Rise of young stars the highlight of 2012 rugby season
THE South African rugby season was highlighted by the rise of young stars, with up-and-coming talents making their presence felt at all levels.
The national side underwent some significant changes in the post-World Cup year with the winds of change sweeping through the sport.
The Springboks started a new era with the appointment of Heyneke Meyer as national mentor and centre Jean de Villiers named as skipper.
Meyer said from the start that his first year in charge would be challenging, with a crop of stalwarts hanging up their boots and some experienced campaigners being struck down by injury.
"It was a tough year for us. We lost around 10 players after the World Cup last year and another 10 through injury," Meyer said after his first season in charge.
In the majority of their Test matches, the Springboks scraped through by the skin of their teeth, making a habit out of "winning ugly".
Winning in any style, however, is preferred to "losing pretty" and Meyer’s record in his first season reflected that the Boks had lost only three of their 12 games.
Meyer got his tenure off to a promising start with a series victory over England in June, after a 14-14 draw in the third and final Test — the only blemish in their campaign. But the Boks struggled to hit their straps after they triumphed over Argentina in the first match of the newly expanded Rugby Championship competition in Cape Town.
They hit some turbulent waters on their tours of Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, starting with a 16-16 draw against the Pumas in South America.
South Africa lost 26-19 to Australia in their next match in Perth, and despite going down 21-11 to the All Blacks, they finally showed some promise. The match in Dunedin could have gone either way but debutant prop Dean Greyling’s half-witted attack on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw earned him a two-week suspension and the ire of the rugby fraternity.
Meyer demonstrated his no-nonsense approach to discipline by publicly castigating his player after the match.
On their return to South Africa, the Boks dished up an impressive performance as they dismantled the Wallabies 31-8 in Pretoria.
However, they could not repeat the performance against a rampant New Zealand side, handing the All Blacks their 16th consecutive victory in the process.
While the Boks’ performances on the year-end tour were anything but convincing, they nevertheless won all three matches against Ireland, Scotland and England.
Meanwhile, three South African franchises finished in the top six on the Super Rugby log, although none of them managed to claim silverware. The Stormers once again showed promise as they topped the standings at the end of the league phase.
For the second consecutive year, though, they failed to advance past the semifinals when they lost 26-19 to the Sharks despite having home-ground advantage. The extensive travelling ultimately took its toll on the Sharks as they were unceremoniously dumped by the Chiefs in Hamilton, going down 37-6.
It was announced in August that the Lions, who finished bottom of the table, would make way for the Southern Kings in next season’s southern hemisphere provincial championship.
In local competition, the Capetonians soon had their revenge on the Durbanites when Western Province beat the Sharks 25-18 in an enthralling final to end their 11-year Currie Cup drought.
Province’s dogged determination finally paid off as they caused a major upset by uprooting the heavily favoured Sharks.
The South Africa under-20 team proved a beacon of hope for the country’s rugby future following their 22-16 triumph over the Baby Blacks to claim the 2012 IRB World Junior Championship on home soil.
The Junior Springboks ended the domination of New Zealand, who had won the first four editions of the championship introduced in 2008.
South Africa’s Sevens rugby team struggled to find their groove in the 2011-12 IRB Sevens World Series, finishing fifth overall, 42 points adrift of champions New Zealand.
The Blitzboks made a promising start in the opening round of the 2012-13 World Series when they finished third at the Gold Coast Sevens.
However, the wheels came off in Dubai where they were beaten by Argentina in the Bowl final, losing three of their six matches in the tournament.
They saved some face on home soil, taking the bronze medal at the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens tournament in Port Elizabeth this month. The Blitzboks finished the year in fourth place in the standings, 19 points behind log leaders New Zealand.
Playing their first matches on South African soil in almost four years, the Springbok women’s team completed a 2-0 series win over the international Nomads.
The result was a marked improvement from the 2008 series when the Nomads — consisting of players from New Zealand, Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland and Sweden — won both matches.