RWC Team Preview: South Africa

Rugby World Cup Pedigree:

The current World Champions come into this year’s tournament after a turbulent few years since their success in Paris in 2007. The appointment of controversial coach Peter de Villiers has seen a side full of players who played their part in 2007 gradually decline in form, apart from in 2009 when the Springboks had a stellar year winning both the Tri-Nations and the Test series against the British & Irish Lions. No side is perhaps as closely associated to the Rugby World Cup than South Africa, given that the 1995 success was transferred to the big screen with the release of Invictus in 2009.

Track Record:

Two finals and two trophies means that the Springboks have an 100% record in Rugby World Cup finals. Given that they were not allowed to take part in the 1987 and 1991 tournaments due to the Apartheid regime, two finals in four tournaments also makes for very impressive reading. Winning in 1995 was as much about politics as it was the Springboks determination to keep going in extra-time against New Zealand, while in 2007 they were heavy favourites to defeat England in the final and did so comfortably. The disaster of 2003 however, from Kamp Staaldraad to the humiliating loss to England in the quarter-final, still lingers in the mind of the proudest Springbok supporter.

Best Rugby World Cup moment:

Joel Stransky’s drop goal in 1995 to win the World Cup final is the outright winner. Way into extra time, Stransky’s swing of the boot was enough to edge the Springboks ahead by 15 points to 12, with South Africa holding till the final whistle. The scenes of jubilation afterwards have been replayed over and over ever since.

Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 72-6 v Uruguay (October 11, 2003)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 9-29 v New Zealand (November 8, 2003)

Key player:

Throughout the highs and lows of the last four years, Victor Matfield has remained in the second row for South Africa steering the ship. Officially South Africa’s “vice-captain”, Matfield’s leadership qualities are as impressive as his ability in the lineout, giving opposition hookers nightmares with his persistent stealing of opposition ball. A change in South Africa’s selection policy at hooker, bringing in Bismarck du Plessis instead of current hooker John Smit would leave the Matfield with the armband, and the Springboks in safe hands.

One to watch:

In 2007, all of the buzz around the Springbok camp was centred on a young playmaker from the Sharks who had an excellent set of skills and was seen as a precocious talent. That was Frans Steyn, and this time round in a similar mould there is Patrick Lambie. With his first full season of Super Rugby under his belt, as well as some exposure in the Currie Cup, Lambie is one of the stars of the future, a fly-half with wonderful hands and a pinpoint boot. 2011 could be the time where he bursts onto the world scene, much like Steyn four years ago.

Rugby World Cup Fixtures:

v Wales (September 11, 09:30)

v Fiji (September 17, 07:00)

v Namibia (September 22, 09:00)

v Samoa (September 30, 08:30)

Key Clash:

The first match against Wales will be the big one for South Africa. The Springboks will be favourites, but Wales have been performing well in their warm-up matches, and will be out to shock South Africa in the first match, especially given the Springboks poor Tri-Nations campaign.

Odds: Third favourites at 15/2.

South Africa coach Peter de Villiers says:
“The squad has a backbone of proven title-winning ability and experience as well as a strong component of new stars. Injury has denied us one or two players who could have been very important to us but I am very happy with the squad we have picked. We have good coverage for every position and front-line players who have shown over the past half-dozen seasons that they know how to win big games.”

South Africa captain John Smit says:
“We mustn’t just talk about experience too much, it’s up to us to go out and ensure we show it and produce it when it counts. I’m sure there are comparisons to 2007, particularly in terms of the run-up and the last couple of seasons we’ve had, but if we look for them too much we’ll head down the wrong track. We need to move our thinking away from similarities and on to what will win it this time.”


Their farcical build-up to the World Cup aside, South Africa can’t be written off in this competition. If things go to plan and they reach the semi-finals against New Zealand, they will do everything to bully and drain the hosts into submission. It wouldn’t be the greatest of shocks if they made the final, but their form is completely off the boil. A tough one to predict.

Position: Anything less than the semi-finals will cause outrage back home.

by Ben Coles