With rugby in the south going into hibernation for the next two months we can look back on what was 2015.
For SANZAR it was the perfect ending to a great year when the New Zealand All Blacks lifted the World Cup trophy on Saturday. Not just did the All Blacks and Wallabies played in the final but it was an all-Southern Hemisphere Semi-Finals the week before with South Africa and Argentina losing out on the final.
It was a really surprising outcome when no team from the north made it into the semi-finals with so much talk that the rugby up north was getting stronger and that they will be a big challenge.
Injuries and poor form in crucial matches saw host England not even making it pass the pool stages with a injury driven Wales team being knocked out in the Quarter Finals. France were poor to say the least and Ireland was just not good enough for new rising stars Argentina who surprised many with the improvement they showed since joining the Rugby Championship.
Argentina have been the success story this year and shown how important it is for World Rugby and other rugby bodies to give teams the opportunity to play in the major tournaments. Teams cannot improve if they do not constantly play against the best and if you want to really grow the game you need to look at ways to include these teams in the major competitions.
Not just did Argentina beat Australia last year but they got there first win over the Springboks as well before the World Cup. They have been a much improved side throughout the year and during the World Cup even giving the World Champions a run for their money in the first pool game. The inclusion of a team from Argentina in next year’s Super Rugby will add even more to Argentinian rugby and improvement from the South Americans will be a given.
Not many would have given the Aussies any change what so ever to make the World Cup Final 14 months ago but Michael Cheika and his men turned all wrongs that was Aussie rugby into rights in one year. So much off the field stuff was going on that Australian rugby was at its lowest points in the professional area of the game.
Australia was the only team this year that got one over the All Blacks and in the progress won a shorter Rugby Championship before the World Cup. Nobody gave the Aussies any change to be a force this year and they have shown the rugby world, with good coaches and structures in place you can change the fortunes of a team in twelve months.
New Zealand have been the best team in the world by far this past four years but Australia gave themselves a chance in the final. If Cheika and his players look back on the year they will then realize that they have achieve allot in a short space making Australian rugby strong again.
There is a book my wife read a few years ago..” Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, well the All Blacks are certainly from somewhere else than the rest of us. Maybe middle earth is in fact in New Zealand, because this rugby mad nations just keep on showing the rest of the world how to play this game not just on the field but also afterwards off the field. They must be the most loved team in the world and they show time after time what great people they are as well off the field.
This All Black team of the past four years have won everything there is to won. Are they the best every team in the history of the world? Well in many of our lifetimes they are and they will go do as at least one of the greatest teams every playing this game. Some may say that they will be losing players now like Carter, Richie, Nonu and Smith, but the problem for the rest of the world is that they have players that have been molded to take over and will be greats in their own right in years to come.
Everybody is trying to catch up with the All Blacks and time will tell if they will ever do.
It seems every team in the Southern Hemisphere have made a step up this year except Meyer’s Springboks. This will go down as one of the worst years for Springbok rugby and South African rugby in a whole. Not just did South African failed to impressed in the Super Rugby but the Springboks lost against Argentina and Japan this year which is something the rugby public will not forget.
At the time Japan was ranked 14th in the world when they beaten the Springboks who was rated second in the world, in the opening pool match of the World Cup. I am sure that in the next few weeks allot will be said and discuss on the Springboks, Meyer and the way forward as South African supporters do not take lightly to failure.
Many question-marks hang over Meyer and his coaching team from player selections to dinosaur game plans. Stories are already doing the rounds that Meyer has signed a new four year extension on his contract to take the Springboks until World Cup 2019 in Japan, but all this needs to be voted on when SARU meets in December.
Public is split on keeping Meyer for another four years or get new blood in but one thing most agree on is the fact that Springbok rugby need changes and fast.
Being second best will never be an option for any South African supporter and SARU will have to make informed decisions if they want to keep the public faith in SA Rugby and the Springboks.
That the Southern Hemisphere still holds the power in World Rugby is a fact with all four teams in SANZAR holding the first four rankings in the world but it is always easy to get there but something totally different to keep it.