My five rugby wishes for 2020
Not only were South Africa crowned World Cup and Rugby Championship winners, but the Springboks also took their brooms to Japan as they swept the floor clean at the World Rugby awards evening.
It’s going to be hard to beat the year that was 2019, but it’s worth a shot. So, here are five things I’d like to see on the rugby front in 2020
1 The Blitzboks winning Olympic gold
This is the closest South African rugby will come to emulating the success the Springboks achieved in Japan.
During the 2018/19 World Sevens Series, the competition, and the determination, to finish in the top four spots on the standings at the conclusion of the Series was real, as these teams are guaranteed automatic entry to the Games.
South Africa finished in fourth position, and at the start of the 2019/20 season, they got their build-up off to a top start by winning the opening leg in Dubai.
They made it into the finals of the Cape Town event as well (and also made it into the ultimate fixture unbeaten, just like they had in Dubai a week earlier), so you can’t fault their start to the all-important season. That’s two finals in as many tournaments, one of which they won.
Coach Neil Powell has said that from here on, player management and keeping the guys injury free are going to be important.
One of the toughest parts of a season on the circuit is the beginning, but the Blitzboks have passed nonetheless. And if they can continue on this path, they can fancy their chances of posing with gold on the podium come the Olympics.
2 SA teams not just making up the Super Rugby numbers
Watching Scott Robertson’s post-final celebratory breakdance isn’t fun anymore. Continuously hoping on one SA team, the Lions, to spoil the Kiwis’ never-ending Super Rugby party isn’t lekker. Having to wear out your brain with calculations that could rival PhD-level algebra just to work out if any of the other SA teams still have a mathematical chance of making the play-offs is tiring. Yet we have to do it year in, year out.
But the Stormers, a team unmatched by talent in South Africa, should have every bit of motivation to go the distance next year.
Not only do they have a new head coach in John Dobson, but it will also be their last year playing at Newlands - something that should have a galvanising effect.
Also, it’s about time that they win Super Rugby or even just make an appearance in the final.
They have the core of the World Cup-winning team in their group, so hopefully some of that filters into their Super Rugby campaign.
If any team should be on a mission to make sure the Lions don’t head into the jungle that is the Super Rugby knock-outs as the only SA team, it’s the Stormers.
3 Springboks starting their build-up to the Lions spectacle with a successful Incoming Tourand by that I don’t just mean results
The British & Irish Lions tour in 2021 is going to be next level, but before we can get excited about that, there’s a full season to get through first.
The Springboks will play Scotland and Georgia in home Tests in July next year, with the schedule including two Tests against the Scots and one against Georgia.
Now, these teams are by no means going to see their matches against the Boks tagged as ‘blockbusters’, but you can bet January’s rent that the Springboks will still want to deliver in those games, especially as a new coaching era is set to begin.
Building on their World Cup success and towards their Lions challenge is going to make these Tests, even if it’s against the ninth and 14th placed teams in the world, important (not like there’s really such a thing as an unimportant Test). Doing so under a new coach, although Rassie Erasmus will still be involved, even more so.
These games might not come with the pure presence and magnetism of a Springbok-New Zealand showdown, but in the bigger scheme of things, it is, well, big.
4 Getting to see more women’s action
This season, the Springbok Women’s team took on Scotland in a two-match series in Cape Town and also played in Port Elizabeth, while the Springbok Women’s Sevens side got to play in front of their home crowd at the Cape Town Sevens for the first time.
That might sound like something, after all, we’re used to less, but it’s far from where it should be at. Before this season, the last time the Springbok Women played an official Test at home was in 2013, when they defeated Uganda in East London to book their place in the 2014 Women’s World Cup.
The Women’s Sevens team, for one, will only improve as a unit and individually with more game time against real opposition, and I’m guessing it’s pretty tough to do that if you’re not even sure when you’ll get that chance again.
The Cape Town Sevens was important for the SA Women’s team to not only measure themselves against the best in the world, but also get a proper taste of what it’s like at the higher levels. And while their 10th place finish, as an invitational team, wasn’t bad, the weekend also served as a reality check to how far ahead many of the other teams are. We’re not going to get there without putting in the work, and by ‘work’ I’m not referring to the girls’ gym and field sessions.
The best way to grow the women’s game is through proper backing and exposure - young girls are more likely to get involved if they actually see the women play regularly. These home fixtures and, importantly, the exposure thereof, shouldn’t come along as often as a February 29 birthday party. If that remains the case, things are never going to change.
5 The spotlight being stolen by the players’ performances and not other stuff
Ah, drama. The southern hemisphere could have staged a telenovela all by themselves considering how many episodes there have been in 2019 that had little, sometimes even nothing, to do with the actual on-field performances (not like they were squeaky clean up north).
Refereeing controversies in Super Rugby were such a regular fixture this year that their blunders could be packaged and featured as a piece of action on its own every weekend.
Trying to understand certain sanctions and how those conclusions were even reached was tiresome.
The Israel Folau saga and everything that came with it was as frustrating as watching a highlights reel of Owen Farrell dishing out shoulder charges, while seeing those who gifted him the same present being red-carded with no time wasted during the World Cup. Honestly, I’d rather watch the Jaguares unlearn all the discipline they seemed to have gained prior to the 2019 season than see one more post about Izzy.
And then there were the doping issues
Point is, I hope to see less of the above and more headlines pertaining to actual performances, superb performances, performances so good that nothing can outshine it not even a Nigel Owens quip.