20 May 2004
By its nature, rugby is bound to capture the imagination. It’s a game for big, powerful athletes, and its running, bruising nature makes for a superb spectacle.
South Africa’s climate, not nearly as wet as in Europe’s rugby-playing countries where rugby, makes for a faster running game – showcasing the excitement of the game at its best.
For many years, South Africa was arguably the world’s top rugby playing nation. Prior to SA’s apartheid-induced isolation, the Springboks enjoyed a winning record against every other country.
Isolation cost the Boks dearly, however, and today they have a losing record against New Zealand, although they still maintain an advantage against the rest of the world.
Despite this, SA’s remarkable success over nearly a century before isolation has left a legacy that fans expect the Springboks to live up to.
Producing the greats
The country has produced some of the greats of the game, and the Springboks are respected throughout the world (although some disgruntled fans and former players might dispute that now).
Typically, the Boks are a hard-nosed, physical team, unwilling to give an inch. But they have also produced some supremely gifted players over the years: players like Danie Craven, Frik du Preez, Naas Botha, Henry Honiball, Gary Teichmann, Hennie Muller, Errol Tobias, Morne du Plessis and Bennie Osler.
SA rugby has scored some notable triumphs since the advent of democracy in 1994. The greatest of these has been the emergence of players of colour at national level.
There have not been that many at Springbok level yet, but the change is clearly evident at national under-19 and under-21 level, where the make-up of the teams is split very evenly between black and white players.
Then, of course, there was Ellis Park 1995, when the underdog Springboks edged the All Blacks 15-12 in the World Cup final to secure the biggest title in the game in their first attempt.
The under-19 and under-21 teams have also won world titles in recent years, proof that South Africa has lost none of its talent or depth at youth levels.
Possibly the source of most despair for South African rugby fans is the lack of a Super 12 winner in the nine-year existence of the southern hemisphere’s premier competition outside Test rugby.
The South African teams are at a disadvantage in that they must spend four weeks in succession away from home for matches in Australasia. New Zealand and Australian teams spend just two weeks in South Africa, while a game against their Antipodean neighbours means a short flight across the sea.
However, SA fans still expect more from their teams, and feel justified in doing so. The weight of history weighs heavily on today’s professional players.
The cornerstone of local rugby remains the Currie Cup, which is heatedly contested and remains one of the world’s top domestic competitions. Backing up the Currie Cup, and providing young players with a platform to move on to greater things, is the Vodacom Cup.
Success in the Vodacom Cup, Currie Cup and Super 12 leaves players with one dream on their minds: to pull on the famous green and gold jersey of the Springboks.