20 December 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

Springbok Decade Series: 2017

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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2017 - End of an error

After the total calamity that was the 2016 season, the only comfort Allister Coetzee and his charges could cling to was that things couldn’t get much worse. Indeed, the 2017 season was an improvement, but just barely, as the Springboks won seven of their 13 Tests compared to four out of 12 the previous year.

Those victories were hardly worth celebrating, however, as they came against a France team ranked ninth in the world, eighth-ranked Argentina and 14th-ranked Italy. Essentially, there were simply “less bad” than their lowly opposition. A kind schedule afforded the embattled Boks a much-needed fresh start and they made the most of it by winning their first five fixtures on the trot, sweeping Les Bleus and doing the double over the Pumas.

Against a mediocre Australian team, they could only manage two draws and were ultimately exposed by the All Blacks in Albany. An 80-minute horror show saw the South Africans suffer a soul-snatching 57-0 shutout – the worst defeat in Springbok history. On that dark day, an insipid Bok team leaked eight tries and were clueless with ball-in-hand.

In the immediate aftermath, there was a lingering sense that the game’s greatest rivalry had just died. To make matters worse, Coetzee in his post-match interview said there were “positives” to take out of the game. That cringe-worthy comment summed up the dire mental state of the camp, an inadvertent confession of just how far the mighty Boks had fallen.

A narrow 25-24 loss to the All Blacks in Cape Town, considering the world champions had put 50 past the Boks in their two previous encounters, was celebrated as a win, a further indication of just how bleak things had become. As if blinded by trauma, Coetzee’s optimism continued, even after his team crashed to another new low in the form of a record 38-3 thrashing at the hands of Ireland. A 24-22 loss to Wales to end the year would prove to be the final nail in Coetzee’s coffin.

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The process was dragged out, as Coetzee fought to stay on, but his inevitable axing was confirmed in February 2018, which saw him become the first Bok coach to be dismissed while still under contract since Rudolf Straeuli following the World Cup flop and “Kamp Staaldraad” fiasco in 2003.

Coetzee had been contracted until after the 2019 World Cup‚ but after winning just 11 of 25 Tests (44%) in his two seasons in charge‚ which saw the Boks plummet to an all-time low seventh on the world rankings, SA Rugby pulled the plug.

Results:

South Africa 20-26 Ireland
South Africa 32-26 Ireland
South Africa 19-13 Ireland
South Africa 30-23 Argentina
South Africa 24-26 Argentina
South Africa 17-23 Australia
South Africa 13-41 New Zealand
South Africa 18-10 Australia
South Africa 15-57 New Zealand
South Africa 21-37 England
South Africa 18-20 Italy
South Africa 13-27 Wales

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