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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

 

SA Unions: Highs and lows of a topsy-turvey rugby year


The Independent Online's Andrew Hollely reviews the South African rugby year, visit the Independent at www.iol.co.za

December 27 2005 at 12:35PM

By Andrew Hollely

A brief overview of some of the major highs and lows of South African rugby in 2005:

Highs:

South Africa beat New Zealand 22-16 in an epic Tri-Nations Test in Cape Town. A superb defensive display takes the wind out of the All Blacks' sails and sees captain John Smit's side become just the third Bok outfit to defeat the All Blacks in Cape Town and the first since 1976. It ends up being the All Blacks' only defeat of the year.

Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery becomes the first South African to pass 500 points in Tests during the match Australia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. The former Western Province No 15 finishes the season with 573 points in all matches for the Springboks.
Habana emerges as the most potent attacking weapon in world rugby

The Free State Cheetahs beat the Blue Bulls 29-25 in the Currie Cup final at a packed Loftus with a stunning come-from-behind performance to deny retiring Blue Bulls captain Anton Leonard a fairy-tale send-off with a fourth win in a row. Veteran Bok and Cheetahs loosehead prop Os du Randt later described the win as more satisfying than the 1995 Rugby World Cup victory.

Records tumble as the Boks crush hapless amateurs Uruguay 134-3 in East London in the year's opening Test. The 131 points represents the greatest margin of victory by the Boks ever, eclipsing the 101 points difference against Italy in Durban in 1999. The 21 tries also beat the record 15 scored against Italy. Wing Tonderai Chavhanga scored six tries, the most ever by a Springbok in Tests and the most ever by any player on International debut.

The Blue Bulls charge to third spot on the log in the final Super 12 series (before the Super 14 kicks-off in 2006), flying the South African flag high with some memorable performances, especially at fortress Loftus.

Bryan Habana emerges as the most potent attacking weapon in world rugby and lock Victor Matfield dominates especially in the lineouts where he is without a doubt the best in the world at securing the ball at throw-ins.

The Springbok Under-19 and Under-21 teams are crowned World Champions to show the future of the sport is in capable hands. The Under-19s beat New Zealand 20-15 at King's Park in Durban, while the Under-21s overcome the Wallabies 24-20 in their final in Argentina.

Lows:

The Springboks lose their Tri-Nations title in the dying minutes of the Test in Dunedin, going down 31-27 to New Zealand. With just minutes on the clock, the All Blacks conjure up a late try by hooker Keven Mealamu to turn a 24-27 deficit into a nail-biting victory and Tri-Nations glory.

Defeats to Australia in Sydney (12-30) and to France in Paris (20-16) are a blight on an otherwise satisfying second year for coach Jake White and Smit. The first a complete aberration as the Wallabies go on to an eight-game losing streak. The latter attributable to exhaustion at the end of a long season.

Flyhalf problems. Injuries to first choice No 10s Jaco van der Westhuyzen and Andre Pretorius show the glaring deficiency in quality backup in the pivot position. Van der Westhuyzen lacks an educated boot. Pretorius is far too injury-prone a player to pin the Boks' World Cup hopes on. Who else?

The Cats, Sharks and Stormers' performance in the Super 12. The Cats and Sharks manage just one win each. The Stormers obtain a paltry three victories.

The SA Rugby Union Presidents' Council's perpetual mood swings and odd decisions constantly played out in the media. Chief among them was the treatment of the hallowed Currie Cup competition.

The embarrassing first-round exit of South Africa's 2011 World Cup bid. The anticipated victory champagne is left on ice as New Zealand shocks Japan and clinches the event.

The death of star Blue Bulls centre Ettienne Botha in the early hours of Wednesday, September 7 shocks the rugby-playing world and robs South Africa of one of its most naturally gifted ball players of the modern era. Some said he was among the finest players to never have donned the green and gold. - Sapa

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