CAPE TOWN - South Africa found an unexpected pot of gold to rekindle belief in the Rainbow Nation after a thrilling trophy success at the Rugby World Cup in Japan with a team captained by unlikely hero Siya Kolisi.
Kolisi’s rise from rags to riches is a story that has been often told, but remains one of the more unlikely triumphs of the 2019 sporting year as he led a resurgent Springbok side to the global title to go with their first Rugby Championship victory in a decade under the excellent tutelage of coach Rassie Erasmus.
The Boks beat England 32-12 in the final in Yokohama as their powerful scrum and potent forwards subdued Eddie Jones’ side to become, statistically at least, the most successful rugby nation with three World Cup wins from seven appearances.
New Zealand have the same number of victories, but have competed in two more tournaments.
The Boks returned home to a heroes’ welcome, with hundreds of thousands of fans spilling into the streets on a five-day trophy tour that included Kolisi’s former township of Zwide, bringing with it a sense of national unity last seen when the Boks won the 1995 title against the odds.
"We have so many problems in our country but a team like this, we come from different backgrounds, different races but we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it," Kolisi said.
New Zealand had to settle for the bronze medal, while Six Nations, and Grand Slam, winners Wales finished fourth.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen had already announced his departure from the his position prior to the World Cup and was been replaced by assistant Ian Foster, while Michael Cheika (Australia), Warren Gatland (Wales) and Joe Schmidt (Ireland) also left their posts.
Rugby Australia’s difficult year was compounded as they sacked one of their key players ahead of the tournament in full-back Israel Folau after a social media post that caused widespread anger.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, had his four-year contract torn up in May for posting a meme that said hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers" and other groups.
He eventually settled his unfair dismissal case with RA, which issued a statement saying: "Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused."
Folau was delighted with the settlement and added he and his wife felt vindicated and could now "move on with our lives".
Another battle away from the pitch saw English Premiership champions Saracens fined 5.36 million pounds and handed a 35-point penalty for breaches of salary cap regulations and failing to disclose payments in each of the past three seasons.
"We have made mistakes and so, with humility, we must accept these penalties. As a club, we will now pull together and meet the challenges that lie ahead," Saracens chairman Nigel Wray said.
Saracens also claimed the European Champions Cup, while New Zealand's Crusaders were Super Rugby winners.