The odds of South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup are currently 14/1. Therefore the team is seen by some bookmakers as having half the chance England have of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy next year.<.h4>

Is this a true reflection of South Africa’s World Cup chances?

The current situation:

Since South Africa lost to Japan back in 2015, the team has been subject to some heavy criticism for their performances. Most significant of which came in the wake of a 57-0 loss to New Zealand back in September last year, and a 38-3 loss to Ireland in Dublin during the November Internationals.

Shown below are all of South Africa’s results in 2017.

South African Rugby Results 2017

Wales

24-22

South Africa

Italy

6-35

South Africa

France

17-18

South Africa

Ireland

38-3

South Africa

South Africa

24-25

New Zealand

South Africa

27-27

Australia

New Zealand

57-0

South Africa

Australia

23-23

South Africa

Argentina

23-41

South Africa

South Africa

37-15

Argentina

South Africa

35-12

France

South Africa

37-15

France

South Africa 37-14

France

Home advantage

If the latest Six Nations has taught us anything, it is that home advantage now plays a massive role in the final outcome of an international test. Of South Africa’s away matches they lost in New Zealand, Ireland and Wales. Whilst the manner of the first two defeats cannot be underplayed, the loss to Wales in the Principality Stadium at the end of a long season is by no means embarrassing. Significantly the team beat France, Italy and Argentina away from home whilst also drawing with the Wallabies in Perth.

At home, the team won a test series against France 3-0, beat Argentina, drew to Australia and lost by a single point to the All Blacks. They may not have performed to the standard we have come to expect from South African rugby, but these results as a collective are not as bad as they have been portrayed.

Significantly next year’s World Cup is not being hosted by a Tier 1 nation. This means that none of the tournament favourites will have a home advantage, and as we saw in Chicago last year, results are not easy to predict on neutral territory. This makes the Wales vs. South Arica summer test in Washington this year even more intriguing.

The increasingly attacking trend of modern rugby

A couple of years ago Adam Jones was arguably the best tighthead in world rugby. Today many would assign that title to Tadgh Furlong. Whilst I doubt anyone would question Jones’ position as a true legend of the game, the handling ability Furlong showed in the build-up to his team’s second try last weekend epitomised how the sport has changed in recent years. The game seemingly continues to move away from being built around size and physicality, to one built around attack and chance creation.

This is not to say that forwards should no longer do the role we’ve come to expect from them in regard to the breakdown. However, there is now a greater need to have a link between the forwards and backs

South African tradition

Traditionally South African rugby has been based around a strong set piece and an aerial bombardment of the opposition. Certainly when they are at their most successful. A game not dissimilar to the one Joe Schmidt installed when he first took over as Ireland head coach back in 2013. However, anyone that watched the Super Rugby games this past weekend might have noticed a change. Whereas the Lions (and the Cheetahs to some respect) have initiated this move towards a more attacking style of play over the past few seasons, the other South African teams have now started to follow suit.

Chiefs v Bulls

On Friday night the Bulls lost to the Chiefs in Waikato, yet nobody that watched that game would doubt the attacking ability of the Bulls backline. At times Warrick Gelant seemingly broke the Chiefs line at will, as did Jesse Kriel, whilst Embrose Papier the replacement scrum-half (a man who rarely even makes the team) outsprinted Damien Mckenzie with ease during his disallowed try.

Stormers v Blues

One day later in a game that quite possibly had the worst kit clash in rugby history, the Stormers played against the Blues in a similar vein. Raymond Rhule, Dillyn Leyds, Damien de Allende and EW Vilijoen at times left the Blues defence chasing shadows. Most impressive of all is probably Damien Willemse at fly half who at only 19 years old looked like a test match veteran; he is unquestionably one of the best young talents in the sport.

The Lions failed to fully find their feet in their win over the Sunwolves on Saturday. However, anyone that has watched them in recent seasons will know of the ability of players such as Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Combrick and Harold Vorster.

South Africa certainly has a wealth of young backs that could perform on the international stage. However, one of the most significant problems they face is keeping these players in South Africa. It was recently announced that Francois Venter would join Worcester Warriors next season. Add to this the likes of Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux and Johan Goosen all currently playing in Europe, the SARFU need to address this issue. With the current eligibility requirement for South African rugby standing on only 30 international caps, this may need to be looked at.

