South Africa ended their season with 10 wins from 12 matches, only failing on two occasions, both times playing second fiddle to the All Blacks. The Springboks have shown great improvement under the tutelage of Heyneke Meyer with 2013 being their third best season since readmission, only bettered in 1998 when they won the Tri-Nations and 1995 when they became World Champions.
If I think back over the past season, it’s really difficult to single out their single biggest success. One of the things that has impressed me most is the growth Jean de Villiers has shown as Springbok Captain. In a Ma’a Nonu like way, he simply transforms into an exceptional player when he dons his nation’s colours. De Villiers led by example and kept the boys together when things got tough.
The Boks scored 47 tries at an average of just under 4 tries per match and conceded only 19, nine of those to New Zealand, which means that their defence got broken only 10 times during the other 10 matches and they managed to keep Australia, Wales and Scotland try-less on their own turf. The Rugby Championship opener against Argentina is at the forefront of my mind when thinking of great achievements this year. They also got two very old monkeys off their backs by beating Australia in Brisbane and getting one over the French in Paris.
On the whole it has been a good year, but I was disappointed with the management of the year end tour. Instead of blooding the youngsters against a team like Scotland – a team we shouldn’t even consider losing to with our B side – we stacked the deck with experience as if we were afraid of them. Guys like Gio Aplon, Johan Goosen, Jan Serfontein and Scarra Ntubeni didn’t get any game time, but the need was felt to bring back Bakkies Botha instead of giving the responsibility to Pieter-Steph du Toit who will be the guy going to the World Cup with Eben Etzebeth.
THe biggest disappointment, however, was the fact that on too many occasions the players seemed to take their foot off the pedal when they should have gone in for the kill. I believe that happened because we’re not fit enough and therefore our tight five were not always doing their jobs at the rucks. Too often did teams hitting the rucks hard rob us of possession when a tackle was made – Samoa, Scotland & New Zealand had the upper hand on the ground because their forwards weren’t hanging out in the back line before the basics were completed.
Player of the Year
It is no easy feat to nominate only one player as the stand out of the season. Our courageous captain did a stellar job, Duane Vermeulen made his presence felt in every game and Eben Etzebeth was a tower of strength, albeit in a much quieter way than last year. However, Bismarck du Plessis’ characteristically in-your-face dominance played the largest part in our success this season, and therefore he is in my opinion the cream of the 2013 crop.
Emerging Player of the Year
This one isn’t too tough with the Boks sticking to a fairly tried and tested formula this year, and so, as the only player to really break through as a regular, it goes to Willie le Roux who has injected the Springbok attack with a good dose of excitement. His unpredictability combined with remarkable vision got the adrenalin surging through everyone’s veins any time he touched the ball.
What to expect in 2014
Nothing has brought a bigger smile to my face than Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. Not for his team selection or triumphs, but for the absolute pleasure he shows every time the Boks score a try. We saw a lot of shouting over the walky-talky last year, but this year his immense love for the game was simply overwhelming and stole the heart of many that doubted him.
Looking ahead to next season, I would like to see all the Springboks improve their fitness and miss fewer tackles, the forwards show more commitment at the rucks, the coaches to have more faith in the youngsters and if it’s not too much to ask, a win or two over the All Blacks!
By Jackie Smit
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images