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
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: