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 five-part series chronicling the decade that was for Springbok rugby.
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There are countless contenders, but perhaps no song is a better anthem for the Springboks’ decade-long journey to their record-equalling third World Cup triumph than Canadian rapper Drake’s “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.”
The aura that had been established with the World Cup win in 2007 and reinforced by the British and Irish Lions series and Tri-Nations triumphs in 2009 was snuffed out when South Africa finished dead-last in the 2010 Tri-Nations, winning just one of their six showdowns against their two arch-rivals – a 44-31 victory over Australia at Loftus.
That respite was short-lived for Peter de Villiers, the Springboks’ first black coach, and his charges as they succumbed 41-39 to the self-same Wallabies in Bloemfontein a week later, a last-minute long-range penalty by Kurtley Beale earning the visitors their first win on the Highveld since 1963.
The disastrous campaign was that much more disappointing for Springbok supporters because the Bulls and Stormers had dominated that year’s Super Rugby tournament and ended up meeting in an-all South African final, won 25-17 by the Bulls in Soweto. In addition, the John Smit-spearheaded side had swept their Northern Hemisphere opposition during the June Incoming Tour, edging Wales 34-31, felling France 42-17 and bagging back-to-back wins over Italy (29-13 and 55-11).
The Wales side of 2010 were a far cry from the 2019 vintage who enjoyed a brief stay at the top of the world rankings for the first time in history, thus, the acid test of the Springboks’ calibre was always going to be the Tri-Nations, which the All Blacks wound up dominating with a perfect six-from-six run.
With their backs against the wall and a squad robbed off some key players by injury, including Smit, the end-of-year tour was a test of character for the Springboks. The first stop was Dublin for a duel with the Irish. Like Wales, the Ireland team of 2010 weren’t the calibre of today’s well-drilled warriors, but they were nevertheless going to be a tough challenge – one the Springboks desperately needed to overcome.
Led by Victor Matfield, they eked out a 23-21 victory and followed it up with a similarly nail-biting and ugly 29-25 win over Wales in Cardiff. Then came a crushing 21-17 defeat to Scotland, the first in the history of South African rugby. In a third consecutive wet war, the Springboks splashed around in a wide-eyed panic, succeeding only in sapping their energy before eventually drowning at Murrayfield.
The historic loss ignited a fire that had looked all but extinguished by the Scots as the Springboks bounced back with an inspired 21-11 win over a resurgent England at Twickenham to end the year on a positive note. The stats read played 14, won eight and lost six, but considering the highs of the previous three seasons, the Springboks lost far more than they won in 2010.
South Africa 34-31 Wales
South Africa 42-17 France
South Africa 29-13 Italy
South Africa 55-11 Italy
South Africa 12-32 New Zealand
South Africa 17-31 New Zealand
South Africa 13-30 Australia
South Africa 22-29 New Zealand
South Africa 44-31 Australia
South Africa 39-41 Australia
South Africa 23-21 Ireland
South Africa 29-25 Wales
South Africa 17-21 Scotland
South Africa 21-11 England
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Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at SARugby.com and senior staff writer at Rugby365.com, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.