Cheers, 2015...

With noth­ing left for SA to play for, Dan Retief takes a last look at a rugby year that started with great hope and ended in tur­moil

CityPress - - Sport -

South Africa made a mas­sive im­pact on the 2015 rugby World Cup, but not in the way the Spring­boks had hoped for. By go­ing down 32-34 to Ja­pan in their open­ing game, the fourth of the tour­na­ment, the Spring­boks will be linked to the phrase “the big­gest shock in rugby World Cup his­tory” un­til some big­ger up­set comes along.

Added to this, South African ref­eree Craig Jou­bert in­curred the wrath of the Scots when he awarded an er­ro­neous last­minute penalty that Bernard Fo­ley goaled to al­low the Wal­la­bies to es­cape with a 35-34 win in their quar­ter­fi­nal.

Jou­bert added to the out­cry by has­ten­ing off the field with­out, as is tra­di­tional in rugby, shak­ing hands with the play­ers.

So “South Africa” was writ­ten large over the eighth World Cup but sadly not for the third time on the golden Webb El­lis Cup.

In the end, Heyneke Meyer’s Spring­boks were too in­jured, too old, too un­fit and too pre­dictable and lost 20-18 to the All Blacks in the semi­fi­nals; hav­ing to be sat­is­fied with third place by beat­ing Ar­gentina 2915 in the bronze fi­nal.

Full­back Ayumu Goro­maru be­came an in­stant hero and en­sured the World Cup in Ja­pan in 2019 will be a suc­cess with his man of the match per­for­mance against the Spring­boks. He scored 24 points as the Brave Blos­soms held their nerve to en­gi­neer a game-clinch­ing try four min­utes af­ter stop­page time by Karne Hes­keth rather than opt­ing for a draw. Such was the im­pact of Ja­pan’s win that a record tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of 25 mil­lion watched their match against Samoa.

Look­ing to cash in on 29-year-old “Goro’s” sud­den fame, a life­sized gold-coloured statue of him, crouch­ing with his fin­gers clasped in his trade­mark kick­ing rou­tine, was erected as part of Tokyo’s Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions.

A tem­ple in Siki ex­pe­ri­enced a surge in vis­i­tors when it was no­ticed the fin­gers of a gold Bud­dha statue are clutched in the same way as Goro­maru’s and the player ended up be­ing re­warded with a con­tract to play for the Queens­land Reds in next year’s Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion.

Five mil­lion votes on Face­book in­stalled Ja­pan’s win as the big­gest mo­ment in all rugby World Cups.

Nine­teen days af­ter be­com­ing the first man to lead his coun­try to suc­ces­sive World Cup vic­to­ries, All Black cap­tain Richie McCaw an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

Hailed as the great­est-ever All Black, if not the great­est player of all time, 34year-old McCaw bowed out of the game boast­ing a record that is un­likely to be matched.

The man from Oa­maru in New Zealand’s South Is­land, who will al­most cer­tainly be knighted, earned a record 148 test caps with 110 of those as cap­tain (an­other record) in a ca­reer span­ning 14 years.

A stag­ger­ing statis­tic is that of all the All Blacks’ vic­to­ries since 1903 – 413 – McCaw was on the field for 32% of them. That’s 131 wins in the fa­mous black jer­sey, for a win per­cent­age of 89%. On Novem­ber 18, Jonah Lomu died. The big All Black winger’s awe­some feats of pace and strength shone in­can­des­cently in the 1995 rugby World Cup in South Africa as he sin­gle­hand­edly trans­formed rugby from an am­a­teur game into the mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar global in­dus­try it is to­day.

Struck down by a rare kid­ney dis­ease (nephrotic syn­drome) in his prime, Lomu un­der­went an or­gan trans­plant and had to un­dergo daily dial­y­sis treat­ment. He died of car­diac ar­rest af­ter re­turn­ing to New Zealand from the World Cup. He was just 40. On the same day, we bade farewell to leg­endary Bok cen­tre John Gains­ford, who passed on at the age of 77 af­ter a long bat­tle with can­cer.

After miss­ing out on New Zealand’s World Cup win in 2011 be­cause of in­jury, All Black fly half Dan Carter capped a stel­lar ca­reer by be­ing named World Rugby Player of the Year.

