JOHANNESBURG – The political events of the last week have led to a new optimism about the future of South Africa and so should the first weekend of Super Rugby give fans hope that a brighter tomorrow is in store.
Sure, we saw only two games at the weekend - both played in South Africa - but the performances first-up of the Stormers (against the Jaguares) and the Lions and Sharks, who faced off in Johannesburg, showed there is reason to be hopeful of a better showing - much better in fact - of the Springboks this season.
Yes, it is early days and we’ve yet to see any New Zealand team in action and we’ve yet to measure ourselves against their best teams, on their grounds, and the Bulls haven’t even played a match, but why not be optimistic and positive while we still can?
There’s not only a new slate to work with at political level, but at national rugby level too, with a new coach set to take over - Rassie Erasmus - and a new-look management team overall.
They’ll bring a new energy and a new and different dynamic to the Bok set-up this season and, most crucially, they’ll be able to pick a new, and hopefully, on-form squad for the June series against England.
Already we have seen in some performances (at the weekend) that the change at coaching level has given the Super Rugby players new hope of turning out for South Africa. And that’s all they want - a chance.
And from the off, several players showed they mean business this season - and they’ll know Erasmus & Co will be watching their every performance.
As much as the players want to represent their country and play Test rugby, Erasmus & Co want to turn the team’s fortunes around and get back the respect for the Boks.
Their reputations are, after all, very much on the line in the year ahead; more so than for the players.
But there is every reason to be upbeat - and if Erasmus and his team pick correctly the Boks should be a very formidable side come the June series, and then build that squad for a serious challenge at the World Cup next year.
Some of South Africa’s best players might be earning their living abroad and some of those men may in fact be able to contribute to the Bok cause in the coming months, but there is more than enough talent here for Erasmus to be excited.
Let’s for a moment consider the outside backs; Dillyn Leyds, Warrick Gelant, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, the injured Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan, Jamba Ulengo, incumbent fullback Andries Coetzee, the speedy Seabelo Senatla... if the national coach can’t put together a lethal, dynamic and strong back three out of these men, then he shouldn’t be in the job.
There are more than enough high quality centres; think of the four first-choice Super Rugby No 10s, Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Robert du Preez and Damian Willemse; all good enough to lead a Bok backline for years.
Up front there are loose forwards aplenty who are as good as any of those so-called “out-of-this-world” players South Africans love to rave about in New Zealand rugby, and there are locks, props and hookers who need not stand back to anyone.
The only XV-man highlight of the last two years has been the Lions, but perhaps things will change in 2018 - from a Super Rugby perspective to the Boks.
If it doesn’t, it won’t be because of a lack of player talent because there is more than enough quality going around in South African rugby for the Boks to be a world force again.