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Two years on, Springbok’s feats just as praiseworthy as 2019 triumph

FILE - Springbok captain Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis Cup after the Springboks beat England in the 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama. Photo: AFP

FILE - Springbok captain Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis Cup after the Springboks beat England in the 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama. Photo: AFP

Published Nov 3, 2021


Cape Town - It has been two years since the Springboks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan, and while that feat was as remarkable as they come, what the South Africans have achieved since then has been no less laudable.

Back in 2019, Rassie Erasmus’ Boks made history as they won their third World Cup. But it was the road to that victorious moment that made their top podium finish in Yokohama so remarkable.

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When Erasmus was confirmed as Springbok coach in March 2018, the Boks were in dire straits after a tumultuous two seasons.

Under previous coach Allister Coetzee, the team had won only 11 of 25 Tests in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. For obvious reasons, the Boks weren’t given much of a shot at a respectable finish on rugby’s biggest stage – not by the international public nor their own countrymen.

But then, with the 2019 Rugby World Cup only a year-and-a-half away, Erasmus took over and the transformation began.

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On the road to Japan, the Boks lost just once in 11 Tests in 2019. Their 180 degree turn included claiming the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009, while they also cracked into the top two of the World Rugby rankings for the first time since 2015.

In Japan, South Africa matched New Zealand’s three World Cup wins, but they did it in better style as they broke records and milestones that not even the Kiwis have managed to achieve.

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Erasmus’ charges’ 32-12 thumping of England in the final maintained South Africa’s perfect record in finals, making SA the only country to remain undefeated in World Cup finals.

Before that, the Boks made World Cup history as they became the first team to win the World Cup after losing a game – their 23-13 opening defeat to the All Blacks.

They are yet to concede a try in the three World Cup finals they have starred in, and remain the only team who can claim those bragging rights.

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They also scored their first tries in a final when Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe crushed any last bit of hope England may have had, and the triumph saw them return to the top of the rankings for the first time since 2009.

And then, of course, there was the double they pulled off preceding their World Cup fairytale.

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The Boks became the first team to win the Rugby Championship (previously Tri Nations until Argentina joined) and the World Cup in the same year.

That recount should be more than enough to highlight the glorious times the Boks have enjoyed in the Test arena building up to and including the World Cup.

But what they achieved since 2019 is just as praiseworthy ... perhaps even more, given the circumstances.

After having played no rugby in 20 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Boks’ first taste of international action came in early July against Georgia.

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While they were scheduled to face Georgia in two encounters as a precursor to the British & Irish Lions series, only one Test went ahead.

Then, with only that single run-out against international opposition and a SA A game against the British & Irish Lions and Bulls, the Boks soldiered into the Lions series.

Despite all the Covid-related disruptions, injuries and other issues, the Boks still produced results that would have been acceptable even for a team that had not endured so much.

Despite all the talk of them being undercooked – while their European counterparts had no shortage of Test minutes racked up since the World Cup – the Boks triumphed. And they did it in emphatic style.

Having lost the series opener, the Boks clawed their way back at Cape Town Stadium, having lost the first Test 22-17 before producing a stunning second-half performance that floored Warren Gatland’s tourists to secure a 27-9 win to level the series.

And how about that decisive Test? Leading up to the third encounter, captain Soya Kolisi had said that it was similar to playing in a World Cup final.

“It is definitely similar,” Kolisi said. “But, it is also different because this opportunity for a whole lot of us will not come again.

“That’s the mentality, and that’s been the message throughout this week. We’re in a unique position, and we’re very excited. It’s definitely a final for us.”

And how remarkable were they in that ‘final’?

The Boks then followed up their Lions series victory with two Rugby Championship wins against Argentina at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium before playing the remaining matches in Australia.

And while they ended third on the standings and lost to the Wallabies twice, the quality of their games against the All Blacks should outweigh the points table.

They could have won their 100th Test against their arch rivals, and they were absolutely superb as the came back in the 101st Test to outplay the Kiwis and truly end their Rugby Championship campaign on a high.

Now, as they get ready for the first Test of their end-of-year tour against Wales on Saturday, the Boks can continue to build on what has been a remarkable season, all things considered.

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