Sport


South African rugby in 2013

19 December 2013

The year 2013 was a good one for the Springboks. Not only did they win 10 out of their 12 tests, they did so playing an exciting brand of rugby.

There was a marked improvement in the team's performances in their second year under coach Heyneke Meyer, and while the Boks were not able to unseat New Zealand as Rugby Championship winners, as the world number two they opened up a bigger gap on the teams ranked behind them in the world standings.

Even in their two losses to New Zealand, the Springboks exhibited some exciting rugby. A very tight match in Auckland was ruined by the controversial sending off of Bismarck du Plessis, the best player on the field until that point, by referee Romaine Poite, which the International Rugby Board later admitted was an incorrect decision.

When the teams met at Ellis Park later in the competition, the Springboks needed to score a bonus point win over the All Blacks to lift the title. This led to them opening up the game more than usual, and when they did so they showed that the Kiwis' defences could be breached as they ran in four tries. Unfortunately, in an open game, the Boks' usually solid defence let them down a number of times and they went down 27-38. Still, there was a lot to enjoy in their spirited performance.

Devastating attacking display

They produced their most devastating attacking display against Argentina at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, running in nine tries to one in a Rugby Championship record setting 73-13 victory. The match saw a return to the green and gold for Japan-based scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner showed he had not lost any of his skills by putting in a telling performance as a substitute, which showed what the Boks had been missing without him.

Another big highlight was a first ever win over the Wallabies in Brisbane, and it wasn't even close. Running in four tries to nil, the Boks ran away to a 38-12 victory. With new scrum laws going some way towards taking away the advantage a team gained by making the hit first, South Africa took charge up front and Australia could not respond.

However, it was the sparkling play of the backline that caught the eye, and the ability of the Springboks to make the Australians pay for mistakes they made. At the top, taking your chances is the name of the game and the Springbok vintage of 2013 proved a lot better at that than the team of 2012.

In their return match at Newlands, the Springboks confirmed the gap they had opened up on the Wallabies when they won 28-8.

Unbeaten end of year tour

Despite another ridiculously long season, the Boks, for a second year in a row, went unbeaten on their end of year tour of the northern hemisphere, which ended on 23 November. In fact, they conceded only one try in their three victories.

Six Nations champions Wales, who had provided the majority of the British and Irish Lions team that had a won series over the Wallabies Down Under, were beaten 24-15, with the Springboks crossing for three tries to nil.

Early in the season, in South Africa, Scotland led the Boks 10-6 at half-time and extended that advantage to 17-6 before a Springbok fight back saw South Africa emerge 30-17 victors. At Murrayfield, though, it was one-way traffic as South Africa powered into a 21-0 lead after little more than half-an-hour, on their way to a 28-0 win.

France provided the opposition for South Africa's final test of the year in Paris. It was a very physical game, but the Springboks held the lead from the first minute as they recorded their first victory in the French capital since 1997 by 19 points to 10.

Try scoring milestone

Bryan Habana provided one of the biggest milestones of the season when he became the first South African to score 50 test tries in the Boks' 56-23 defeat of Samoa in the final of the Castle Incoming Series. The Department of Sports and Recreation recognised his achievement by presenting him with a trophy and R50 000, which Habana then donated to the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital.

The flying winger finished the season with 53 test tries. Only Japan's Daisuke Ohata with 69 tries, Australia's David Campese with 64, Shane Williams of Wales with 60, and Hirotoki Onozawa of Japan with 55, have scored more test tries than Habana.

Lock Eben Etzebeth, who only two years ago was playing rugby for the University of Cape Town, was nominated for the IRB Player of the Year Award. Aged only 22, Etzebeth has become one of the best number four locks in the world: solid at lineout time, strong in set scrums and an amazing worker around the field, both on attack and defence.

'Happy with the progress'

Speaking after the Springboks had finished their season with a win over France in Paris, coach Heyneke Meyer reflected on a satisfying season, saying: "We've had a good year and I'm really happy with the progress we've made as a team and in our results in 2013.

"To finish the season with three good wins in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Paris is special, but we realise we are far from where we want to be and will keep on working hard to achieve the goals we've set for ourselves," Meyer said.

"The players deserve a lot of the credit though. Not only for the way they've played this season, but also for being the most humble group of men I've worked with, who put in massive amounts of hard work on the training field and for being a team South Africa can be proud of.

