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
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!
SIR The retired All Black skipper Richie McCaw is likely to be knighted
Dan’s the man
ON TOP OF THE WORLD Dan Carter