Carter joined Richie McCaw as a three-time re­cip­i­ent. He was named man of the match af­ter the World Cup fi­nal against Aus­tralia, hav­ing con­ducted the All Blacks’ win­ning ef­fort and also kick­ing 19 points, in­clud­ing a drop goal and long-range penalty to halt an Aus­tralian fight­back.

The all-time lead­ing points scorer in in­ter­na­tional rugby, with 1 598 points in 112 tests, Carter is un­likely to be seen in the black jer­sey again, hav­ing moved to Rac­ing Métro in France. The 2015 World Cup run by Eng­land was the big­gest and best ever.

Records were bro­ken on and off the field. This in­cluded ticket sales of 2.47 mil­lion, Fan Zone at­ten­dance of more than 1 mil­lion, while Wem­b­ley Sta­dium recorded two con­sec­u­tive World Cup at­ten­dance records.

Eng­land Rugby gen­er­ated more than £250 mil­lion in ticket rev­enues, de­liv­er­ing an £80 mil­lion sur­plus to World Rugby and £15 mil­lion to be in­vested in the de­vel­op­ment of rugby. World Rugby pres­i­dent Bernard La­pas­set said it in a mouth­ful: “Eng­land 2015 has been the most com­pet­i­tive, best at­tended, most watched, most so­cially en­gaged, most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful rugby World Cup.”

As a small con­so­la­tion, South Africa did get a men­tion in the records. Bryan Ha­bana, with a hat-trick against the USA, equalled Jonah Lomu’s try-scor­ing record of 15.

Sonny Bill Wil­liams with his tat­toos and teamhop­ping might not al­ways have been ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but he cap­tured the spirit of rugby with an amaz­ingly mag­nan­i­mous ges­ture af­ter the fi­nal.

A young boy ran on to the field to con­grat­u­late the All Black re­place­ment cen­tre only to be bowled over by a se­cu­rity guard. Sonny Bill went to the young guy’s res­cue, put his arm around him, led him back to his par­ents – and then gave him his gold win­ner’s medal!

Wil­liams was sur­prised at the fuss made of his ges­ture, say­ing most of the All Blacks would prob­a­bly have done it too, and even more taken aback at World Rugby’s awards evening the next night to be called on stage to re­ceive an­other medal at the re­quest of his team-mates.

One of the most poignant pho­to­graphs of the tour­na­ment was of Sonny Bill con­sol­ing Jesse Kriel af­ter the Spring­boks had been knocked out by the All Blacks in the semi­fi­nals.

Land of the ris­ing sun

Arise Sir Richie

In a year dom­i­nated by the World Cup, the Lions, with not a sin­gle player in the Bok squad, kept the home fires burn­ing with their ex­hil­a­rat­ing brand of run­ning rugby.

The cherry on top was con­vinc­ingly beat­ing Western Province 32-24 in the Cur­rie Cup fi­nal at Emi­rates Park for a per­fect sea­son of 12 wins out of 12.

Big ku­dos to coaches Jo­han Ack­er­mann and Swys de Bruin.

A colos­sus passes on

Big, bet­ter, best

Truly ‘Golden’ Lions

Heyneke Meyer, hav­ing seem­ingly lost his way as the pres­sures of the World Cup and South Africa’s unique im­per­a­tives grew, de­cided to fall on his sword in early De­cem­ber and quit.

Meyer ad­vised the SA Rugby Union he no longer wished to be con­sid­ered as coach of the Spring­boks – in spite of nu­mer­ous claims that he had been of­fered an­other four-year stint – and the union made no ef­fort to dis­suade him.

Meyer coached the team to 34 vic­to­ries and two draws in 50 matches for a 66.7% win­ning record.

Beaten, bat­tered, be­wil­dered

Nice one, son!

PHOTO: ASH­LEY VLOT­MAN / GALLO IM­AGES

SIR The re­tired All Black skip­per Richie McCaw is likely to be knighted

Dan’s the man

PHOTO: RICHARD HEATH­COTE / WORLD RUGBY VIA GETTY IM­AGES

SEN­SA­TION

Ayumu Goro­maru

PHOTO: STEVE HAAG / GALLO IM­AGES

ON TOP OF THE WORLD Dan Carter

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