By: Jacques Nortier
The year 2015 will unfortunately be remember for Springbok losses against Argentina (for the first time), and the biggest shock in world sport when Japan beat the two times World Cup Champions in the opening pool match in England.
Pissant said it best when ask how does Meyer come back from the lost against Japan when he pointed out: “ Not even winning the World Cup, will not safe Meyer”.
Well Meyer and his Springbok team did not win the World Cup and before SARU could show Meyer the door, he decided to step down in the beginning of December, but more about the Springboks and Meyer later.
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Every year the Super Rugby marks the start of our rugby season and in a World Cup year the competition becomes even more important for players to find form a push for that place in the Springbok squad.
South African teams again struggled and half way through the competition no one really expected any of our teams to win it, although the Stormers looked from the outset as the team that can be South African’s best chance for a play-off spot.
From the Cape we also heard of the noises that they will play a more attractive brand of rugby which their supporters was looking forward to with the Stormers being known for their defense rather than their attack abilities in recent years.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee also drop the bomb of his departure from the Western Cape franchise at the end of the Super Rugby season to take up a job in Japan. Some of us believe this was long overdue but this left Western Province Rugby without an experience coach after Super Rugby at that stage and as time went on we know now that they will have a head coach who’s highest level of coaching as head coach is at Currie Cup U21 level.
The shining bright light was definitely the Lions who put the mark down as a team that developed into a team everyone wants to support even it is not your first choice team in the way they play. The Lions was in a developing phase with Ackerman and De Bruin showing their abilities at the highest level with some unknown players, playing with pride and passion for their team and supporters.
The most disappointing part of South African Super Rugby was the Cell C Sharks, as discipline not just put the team on the back foot but also influence the way they played during the season. With new coach Gary Gold it almost felt that they had a different game plan every week they pitch up for a game.
The Sharks had on paper as many years before one of the best players in the squad but it never filter through during their matches. What was even more worrying was the fact that the senior players was struggling with discipline and form right through the competition. This should have been seen as warning signs for the Springboks not just for the Rugby Championship but also for the World Cup as few of Meyers core players came from this Sharks team.
The Bulls and the Cheetahs will want to forget 2015 and although both teams were hit with some critical injuries at crucial times of their season they did not manage to build through the season. One of the biggest talking points on social media this year from supporters was the believe that our teams do not play a winning brand of rugby and fall back to our old ways to easily when things get tough.
The fact actually is that most South African teams do play the same game as the top teams in Australia and New Zealand with the biggest difference the execution of player’s skills within the teams. The lack of skills shown by most South African teams has been the most worrying factor for some time now and that do filter through when the Springboks play as well.
We can almost say that 2015 will be known as “The Year of the Coaches”. South Africa will start 2016 with only two of the six Super Rugby teams that will have coaches that coached Super Rugby before. In the year we saw coaches like Naka’ Drotské, Frans Ludeke and Alistair Coetzee ending their stay at there respective unions after the Super Rugby season and then we also have the prospect of a new Springbok coach that will take over from Meyer in 2016.
With 2016 seeing a new format in Super Rugby that is more complicated to understand than a drunk Scotsman, one can expect some more frustration for supporters with most hoping it will go better rather than worst. for some reason I am excited to see the likes of Franco Smith for the Cheetahs and Nollis Marais for the Bulls in there new roles as Super Rugby coaches. They bring some excitement to the table as they shown in the Currie Cup that they want to bring a new era to there franchises with exciting young players.
Most supporters seeing the constant expansion of Super Rugby is doing more damage than good for our rugby and that the best format was the Super 12. It almost feels like Europe have found the best format with splitting there flagship tournament in two competitions.
Maybe we should also rather start thinking of playing again strength against strength and when we bring in new teams that they play in a second league like the Champions Cup in Europe.
This will not just bring a more competitive Super Rugby but develop the other teams in a competition that can make them better as they will get more confidence in playing teams at the same level.
The disappointment in the South African campaign was clear to see that the only team that qualified for the playoffs was the Stormers and only reason being that they were the conference winners and we even saw other teams higher on the final standings than them that did not play in the playoffs. At the end the Stormers was easily beaten at home in the playoffs.
Springboks Saga that was 2015
As a South African supporter the Super Rugby could not have ended quicker and all focus was shifted to the Springboks and some exciting young players that showed that they are ready for the big stage, but it was not to be as Meyer kept trusting his older players which he have been building his whole four years with, leading up to the World Cup.
The writing was against the wall once the Springboks lost narrowly against New Zealand and Australia and sealed a disappointing Rugby Championship with the first ever lost against Argentina in Durban.
This with the lost against Japan would start Meyer’s downfall as the same players that he trusted turned against his him and did not follow his instructions in the opening game at the World Cup against Japan.
To be fair Meyer had to start the shorten International season without some of his key players but with so much talent that came through the Super Rugby competition it could never have been used as an excuse.
