Standing at the end of 2018 we look back at the year, and although it was not the greatest for South African teams we have plenty of highlights.
The year always kick off with the FNB Varsity Cup and we had another great year of Varsity rugby in 2018.
It was the 10th anniversary of the Varsity Cup and at the end it was again Maties that lifted the trophy as they did with the fist one ten years back.
There can not be much doubt that Varsity rugby in the past ten years made a huge impact in South Africa.
In the past ten years 65% players out of Varsity Cup represented the Bulls, 59% the Lions, 29% the Sharks and 42% the Stormers.
All in all 50% played Currie Cup for the Blue Bulls, 70% for the Golden Lions, 47% for the Sharks, 71% for the Stormers, 73% for the Cheetahs, 91% for the Leopards and 60% for the Pumas.
Varsity Cup has produced 53 Junior Springboks, 44 Springboks and 81 European PRO 14 players.
It was a struggle for the Bulls and the Stormers who ended again in the bottom half of the log with the Sharks showing all the potential but again could not produce on the field.
The final was a repeat of last year with the Crusaders this time hosting the final game.
There was again a lot of talk around the conference system which do not complement the best teams in the competition.
The Blues, Sunwolves, Stormers, Reds and Bulls were a disappointment again.
It was the second year of the the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and we saw a new champion crowned as well.
The SuperSport Challenge is unique in the way that the competition brings rugby to the community which is absolutely great to see.
In our country rugby is huge in our community and this give clubs the chance to get some airtime and expose players that would normally would never been seen.
It took a drop goal in injury time of the final of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge at the Bridgton Sports Grounds in Oudtshoorn for the Pumas to clinch the match by 32-30 and the title after an epic battle with Griquas.
The Pumas was just too good for the Griquas at the end to lift the trophy.
This made every single match as important as a final and it proofs to be too much for the Free State Cheetahs who was playing Currie Cup and PRO14 at the same time.
The Pumas and Griquas also struggled in the competition with the four Super Rugby franchises ending in the top four spots for the play-offs.
Province went unbeaten till the final when they faced the Sharks at Newlands.
The week before the Blue Bulls pushed them all the way as they had to play extra time to determine the winner.
The Sharks were just brilliant in the final and forced Province into mistakes and at the end were just too good on the day.
Erasmus was appointed as Director of Rugby at SARU and had to stand in when Coetzee was shown the door.
First up was England in June and with a new looked team and new captain in Siya Kolisi, Erasmus came back twice in the first two test to take the series 2-1.
The final test at Newlands was played in wet conditions and England was tactically just too good for the Boks.
Erasmus added some new and some old forgotten face to his team with Faf De Klerk providing the spark the Springboks needed.
Pollard was his first choice ten for most of the year but it was Aphiwe Dyantyi that stole the show in 2018.
A player who almost gave up the game had the fairytale debut year and was also named World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.
Beside De Klerk, Erasmus also brought back Willie Le Roux who was the player that added another dimension to the Springboks attack.
The biggest win for the Springboks must be the win against the All Blacks in Wellington. It was a game dreams are made off and a win that they needed.
The return test in Pretoria should have made it two from two against the World Champions but as so many time the All Blacks came back to snatch victory.
Ending second in the Championship was a good showing for Erasmus and his squad from were the Springboks found them the last two year.
The end of year tour started with a test against England which was another one that they never should have lost. The loss put Erasmus on the back-foot and a must win against France was next up.
It did not go as planned but at the end they sneaked it through at the end. The win against Scotland was net up and although they made hard work of it they were able to get the win and moved on to Wales.
Wales was one match just too many as they suffered another defeat at the hands of the Welsh. They were not just outplayed but outsmarted as well.
That ended the year for Erasmus and his Boks with only a 50% win record.
This is not good enough but there were more good than bad things coming out of the Springboks in 2018. Will it be enough to be able to be a contender for next years World Cup? I really do not know.
I though Erasmus could have settled sooner with some positions, specially in the midfield.
I can understand that there was a lot of injuries but after 14 test we still do not know who is his starting 12 an 13. This is such critical positions and are a bit worried.
There is still the question of a fetcher in the team but in an exclusive interview with SuperSport, Erasmus did explain with players like Marx playing as a fetcher for the team you may play a different option in your loose trio.
A very good idea to listen to this interview with Erasmus which gives us a great insight into his thinking and were he is going.
With 2018 done and dusted what are we looking forward to in 2019?
We start again with Varsity Cup, Rugby that Rocks.
FNB UWC will play FNB UCT in the first round of the FNB Varsity Cup in 2019.
With a new FNB Varsity Cup season beginning on 4 February 2019, another season of unearthing South Africa’s talented rugby students awaits.
Newly promoted FNB UWC will take on FNB UCT in the battle for Cape Town in the first round, while FNB Maties’ first game will be against Johannesburg challengers FNB Wits at the Danie Craven Stadium. FNB UJ will take on last year’s finalists FNB NWU at the UJ Stadium in Johannesburg, FNB CUT who narrowly escaped relegation last year will journey to UP-Tuks with the Pretoria-dwellers looking to start with a bang after a disappointing 2018 campaign.
FNB Varsity Cup manager Xhanti-Lomzi Nesi is ecstatic about the new season, as well as the new and old rivalries taking place.
“It’s an always an exciting time as we head towards the FNB Varsity Cup season. We have some great match ups in the first round to get us off to an exciting start.
“It will be great to see FNB Maties take on FNB Wits who gave them trouble last season, and of course, we’re excited for what FNB UWC will bring when they play against their neighbours FNB UCT.”
Super Rugby will run non-stop in 2019 with no incoming tours in the World Cup year.
The Crusaders will be again start as favourites but we need to see the South African teams get it together and be up with the best at the end.
The Bulls have again a new coach in Human. They have gone shopping in the off season, getting the signatures of Vermeulen and Schalk Brits.
They have also asked Springboks coach Erasmus to assist in their campaign and hopefully it will show on the field as well.
At the Stormers, Fleck are in his forth season and are under fire to produce the goods this year coming.
There are a few issues at WP Rugby but hopefully they can keep the boardroom problems off the field, we do not need a repeat of the 1999 fall out.
For the Sharks supporters they just need their team to finally show the class they have on paper on the field. Du Preez will be going hard to improve and get his team in the contention in 2019.
The Lions have been the form team for the past two years and they will want to stay there comes 2019. With enough class and a great coach we can expect them to be there at the end again.
But the big one is the World Cup in Japan. The past few years everyone would have said that it will be the All Blacks again lifting the trophy at the end but things have changed a bit.
Between the Ireland, England, Wales and South Africa the All Blacks will have to produce the goods.
Ireland must be the form team at the moment but the World Cup will be won next year October not December 2018.
Injuries will play a huge role and player management will be something all top countries will look at.
This may be the most tightly contest World Cup in history next year which is a great prospect for all of us.
Whatever happens from now till then, 2019 will be a great year for the game and even more for the supporters out there.
For all our members and followers we would want to wish you a great 2019 and hope that you will have a great one.