THE 2012 rugby season may not have been one of the most eventful, but it certainly was a year to remember for South African rugby fans.
Aside from the appointment of South Africa’s first Super Rugby-winning coach, Heyneke Meyer, as the new Springbok coach, the decision by the South African Rugby Union’s general council to grant the Southern Kings entry into Super Rugby and Western Province breaking their hoodoo in the Currie Cup were memorable moments.
One also cannot ignore the fact that South Africa had three teams in the six-team Super Rugby playoffs — which is a huge achievement.
The Kings decision, in particular, was a landmark ruling in rugby as the initial decision to include the southern and eastern Cape region in the series dated back to the 2005 season, but it did not materialise until now.
Unfortunately this resulted in the Lions dropping out of Super Rugby next year, but thanks to the Johannesburg-based union’s innovative bosses, they managed to line up a series of fixtures next season to substitute Super Rugby.
While there will be few expectations of the Kings in their first season, especially given the limited time they have had to prepare their team for the series and recruit top-class players, one has to hope that they live up to their promise of boosting transformation in rugby.
The buzzword among the Kings management since the idea had arisen of Border, Eastern Province and South Western Districts merging to form a Super Rugby franchise, has been transformation, and regardless of their results, the public will hold them to their transformation promise.
Failure to do so will result in intense criticism of the union’s bosses and could lead to even more people turning against the franchise.
The appointment of Meyer as the national coach, meanwhile, was a breath of fresh air in rugby despite the heavy criticism of the team’s one-dimensional style of rugby under him.
He may be a stress machine in the coach’s box, but his calm approach at media conferences — despite having to endure a few unpleasant grillings by a handful of scribes — has been admirable.
I am willing to bet that most media members miss the weird and whacky comments by former coach Peter de Villiers, but there is no doubt Meyer is the right man to lead the Springboks.
Hopefully, though, he will guide the Boks to a more exciting brand of rugby next year, rather than sticking to the dull tactical kicking game that has annoyed a large chunk of South Africa’s rugby faithful this season.
Meyer will also be aware the expectations of him will be higher next season, particularly during the Rugby Championship, as he would have had sufficient time by then to work with the current crop of players.
With regards to Western Province, 2012 will go down in history as their most memorable year this past decade following their 11-year trophy drought. That they were able to achieve this with a very young team due to the spate of injuries in the camp, made the victory even sweeter.
With Stormers and Province coach Allister Coetzee having guided the team to a series of semifinals in the respective competitions in the past few years, hopefully the victory served as the breakthrough the team needed to boost their confidence in finals rugby.
Given the immense talent the team boasts, their bolstered confidence levels and their effective game plan — based on watertight defence and solid tactical kicking with a touch of flair thanks to the likes of Boks Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon — they will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in Super Rugby next season.
With 2012 now history, hopefully there will be many more magic moments in South African rugby next year.