The Springboks never really got going if one looks back at the year and could not be consistent week in week out. Although the two games against New Zealand and Australia came down to the last minutes of the match, one did expect them to have win them both in the position they put themselves in both matches.
As much winning becomes a habit, losing in sport plays the same role and no team can build confidence in losing game after game even if it is against the two top teams in the world. The real worry about Meyers Springboks came in Durban and this really put Meyer and his team on the back foot.
Supporters really started asking why players like Elton, Kriel, Mapoe, Combrinck, Kitshoff, Koch and Skosan was not part of the squad as they were by far the inform players in Super Rugby and played the game with skill and passion which we lack at Springbok level for so long.
The usual play-makers in the Springbok team also did not perform all year or played with some kind of injury which made the announcement of Meyer’s World Cup squad even more frustrating for most South Africans.
Players like Matfield, Alberst, Louw, Jannie Du Plessis, Willie Le Roux, Vermeulen, Fourie Du Preez and De Villiers either was out of form or injured and some even did not play any rugby this season.
Meyer and his team went to England with a nation divided in their support and it did not spell anything good for them in claiming the highest price in the game. All the supporters’ fears came true in the first game against the 14th ranked Japanese team when they beat a Springbok team that seemed to be playing with no control nor any real game plan.
The rest of the World Cup was always going to be a survival game for Meyer and his team and they did manage to get through to the Semi-Finals but although the score did not show it the All Blacks beat them confidently to end Meyers World Cup dream and the end of him continuing as coach for the Springboks.
With all the disappointment of the World Cup the Golden Lions continued where they left off at Super Rugby and went through the season unbeaten to lift the ABSA Currie Cup at Emirates Airline Park in front of their home crowed.
Pretty much everybody in South Africa sees the Lions game and passion they show on the field and off it as the blue print for all South African teams going forward. Going unbeaten through a season is not something many teams can put their hands up for but it was not just the winning of these games but the way they just swept teams away at home and away from home.
It is clear that this union is a happy union and between Swys and Johan they are doing something right with all the players involved. The Lions team has become everyone’s second team and they have earned that respect from all the support Ackerman and his players are getting all over South Africa and even the world.
It was during the World Cup when the union announce that they have just secure Eddie Jones as the new Stormers coach just after he manage to beat the Springboks in the opening pool match of the World Cup. Excitement in the Cape was clear to see not just with the supporters but also the young coaches that was looking forward to work with such well known international coach.
This excitement was sort lived when Jones, after just a few days in the job accepted the job as the new England coach. This put Western Province in a downward spiral but when the name of John Mitchell was mentioned in the press all the worries of Jones jetting off to England went away. Mitchell has his supporters and his haters but that he could have bring something different to Western Province was certain.
As the days past the media reported that after Director of Rugby Gert Smal, wanted Micthell as their new coach he was overruled by Western Province president, Wakefield who we learned, was advice by Hoskins and Lions De Klerk not to appoint Mitchell.
This put Western Province with the only option to appoint an inexperience Fleck as the head coach for the Stormers next year. Many expect that this is not the end of it all and that next year will either be a great success with Fleck or a major disaster which could spell a very bad situation for them.
With all the focus the past few months on coaches and their jobs it was a great end to our 2015 season to see the Springbok Sevens team winning the South African leg of the tournament in Cape Town in December.
Not just did they put an amazing second days performance together to enable them to lift the trophy but the sold out Cape Town tournament was one of the greatest Sevens event in South Africa thus far.
What lies for us in 2016 and beyond?
Well with new coaches for Super Rugby and a new format that sees a team from Japan and Argentina joining the competitions we will have to wait to see if our rugby will finally get that step up we are looking for the past couple of years.
SARU has made it clear that transformation will be enforced at all levels with the Springboks being there main focus to get to the numbers they agreed with government which they must reach in 2019.
This has made the public voicing their support and fears that this will end a competitive Springbok side. To be honest I believe such people believing that we damage Springbok rugby is a bit short sighted.
With the work that has been done by Rassie Erasmus and his team this last couple years through the different age groups we have seen so many players of color come through Craven Weeks, Varsity Cups, Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup level, all we need to do is start getting these players now at Super Rugby level to give the new Springbok coach the freedom to pick players that are ready for Springbok rugby. It must be a collective effort for all in SA Rugby not just SARU or Springbok coach.
We had now 20 years to develop players of color and we should have been there already and I truly believe that we can easily field top players of color once we start putting more effort in at Super Rugby.
One can be optimistic about the next couple of years and one can only hope that SARU will put the right man in charge of Springbok rugby to get our game back to the top where it supposed to be.
One thing we can all be sure of is that Ruggaworld will be there to create the platform as it has done since 2005 to discuss, agree and disagree about the aspects that makes this the beautiful game it is…..
Share with us your highs and lows of 2015 on