Year 2011: So near and yet so far

Week­end Ar­gus rugby reporter GAVIN RICH hands out his an­nual awards af­ter a medi­ocre sea­son for South Africa

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

THE rugby year drew to a close with the Spring­boks only just be­ing de­nied suc­cess in the Port El­iz­a­beth leg of the World Sev­ens se­ries, and it was an apt con­clu­sion, for it summed up the story of 2011 for South African rugby.

So near and yet so far was how we will re­mem­ber a year dom­i­nated by the World Cup in New Zealand, one in which the hosts fi­nally got it right although they had to sur­vive one of their trade­mark chokes in a tense fi­nal in Auck­land to break a 24- year drought.

Some will rightly point out that when they were cru­elly de­nied by a com­bi­na­tion of ref­eree Bryce Lawrence’s whis­tle (ac­tu­ally it was fail­ure to use his whis­tle) and their own poor deci- sion mak­ing, the Spring­boks were still two games away from claim­ing the Webb El­lis tro­phy.

But the na­ture of their exit did spare the Bok class of 2011 the vil­i­fi­ca­tion that the 2003 team had to en­dure when they also ex­ited at the quar­ter-fi­nal stage.

Lawrence was widely seen as the rea­son for the Spring­bok demise, and the role played by coach Peter de Vil­liers’ de­ci­sion to stick with old hands ahead of more en­er­getic and in- form young­sters wasn’t sub­jected to huge post-tour­na­ment scrutiny.

In the end the ar­gu­ment ended in­con­clu­sively as the Boks didn’t look like a team that was too old in the quar­ter-fi­nal – they looked like a team peak­ing at the right time.

There wasn’t too much ev­i­dence from South African rugby be­fore then, though, to sug­gest the Spring­boks could be world cham­pi­ons.

The Tri-na­tions was sac­ri­ficed for the pur­pose of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing play­ers fa­tigued by an overly long Su­per Rugby sea­son, which this year was ex­tended to 16 league matches.

The Storm­ers fin­ished sec­ond on the over­all log, but it was a step back from the pre­vi­ous two years, when the Bulls won the Su­per 14.

While the World Cup was be­ing played, the Lions took their op­por­tu­nity in an un­der-strength Cur­rie Cup to win their first tro­phy in sev­eral years.

On that note, with the Cur­rie Cup des­tined to al­ways be un­der- strength from now on be­cause of the Sanzar de­ci­sion to ex­tend Su­per Rugby to Au­gust and the Tri-na­tions (sorry, Rugby Cham­pi­onship) into Oc­to­ber, there is an in­ter­est­ing de­bate to be had over who has the right to call them­selves South Africa’s cham­pion prov­ince.

Is it the Lions, who won a com­pe­ti­tion in which Western Prov­ince, the Sharks and the Bulls gen­er­ally fielded their sec­ond string teams, or is it WP, who in the guise of the Storm­ers won the South African con­fer­ence af­ter a 16-match league sea­son where ev­ery team was at full strength?

That ques­tion I will an­swer in my awards for the year, which fol­lows:

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