"We also enjoyed tremendous backing in South Africa as well as abroad and we'd like to thank our supporters for standing behind the team. It really means a lot to all of us."

Super Rugby

In Super Rugby, the Stormers, who topped the table in 2012, and the Sharks, who upset them to reach the final, were expected to once again be the leading South African teams. That didn't happen as the Bulls finished second on the log and the Cheetahs, for the first time in their history, made the playoffs after ending in sixth place. The Stormers and Sharks followed in seventh and eighth respectively, while the newcomers, the Southern Kings, propped up the table.

The Cheetahs were the surprise of the season and their enterprising style of rugby won them many fans. In the end, though, they slipped to a narrow 15-13 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra in the playoffs.

The Brumbies, who were coached by former Springbok coach Jake White, then had to face the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld for a place in the final against the defending champion Chiefs, who edged the Crusaders 20-19 in the other semi-final. A try in the 79th minute saw the Australian team snatch victory and bring to an end South Africa's Super Rugby challenge.

Currie Cup Premier Division

Ironically, White signed with the Sharks later in the year, but he wasn't yet with the union when the Sharks captured the Absa Currie Cup for the third time in the last six years.

Western Province set the standard in the Premier Division, going unbeaten, although with two draws, during round robin play. The Sharks claimed second place, with seven wins and three losses, two of them to Province, while the Cheetahs and the Golden Lions finished in the remaining playoff positions.

In the semi-finals, the Sharks beat the Cheetahs 33-22, while Western Province outplayed the Golden Lions 33-16, to set up a repeat of the final of 2012, but not in Durban. This time it would be in Cape Town.

In 2012, the Sharks had topped the table and then beaten the Blue Bulls comfortably in the semi-finals to secure a home final. Western Province, meanwhile, had finished fourth, but they made it into the final by beating the Lions in the semis. Once there, they shocked the Sharks 25-18.

In 2013, the outcome was a reversal of the previous year. The Sharks had beaten Province twice before losing to them in the final away from home. Now Province, after two wins over the Sharks, were decisively beaten at Newlands, with the Natal team winning 33-19.

Currie Cup First Division

The Pumas won all 14 of their round robin matches in the Currie Cup Division One competition and then put 50 points past both their playoff opponents, beating the Eagles 52-33 and the Eastern Province Kings 53-30 respectively, to be crowned champions.

They later faced Griquas, the bottom club in the Premier Division, in a home and away playoff. In Kimberley, Griquas sneaked a 21-19 victory, but in Nelspruit the Pumas scored a handsome 33-15 win to earn promotion to the Premier Division by 53-36 on aggregate.

The Golden Lions claimed the Vodacom Cup for a record fifth time, with a 42-28 win over the Pumas.

A South African President's XV, made up of players from the First Division of the Currie Cup, took the honours in the IRB Tbilisi Cup in Georgia, defeating Uruguay 37- 9, Emerging Ireland 19-8, and Georgia 21-16.

Sevens World Series

South Africa, meanwhile, finished second in the HSBC Sevens World Series behind New Zealand, but won three titles - in Las Vegas, Tokyo and Edinburgh - more than any other team. They won all three titles with victories over New Zealand in the Cup finals, including a 40-21 thrashing in Las Vegas.

At the Rugby World Cup in Moscow, the Blitzbokke didn't allow any points in winning their pool, downing Russia 31-0, Japan 33-0 and Scotland 41-0. Unfortunately for the SA Sevens team, their challenge was ended by their bogey team, Fiji, who edged their quarterfinals clash 12-10.

In August, the Blitzbokke contested the World Games and lifted the gold medal with a 33-24 victory over Argentina in the final.

The Springbok Women's rugby team qualified for the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup in style, recording their biggest ever win to book a place in France next year, by 63 points to 3 over Uganda. In November, they were drawn to face Wales, France and Australia in Pool C at the World Cup.

The Springbok Experience

The Springbok Experience rugby museum opened at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town in September. It features more than 20 interactive touch screen exhibits, a total of 64 monitors and 20 projectors, an eight-minute film presentation in a mini Springbok cinema, more than 20 audio-visual exhibits and mechanical interactive exhibits for children.

"It is an unbelievable experience and tells a telling story of the impact rugby had and still has on our country. It even, as I've just learned inside, resulted in a ceasefire during war so that a rugby match could be played. It shows the power of rugby," Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said at the opening.

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