JOHANNESBURG – If Rassie Erasmus was tasked to get the Springboks back on track following the disastrous 2016 and 2017 seasons, he has succeeded ... but only just.
After his first season in charge, his success rate is only at 50%; well below what he’d expect of himself and what any Bok fan should be satisfied with.
It’s been a season of ups and downs, highs and lows, but the good news is a year out from the World Cup, things could also be a lot worse.
Seven wins and seven losses should never be acceptable, but with four Tests to go in 2019, before the World Cup gets under way in Japan, the Boks have as good a chance as any one of the top eight teams to win the tournament.
Erasmus’ Boks have shown in the last year – over 14 Tests – that they can match and beat the best, and that if things fall into place and they click into gear for a few weeks in the latter stages of next year, they can go all the way at the World Cup.
Things are certainly more encouraging than they were a year ago, when Allister Coetzee returned home from Europe.
So, what was good, and what was not, in 2018?
The major positive is that Erasmus has a core group of men who he backs and believes in.
He’ll also have a fair idea of what his best and strongest team is going forward, and that will solve a lot of problems – and end many potential sleepless nights.
Erasmus cast his net wide this year and looked at several players based in Europe, and many of his questions going into the season would have been answered.
He’s also built depth in all the positions, and can confidently pick certain players to step in should they be called upon in case of injuries to the first-choice men.
Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux are the two overseas-based men who have become number ones in their positions, Francois Louw has shown he isn’t a spent force just yet, while Cheslin Kolbe and Vincent Koch are ready to step up if called upon.
Duane Vermeulen is returning to play Super Rugby in the New Year, which is positive news, while Tendai Mtawarira will be fit again next year, as will Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am.
Jan Serfontein has indicated he will continue to fight for a World Cup spot; the midfield being the only area that may still be giving Erasmus some headaches.
The emergence of Embrose Papier has been a highlight, the performance on attack of the wings Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi and Mapimpi have been a highlight, while Siya Kolisi’s captaincy and performances at No 6 have ensured the Boks are well led and backed by the fans.
Mr Alexander also congratulated Rassie Erasmus and the Springboks on their nominations (Coach and Team of the Year): “We are happy with the resurgence of the Boks under Rassie Erasmus and we believe we are heading in the right direction, as is evident by these nominations." pic.twitter.com/pO79sCUFCz— South African Rugby (@Springboks) November 26, 2018
The series win against England in June – when the Boks had to come back from being well behind in the first two Tests to win them – showed desire to restore Bok pride, while their victory against the All Blacks in Wellington will have given the players and coaching team belief they are on the right track.
Disappointingly though, the Boks too often also dropped their guard and were found wanting.
They were poor in the third Test against England in June, they were horrible in losing to Argentina and Australia away from home, and they should never have given up a 30-13 lead against the All Blacks at Loftus to lose.
They also let themselves down in the defeats by England and Wales this month.
SA Rugby President, Mr Mark Alexander, praised Springbok winger Aphiwe Dyantyi for scooping the @WorldRugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Award in association with Tudor at a glittering function in Monaco on Sunday evening. #LoveRugby #BoksonTour pic.twitter.com/JOHPGehn2r— South African Rugby (@Springboks) November 26, 2018
Soft moments cost Erasmus and his team on several occasions – which they can’t afford in 2019.
The Boks were never blown away this season – only twice losing by more than 10 points – and that is encouraging.
Erasmus has built a core and a foundation this year, and in so doing, given his team a fighting chance going into a World Cup year.
And that’s something the Boks didn’t have not too long ago.
2018 Springbok Results
Wales (away) lose 11-20
Scotland (away) win 26-20
France (away) win 29-26
England (away) lose 11-12
New Zealand (home) lose 30-32
Australia (home) win 23-12
New Zealand (away) win 36-34
Australia (away) lose 18-23
Argentina (away) lose 19-32
Argentina (home) win 34-21
England (home) lose 10-25
England (home) win 23-12
England (home) win 42-39
Wales (away) lose 20-22