COMMENT: Why the Springboks are NOT the luckiest Rugby World Cup champions ever

South Africa Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus during the Rugby World Cup.South Africa Media Briefing

It was more than just luck that the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup, and Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus had plenty to do with that. Picture: Steve Haag Sports

Published Nov 3, 2023


An acquaintance of mine studies numerology as a hobby, and to say she was in raptures when the numbers lined up at the Stade de France is an understatement.

I have always scoffed at suggestions that anything other than hard work, with a dash of luck, determines success in sport (and life, to a degree).

But a look at the coincidences in how the Springboks scored their points in France at the Rugby World Cup had me scratching my head.

Consider the following ... SA beat France by one; SA beat England by one; SA beat New Zealand by one. That is 111, the famous jinxed number known as ‘Nelson’ (in cricketing parlance) – and get this: the scores of 29-28, 16-15 and 12-11 add up to 111.

A fluke?

That is uncanny. But even if pragmatists such as myself point to this being a fluke, there remains the fact that the Boks scored a hat-trick of one-point victories in their three play-off matches.

Of course, this can be a coincidence, and the Boks’ detractors – read the entire rugby world north, east and west of the equator – are saying the Boks are the luckiest world champions in the tournament’s history.

But was it really luck?

I don’t think there was any coincidence at all in the fact that the Boks fought their way to narrow victories in play-off matches that were always going to be desperately close.

Fittingly, it was a famous South African sportsman, Gary Player, who said that “the harder I practice, the luckier I get” after golf critics suggested he had Lady Luck on his side as he won tournament after tournament.

And I think this gets to the crux of why the Boks are back-to-back World Cup holders – they train like madmen. Many a player has said the Bok training sessions are as tough, if not tougher, than matches.

Eben Etzebeth once said – with his tongue only half in his cheek – that if a few drops of blood had not been shed at training, they had not worked hard enough.

The training sessions are also incredibly well-planned. Every scenario is practised on the training field. Often in a media conference, when coach Jacques Nienaber was trying to explain why he was cool with, say, Deon Fourie and Marco van Staden covering hooker, or Faf de Klerk covering flyhalf, it is because they had done the job a 100 times in training sessions.

Meticulous preparation

And remember, these are training sessions where match conditions are replicated – certainly in terms of the other squad members ferociously mimicking the opposition.

Going back to forces of nature that mortals don’t understand – unless you are a numerologist or astrologist – one thing I am convinced is real, is karma.

I recall the day in 2017 when the head of the French delegation to the World Rugby hosting conference, Bernard Laporte, punched the air with glee when France burgled the hosting rights from South Africa.

I was watching him on television and cursed him in my best French. South Africa had won round one with ease, but a day later – and much horse trading later – France entered the ruck from the side and stole the ball, with the referee apparently unsighted.

The ‘referee’ was Bill Beaumont, the out-of-touch 71-year-old president of World Rugby.

How funny that the (William) Webb Ellis Cup is nicknamed Bill. The countries that have previously won the World Cup often call their campaigns ‘Bring Back Bill’.

I wonder if Bill was squirming in his seat as karma bit him in the derriere at the final whistle of the final, and how Laporte – he was convicted of bribery and corruption last year – must have wept as Bill boarded a plane out of Paris for Johannesburg for four long years.

* Mike Greenaway, Independent Media Senior Rugby Writer, is the author of The Fireside Springbok: Untold Stories That Make The Boks Great

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