The Forwards

It would be a bizarre world if South Africa had a bad set of forwards.

The front row has never been an issue for South Africa, with a production line of world-class front-rowers coming to the fore over the past decade. It is easy to sympathise with Adriaan Strauss, a man who is now 32 years of age and unquestionably one of the world’s finest hookers but has had to compete with John Smit, Bismarck de Plessis and now Malcolm Marx over the course of his career.

In the second row, South Africa has an abundance of riches with Eben Etzebeth taking most of the headlines; the likes of Lood de Jager and Pieter-Steph du Toit hardly get a mention despite being world-class operators in their own right.

Whilst the backrow of South Africa also has great strength in depth. Alongside playing lock, Steph du Toit can play blindside flanker as he does for the Stormers alongside his flanking partner Siya Kolisi. Add to this the likes of Jaco Kriel, Warren Whitley and Oupa Mahojé. As well as Duan Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Ruan Ackermann all playing outside South Africa, the strength in depth is truly amazing. In the same way sevens silver medallist James Davies struggles to make the Wales squad, it is hard to comprehend how the blitzbokke star Kwagga Smith does not make the international squad.

The Coach

Many Springbok fans might have been hoping that Johan Ackermann were announced as head coach, however the role has been given to Rassie Erasmus following the departure of the heavily criticised Allister Coetzee. He will be familiar to Munster fans after taking over the reigns following the tragic circumstances of last season in the wake of Anthony Foley’s passing.

He subsequently managed to guide the team to a semi-final in the Champions Cup and the final of what was the Pro12 last season. It must be stated that Munster did not play the most expansive game under Erasmus and this was most evident when they came up short against the Scarlets in the final of the Pro12. However his record last season speaks for itself, as he arguably achieved more than any other coach, particularly given the circumstances in which he undertook the role. Erasmus also has experience as an assistant coach at international level under previous boss Heyneke Meyer and is therefore familiar with the national setup.

18 months out

Additionally being 18 months out from a World Cup is almost the perfect time to take over an international side. The time frame allows a coach to choose his squad and develop a style of play that best fits their abilities, yet does not allow enough time to the opposition in terms of working out how the team plays. If we look at Warren Gatland as Wales head coach, his distinct style of play termed by many as ‘Warrenball’ was extremely successful when he introduced it before the 2011 World Cup up until 2013 when it was eventually worked out. Joe Schmidt and Ireland between 2013 and 2015 had a similar situation, and finally, Eddie Jones and England for the past two years have again eventually been worked out. It appears hard to keep up a successful game plan for more than 2 years in international rugby.

Conclusion

Winning a World Cup is difficult by anyone’s standards and it will be an incredibly tough task for Erasmus to turn the team around before the summer tests. However given time, with the wealth of raw natural talent in South Africa, do not be surprised if next year we are touting them as potential World Cup favourites.

Author: Patrick Hanlon

Born in Cardiff and bred in Suffolk. I have grown up with a love of the game and pride myself on watching as much rugby as possible. Alongside watching the sport, I have spent many a cold winter morning travelling to the back-end of nowhere to play.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Watch the spelling. Its CHIEFS
    Mark Keohane wrote a great article on how the summer tour could see the end of eddie jones too

    • Hi Patrick,
      I added that title, so it is totally my bad. And I am a Chiefs fan, which is clearly even worse!!
      Thanks for letting us know. It is super appreciated.
      Cheers,
      Steven

  2. Great article Patrick. South Africa haven’t had their best period of late, but reports of an interminable decline are well overblown. Every rugby nation has ups and downs, every great and not so great team comes and goes in cycles. South Africa have got too much talent to be out of the picture for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Rassie gets them in a good place by the time the world cup comes along.

  3. At least we have potential in South africa, but we got dumbest player of the week awards but the team that is playing the clever rugby as a unit is Ireland, as south africans we admire their style of gameplay at this moment! and are learning but far to go tactically and decisionmaking game changed allot evolved adapt or die

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