The 1995 champions gave the All Blacks a run for their money in the Tri-Nations, and here Marcus Leach assesses their chances at this year’s World Cup.
However their lack of a world-class fly-half could be a problem for them. It is an area that the national team and the provinces have struggled in of late, and need to fix quickly, but big Butch James does not seem to be the answer. The problem, of course, leads to no creativity in their backline that leaves them annoyingly predictable for their die-hard fans. Unless an intercept try gets handed to the likes of Jean de Villiers, expect the Boks to use their forwards to do all the dirty work.
When you have a side with the forward resources to get through tough games, you need a back line to boot. If the Boks really are to challenge then the backs will need to shine. The young backs will be looking at veteran full-back Percy Montgomery’s wealth of experience to guide them along – the highest point-scorer in South African rugby will need to be on top of his kicking game with that golden left boot.
Monty will be ably supported in his efforts to influence the team by captain John Smit, who has proven to be the heartbeat of the Springbok side. And just like in the human body, if the heart stops beating – the team falls apart. Smit is a natural born leader and balances his play and captaincy role tremendously well. The 29-year-old Smit has a record 65 Test caps as hooker and a record 42 as Bok captain.
No team would be complete without their young stars, and the Boks have their fair share. Though a bit too erratic for his own good, the rising star is without doubt Francois Steyn. Steyn has already played at fly-half, full-back and wing for South Africa and has made an impact at every position he has played – scoring a try on debut. His enormous boot has seen him kick drop-goals from 50 meters out against England and win a match against Australia thanks to another piece of magic from the touchline. And he’s only 20-years old! See that dropped goal against Australia below.
And so to the man who brings it all together, Jake White. A former high school teacher, White has been in charge of the Bok set-up since 2003 and has taken the side from zero to hero since then. He was named the IRB Coach of the Year in 2004 for his efforts in taking South Africa to Tri-Nations glory in the same year. There is no doubt he has the technical and tactical know-how to guide his side to glory, and with Eddie Jones on board as a technical advisor expect a dangerous coaching partnership.
South Africa have proved they are capable of beating the All Blacks, which if you want to win the World Cup is an essential, but do they have what it takes to get as far as a clash with New Zealand? On paper the answer is yes, providing they do not suffer any injuries. However in reality it seems as if the Boks are not quite there yet, especially if they lose key players. Expect them to make the semi-finals but falter when it really matters.