The past decade saw the Springboks rise from record lows to ultimate triumph, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Springboks’ journey over the past 10 years, rising from the ashes to World Cup glory in 2019, is akin to climbing Everest. The very reputation of Springbok rugby hung in the balance after the men in Green and Gold plummeted to unprecedented lows. Record losses equalled red alert and avalanche after avalanche threatened to bury the Boks for good.
With true South African grit, however, the men in Green and Gold persevered. Problems persisted, but every time they got knocked down, they picked themselves up and dusted themselves off. Instead of waning, they grew stronger and eventually turned the corner. Emerging from the shadows, there was hope once more, the summit in sight, albeit from afar.
Hope inspired heroics, and with Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi leading the way, the Springboks scaled the peak in remarkable fashion. Overcoming the odds, the class of 2019 clinched the coveted Webb Ellis Cup, planting their flag atop rugby’s Everest and breathing the rarefied air reserved for world champions.
On the doorstep of a new dawn, we take a trip down memory lane in a 10-part series chronicling the decade that was for Springbok rugby.
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With the building blocks having been put in place in 2012, Heyneke Meyer’s second season at the helm was a rip-roaring success. The developing Springboks won 10 of their 12 Tests, including a Rugby Championship record 73-13 pummelling of the Pumas in Soweto, a runaway 38-12 win over the Wallabies – the first-ever victory in Brisbane – and a 28-0 whitewash of Scotland at Murrayfield.
The resurgence was real, with the men in Green and Gold losing only to the all-conquering All Blacks, who retained the Rugby Championship after a second successive unbeaten campaign. Meyer also blooded several rising stars such as Willie le Roux, Jan Serfontein, Jano Vermaak, Trevor Nyakane, Lourens Adriaanse and Arno Botha.
Another new face was that of the towering Pieter-Steph du Toit. A young, athletic lock, he made his Springbok debut off the bench in the 24-15 win over Wales in Cardiff during the end-of-year tour. The 21-year-old looked a blue-chip prospect and he would go on to fulfil his prodigious potential and then some as he became one of the modern-day Springbok giants.
Then there was one Siya Kolisi, a rough diamond from Zwide, an impoverished township in Port Elizabeth. Rugby served as an escape for a young Kolisi – an escape from the grim reality of the crime and circumstances he and his family faced – and was ultimately his way out.
The humble youngster’s talent was spotted at local club African Bombers and he was awarded a bursary from Grey High, an elite private school renowned for churning out Springboks. After excelling at Grey, he joined Western Province and eventually put himself on the Bok radar by impressing for the Stormers in Super Rugby.
He had been in Meyer’s initial squad in 2012 but didn’t get an opportunity during the Incoming Tour before suffering an injury come the Rugby Championship. The wait was certainly worth it as Kolisi realised his Bok dream in the most fitting way possible at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit against Scotland.
Starting on the bench, Kolisi was thrust into action in the fourth minute, replacing an injured Botha, and enjoyed the epitome of a dream debut. Undaunted, the 21-year-old rose to the occasion and stole the show with an all-action effort that earned him the Man of the Match award. Little did anyone realise what an iconic, transcendent national hero he would become.
The win over Scotland was the second of the season, following the 44-10 trouncing of Italy, which kicked off the 2013 campaign in Durban. A 56-23 win over Samoa ensured the Boks went into the Rugby Championship full of momentum and they shifted into top gear with the aforementioned 60-point annihilation of Argentina.
A far less-impressive 22-17 victory in the rematch in Mendoza followed before the historic win in Brisbane. The unbeaten streak ended at the All Blacks’ fortress Eden Park, the hosts picking up a 29-15 win, but the Boks bounced back, beating Australia comfortably (28-8) in Cape Town. The campaign ended with a disappointing 38-27 defeat to New Zealand, but overall, it was a much-improved showing, with the South Africans finishing second.
An unbeaten end-of-year tour, which included a first win over France in Paris in 16 years, capped off a year in which the Boks returned to form and hinted at a bright future with the World Cup two years away.
South Africa 44-10 Italy
South Africa 30-17 Scotland
South Africa 56-23 Samoa
South Africa 73-13 Argentina
South Africa 22-17 Argentina
South Africa 38-12 Australia
South Africa 15-29 New Zealand
South Africa 28-8 Australia
South Africa 27-38 New Zealand
South Africa 24-15 Wales
South Africa 28-0 Scotland
South Africa 19-10 France
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Carl Lewis is the Head of Content at Bet.co.za and is the editor of Bet Central. He was also an award-winning sports reporter with EWN Sport, hosts the Bet Central Podcast and is a sports contributor for TV and Radio.