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Opinion

This is the greatest Springboks team of all time

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Luke Folb new author
Roar Rookie
4th November, 2019
76

Three-time Rugby World Cup champions has a nice ring to it for a Springboks fan like myself.

South Africa’s third world title also means we’re on par with the gold standard – the All Blacks – who have also claimed three crowns.

But as the Springboks return to South Africa this week and begin a trophy tour around the country, it might be useful to take a moment to reflect on the magnitude of this victory.

Sure, we’ve tasted the sweet nectar of a World Cup victory before, and few would argue against the enormous symbolism behind that first success in 1995, where an underdog team rose to the pinnacle of rugby. Nor can we take away from the success of Jake White’s 2007 charges, who were incredible during their 36-0 drubbing of England during the pool stages and calm during the display of kicking accuracy in the final in Paris.

But the class of 2019 are something else, united by their diversity and willingness to take just one more hit, run one more metre and claw for every inch of possession on the battleground in Japan. Siya Kolisi and his Boks teammates dared to dream, emulate those that came before them, and allowed their country to smile collectively when we desperately needed a win.

South Africa still struggles to come to terms with the ghosts of apartheid, and while the democratic experiment post-1994 brought unity and nation-building to the forefront, the fire lit by Nelson Mandela that once spurred on the dream of a Rainbow Nation is now largely embers.

We seem to be a nation divided at the best of times and while we need to have hard conversations about the economy, land reform and social justice, we can, at the very least, take solace in the fact that we are the best rugby nation on earth.

Siya Kolisi

(Photo by Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Our rich rugby history has been tumultuous with ups and downs. Nothing has been a greater stain on the Springboks brand than the countless players of colour who missed out on the opportunity to represent their country.

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But as coach Rassie Erasmus said best: “No matter your political differences or religious differences or whatever, for those 80 minutes, you agree with a lot of things you’d normally disagree.”

Erasmus should also be given enormous credit for the way he approached the job.

Captain Kolisi has made sure to remind us on numerous occasions throughout the tournament that this Boks team is as diverse as any that took to the field in previous years. It is because of that unique trait that we are stronger together.

In replaying the final it’s worth noting just how good the Springboks were and why this final was possibly better than their 1995 and 2007 victories.

England were certainly favourites after trouncing both Australia and New Zealand in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively, and were keen to add to their fourth Rugby Championship scalp after also beating Argentina in the pool stages.

We were awesome in our defiance of the status quo and it was an utter joy to watch the English scrum splutter and ultimately fizzle out under the immense strength of the Bokke pack. What’s important to note is how monumental this win was for South African rugby.

We scored tries in a World Cup final for the first time after both previous triumphs were achieved by quality kicking displays. South Africa is the first team to win a World Cup having lost a game in the tournament and we’re also the first team to win a World Cup and Rugby Championship in the same year.

Something else that diehard fans will point out is 1995 World Cup-winning heroes, James Small and Chester Williams, passed away this year and the speedy wingers wore the number 14 and 11 jerseys during their playing time. South Africa’s two tries were scored by Makazole Mpimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, who wear those numbers, a fitting tribute to the previous champions.

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Chester Williams (left) and Corne Krige

Chester Williams (left). (Image: Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT)

The Boks end the year with ten wins from 12 games with just a single defeat – the opening World Cup match against New Zealand – and a draw against the All Blacks. We’re also ranked number one in the world for the first time in ten years.

As rugby writer Rob Houwing points out, the Boks’ dazzling year is like none they’ve ever had before.

“Greatness is subjective, always fiercely debatable,” he wrote. “But isn’t it hard to dispute now that the Springboks’ 2019 calendar year is right up among the very best of them in history?

“The best, perhaps?”

I would argue not only has this been the best year for Springboks rugby but this is the greatest Springboks team of all time.

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Just 18 months ago we were out in the wilderness, still reeling from the disastrous Allister Coetzee term when Rassie Erasmus stepped into the head coaching role. And while 2018 remained a difficult year for the coach, he picked up the much-needed consistency he so desired this year.

Now with coach Erasmus giving up his dual role of both head coach and director of rugby to focus solely on the latter, it’s up to a new coach to take up the charge and lead what should be a golden era for the Springboks.

My money is on assistant coach Jacques Nienaber, who has worked with Erasmus for the past 20 years and is also the tactical mastermind behind the Boks’ brilliant defence, which was the best in the World Cup.

Not only are Nienaber and Erasmus long-time friends but the former also boasts impressive tactical and technical acumen just like the current Boks mentor and he’ll also report directly to the World Cup-winning coach.

The transition seems like a no-brainer with Nienaber already familiar and comfortable with the squad and presumably more than happy to stay the course that Erasmus has laid out over the past two years.

I can think of no better duo to lead us through to a Lions tour in 2021 and the next World Cup where we’ll be looking to pick up that fourth title.