The city of love, once again, provides home comforts for South African rugby
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – The next time a world rugby title is on the line, either in rugby union or the Sevens game, and the South Africans are part of the grand battle to decide who gets that ultimate prize, may the rugby gods ensure that the eternal city of love, Paris, provides the setting for that showdown..
And, also, make sure the opponents, are from across the English channel in the United Kingdom.
Or, rather, also make sure the year ends with a seven.
For, in the French capital, the Springboks and the Blitzboks usually find a way to win big matches and, of course, become world champions.
Twenty years ago, at the Parc des Princes in Paris, the Boks – who had been handed a humbling defeat by the British Lions that summer, arrived in France with more than a point to prove and, in the process, did just that as they hammered France 52-10 with winger Peter Rossouw scoring four tries in a starring role.
And, 10 years ago, before 80 430 fans at the Stade de France in Paris, the Springboks powered their way to the world title after beating defending world champions England 15-6 in a very tight game.
Victor Matfield was named man-of-the-match of a bruising contest in which the Springboks – who had won their first World Cup title on home soil in 1995 – once again scaled to the top of the world, to lift the trophy, this time on foreign soil.
“This is awesome,” Matfield said after a match dominated by the two powerful packs of forwards. “We worked for four years for this. We knew we were going to have to take it to them.
“The emotions are greater than I ever thought. I can’t wait to get back home. I can’t wait to see all the South Africans.’’
Of course, the Boks returned home to a heroes’ welcome and were feted like kings.
But, since then, things haven’t gone according to expectations for the Boks and, at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the English city of Brighton, the South Africans crashed to a shock 32-34 loss at the hands of lightweights Japan in what remains the biggest shock result at that level of the game.
And, only last week, the Boks learnt they will have to battle old rivals, the All Blacks, who have dominated their recent meetings, in their Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool that will also feature Italy, a team from Africa and the Repechage winner in Japan.
The All Blacks beat the Boks 20-18 in a tight Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-final on their way to win the tournament.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee believes the gap between the traditional heavyweights of the game, and other ambitious nations, has been closing.
“We’ve been working hard since arriving back from the 2016 Castle Lager Outgoing Tour to ensure improved results from now on forward, with the Rugby World Cup on the distant horizon,’’ he said in his reaction to the draw.
“If ever there was testimony that the gap between the top teams have closed, then we saw that at the over the past few months in the Northern Hemisphere. With New Zealand established as the number one side, there is also very little to choose between the top sides in the world, while the next batch of teams continue to improve.”
But, it’s not all gloom for South African rugby, isn’t it?
And, just like 10 years ago when this country celebrated another World Cup crown, Paris provided the setting on Sunday for the Blitzboks to seal the HSBC World Sevens Series after they defeated Scotland 15-5 in the final of the France leg of the series.
It ended the Blitzboks’ four-year run as the bridesmaids of the series.
Of course, others will say that the world series had already been secured in the semi-finals when the Blitzboks defeated New Zealand while England fell at the hands of the Scots which meant the English were now in a position where they could not overtake the South Africans on the overall points tally with their home series set for this weekend.
Fiji, who came into the Paris leg as the second-placed nation, saw their dreams of a world series title this year end with a quarter-final loss.
But, it would have been unfair for the South Africans to blow it away in a season in which the Blitzboks appeared in eight of the finals, so far, and were clearly the best team around.
‘’It’s been an incredible season so far,’’ Blitzboks coach Neil Powell, who became the first man to win the series as a player and coach, said after the series success.
“This is for all the people in the system, not just the players, but the management back at home as well, for really working hard to make it happen.
“Every time we put our jerseys on our backs we play for South Africa, for our family and our people back home that support us. It’s special for us. We want to say thanks to them for supporting us all year.”
No wonder they call Paris the City of Love.
The Rugby World Cup 2019 Pools:
Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1, Play-off winner
Pool B: New Zealand, SOUTH AFRICA, Italy, Africa 1, Repechage winner
Pool C: England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2