Rugby

Review: South Africa's 2016 rugby year

2016-12-20 08:30
Allister Coetzee (Getty Images)

Cape Town - If we're talking Springboks, then there is no doubt: 2016 was a disaster. 

Under the guidance of new coach Allister Coetzee, the Springboks limped to just four wins from 12 Test matches. Those losses included a 57-15 hammering at home against the All Blacks, defeat to Ireland on home soil for the first time ever and that woeful display in Florence against the Italians. 

Fortunately, rugby is about more than the national team and there was at least something to be positive about when the Lions blitzed their way through to the Super Rugby final. 

That said, the other five South African franchises looked well off the pace in the competition and they will be watched closely in 2017 as South African rugby looks to get back on its feet. 

Here, we take a look back at some of the high and low points that South African rugby lovers have witnessed this year. 

'Tis the season, but hopefully next year there will be a little more to be jolly about. 

Springboks 

Played 12, won 4, lost 8. That, in a nutshell, sums up the current state of Springbok rugby. It was a year to forget; perhaps the worst ever. 

Coetzee's future remains uncertain, but the concerns over the performance of the national team have reached new heights. 

The best moment of the year, and there weren't many contenders, was surely the comeback at Ellis Park where a late Damian de Allende try secured a win against Ireland that leveled the series. 

The Boks would go on to win the series decider in Port Elizabeth, and at that stage there was still an aura of optimism accompanying a new-look side that was looking to run the ball. 

But it all began to fall apart during the Rugby Championship. 

The Boks squeezed past Argentina at home and then lost to the same opposition away for the first time ever. 

They lost in Australia, were pummeled in New Zealand and then relied on the boot of Morne Steyn to secure a much-needed win against the Aussies at Loftus in uninspiring fashion.

There was a glimmer of hope following that result, but the 57-15 thrashing they received from the All Blacks in Durban a week later sent alarm bells ringing once more.

The northern hemisphere tour then represented an opportunity for Coetzee to show that the Boks were still on the right track.

But what followed did anything but.

The Boks were beaten comprehensively by England (37-21) before they came unstuck against Italy (20-18) on what was one of the darkest days in South African rugby history. In their final game, the Boks offered little on attack as they lost 27-13.

The future is looking bleak right now, but the shining light is that it can't get much worse in 2017 ... can it?   

Super Rugby

Thank heavens for the Lions. Under the guidance of Johann Ackermann, the boys from Johannesburg marched all the way to the Super Rugby final.

They may have even gone one step further were it not for a controversial decision to rest their first-choice players for their final group game - a trip to the Jaguares. 

They lost that match, where a win would have ensured top place on the overall log and home ground advantage for the rest of the campaign. 

It was not to be, and the Lions had to travel to Wellington for a final against the Hurricanes, which was always going to be a tough ask. 

Despite all of that, the Lions at least showed that all is not lost in South African rugby. 

They were exciting, enterprising and they went toe-to-toe with the Kiwi sides throughout the competition. 

The backline, in particular, was impressive as the likes of Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lionel Mapoe ripped through opposition defences. 

It wasn't good news everywhere, though. 

The Kings, backs against the wall financially, struggled throughout the campaign while the Cheetahs were again disappointing. 

The Sharks and Stormers did progress to the play-offs, but it was clear that the New Zealand sides - and the Lions - were a class above. 

A new-look Bulls side showed promising signs for the future, but 2016 was not their year either. 

Currie Cup

A new-look format did not go down well in all circles, but the Free State Cheetahs were not complaining. 

Under Franco Smith, the Cheetahs went undefeated throughout the competition, winning all 8 of their group matches before beating the Golden Lions and Blue Bulls in the semi-final and final, respectively. 

The tournament went by largely under the radar with the Springboks stealing headlines, but the quality of rugby on offer in the Currie Cup was actually pretty good. 

There will be concerns down in Durban, where the Sharks missed the playoffs once again. 

SA Rugby is still set to make an announcement regarding the format of next year's competition and there could be just seven teams playing in the Premier Division. 

In the professional age it may be difficult to generate interest in the Currie Cup, but Cup final day remains one that every South African player wants to be a part of. 

Hopefully that will not change. 

Financial woes

The EP Kings have been followed by Border and, more recently, Western Province as unions in serious financial trouble.  

It is a tough time for everyone, economically, and it is no different in rugby. 

SA Rugby have recently amended their constitution, which now allows private entities to own up to 74% of a union as opposed to the previous limit of 49.9%. 

This, hopefully, will pump more money into the game at union level.  

SA Rugby

This year saw the 10-year Oregan Hoskins era come to an end at SA Rugby, while Johan Roux remains. 

Hoskins was replaced as president by Mark Alexander, who has entered at the toughest of times. 

After the Springbok year, something drastic needed to be done and it seems that SA Rugby and Alexander have taken on that mantle. 

The constitutional amendments announced last week have, effectively, taken major rugby decisions away from the General Council (unions) and given the power to the Executive Council. 

It is a move that will hopefully see decisions taken that will benefit professional rugby in South Africa first.

The big challenges for SA Rugby moving forward will be to keep players in South Africa, enhance a South African blueprint and ensure that game is commercially viable.

Transformation

SA Rugby were told early in the year, by the Department of Sport and Recreation, that they were failing in their transformation endeavors. 

At the time, it looked to have cost them their right to bid for the hosting of the 2023 World Cup. 

A compromise seems to have been reached in that regard, and it appears as though South Africa will bid, but government will not rest until the Boks and the sport in general are transformed. 

By 2019, half of the Springboks squad needs to be made up of players of colour. That is a mandate of whoever the national coach is. 

At the moment, Coetzee is nowhere near reaching those numbers.

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