2018 in review: The Springbok rises again (cautiously)

Aphiwe Dyantyi. Photo: Gallo Images.

Aphiwe Dyantyi. Photo: Gallo Images.

This was far from a perfect year for the national team, but you couldn’t deny that Rassie Erasmus at least has his troops working towards a purpose again.

For a man hailed as the Springboks’ messiah, Rassie Erasmus’ win record for 2018 is awkwardly neutral.

Indeed, seven wins from 14 starts is statistically worse than predecessor Allister Coetzee’s seven from 13 last year, while former Bok centre and assistant coach Brendan Venter notably pointed out in a column that Erasmus’ raw transformation lagged (slightly) behind “Toetie’s”.

However, if there was a dominant theme to the Springboks’ season, it was that numbers don’t mean much without a bit of perspective.

There were no record 57-0 and 38-3 defeats to the All Blacks and Ireland respectively.

In fact, New Zealand were beaten at home for the first time since 2009 and only a try in the last minute secured a one-point win at Loftus.

South Africa’s biggest defeat in 2018 was 15 points – the 25-10 loss to England at Newlands when the series was already won.

The same applies to the transformation argument.

Quality over quantity was clearly Erasmus’ mantra.

Aphiwe Dyantyi was crowned World Rugby’s rookie-of-the-year.

S’bu Nkosi established himself as a classy, reliable international winger.

And, of course, a certain Siya Kolisi became the first black, full-time Bok skipper.

2018 was far from perfect, but there wasn’t much doubt that the national side is at least working towards something concrete.

Highlight of the year

To fully appreciate the rousing 36-34 triumph in Wellington over the All Blacks, one needs to consider the context.

Erasmus’ men had come off a chastening defeat to Argentina in Mendoza and then slumped again against the lowly Wallabies when they had more than enough chances to win.

Many were expecting a 57-0 blowout again.

Instead, the Boks played magnificent counter-attacking rugby and defended like demons to surprise all and sundry.

Disappointment of the year

The Boks were on their way to doing the double over the All Blacks at Loftus, leading by 17 points with just 20 minutes to go.

Guess who won? AAARRGGHHH!

Controversy of the year

Erasmus maintains it was a proverbial storm in a teacup, but his substitution of Bongi Mbonambi in Brisbane was as awkward as it could get.

Not only is substitutions in the first half frowned upon in general, it didn’t help that the Bok mentor yanked his hooker off right after he overthrew a lineout that led to a soft Aussie try.

Erasmus explained that Mbonambi didn’t have “anything left in the tank” and was going to be replaced regardless of the lineout throw.

In an interview with SuperSport, he also stated that he instructed support staff to rescind his order exactly because he was afraid about how it was going to look.

But that didn’t happen.

It didn’t help that his replacement, Malcolm Marx, also overthrew a lineout.

Star of the year

Underappreciated, but so consistently excellent.

You deserve this one, Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Try of the year

The handling in S’bu Nkosi’s second try at Ellis Park against England is simply sublime…

(Watch from 2:30)

Funny moment of the year

Eish, this “oom” was just so classic as the clock wound down in Wellington!

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