour. In an environment where sportspeople in various different sports, are opting out of certain tours to take time away from bio-bubbles to spend time with their families, this has been a special shift by the men in green.
While not all bad, the way forward is to address what can be managed, and react positively to any ongoing impact of Covid and travel restrictions on domestic rugby, as well as the United Rugby Championship franchises in 2022.
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