Not quite the stellar season for the Boks that some are making it out to be, says Tank Lanning in his final Sport24 column of the year, but certainly one that should have us reaching for the shades quite soon.
In the wake of the Bok’s 19-10 win over France on the atrocious Stade de France pitch in Paris on Saturday evening, we have seen all kinds of stats “proving” 2013 to be one of the great seasons for the Boks.
“Statistically their most successful since 1998. Winning 13 of their last 15 Tests. A winning percentage of 83.33% and 47 tries ranking them up there with the 1998, 1999 and 2007 sides.”
This of course, because SARU put out a press release on Sunday carrying a full page of these stats and achievements, and with not much else to talk about at the end of the season, all us media types duly published said release.
And while I think the Boks have without doubt taken a step in the right direction, and definitely now have the foundation built for an all-out assault on that No.1 spot on the IRB rankings, perhaps just a smidgen of perspective?
This year the Boks have lost to the All Blacks at home and away (albeit in gut wrenching style in Auckland), got out of jail against an Argentina side in Mendoza that they put 70 points past in Soweto, hacked for 65 minutes against a fired up Scottish side at Mbombela, twice beaten an Australian side that did not know if they were Arthur or Martha after the Robbie Deans tenure, and beaten Samoa, Italy, Wales, Scotland and France, who have endured one of their worst season’s in history.
The 47 tries by the Boks this season is up there with ’98 and ’99 teams but not close to what went down in 2007, when they scored 81 tries in 17 Tests, or 1997 (74 in 13 Tests). That because they have gone “back to basics” with Heyneke Meyer and employed a mostly blunt force trauma approach up front, together with accurate kicking, great chasing, and a defence that suffocates the opposition. Not always pretty, but effective given the personnel at hand.
So based on the above, not quite the stellar season that some are making it out to be.
But definitely a season that saw a real foundation being set, a group of players gelling as a unit, a captaining establishing himself as a truly honourable and respected leader of men, a pack that sends shivers down opposition spines, a look at building an extended squad and thus not being overly reliant on a starting XV, and a coach that now seems to “Have the changing room” to coin a cricketing phrase.
And perhaps most importantly, a hint at also having a slightly more attacking, ball in hand, plan B at hand should the opportunity (or necessity) arise. I am still very much of the opinion that the Boks need to evolve and have this kind of game in their armoury if they are to truly challenge the All Blacks. And Meyer has backed this up through introduction of players like Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht, and Jan Serfontein, at last taking a look at Pat Lambie as an option at either flyhalf or fullback, and seemingly ditching Zane Kirchner as the man at the back.
We don’t quite need those shades yet, but the future does look pretty bright …
So given that this is my final column on Sport24 for the year, and that we have all been encouraged by the governing body to vote for our annual SARU Award winners, these are my nominations:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR 2013
1 Bismarck du Plessis
2 Duane Vermeulen
3 Willie le Roux
U23 PLAYER OF THE YEAR 2013
1 Cheslin Kolbe
2 Jan Serfontein
3 Seabelo Senatla
TEAM OF THE YEAR 2013
1 Sharks Currie Cup team
3 WP u20
Springbok Sevens Player of the Year 2013
1 Cecil Afrika
2 Branco du Preez
3 Kyle Brown
SA U20 Player of the Year 2013
1 Cheslin Kolbe
2 Seabelo Senatla
3 Jacques du Plessis