Guest writer Jared Wright lists 10 things South African fans should look forward to for 2018. England take on South Africa this Summer in a three match series.
The New Year is upon us and from a South African supporters point of view you can’t help to be hopeful for 2018.
After a torrid 2 years of rugby, 2018 could be the turning point for SA Rugby with Japan 2019 on the horizon.
SA Rugby fans have had a tough year with an underperforming Springbok side and another World Cup bid loss. Besides the Springboks the Currie Cup seems to be suffering a slow painful death, while our SA Schools underperformed against England, Wales and France earlier in the year.
But… 2018 could be the year for South African Rugby and here is 10 reasons why I think that:
1. Allister Coetzee is surely gone
The most telling thing about Coetzee’s last few months in charge is the collective call for his head. In recent times the public has been spilt for whether the Bok coach should be sacked or not but I am yet to see a single person on social media or in the street backing Coetzee to maintain his role at the helm.
2. Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber
Two of the best coaches South Africa has produced in recent times are returning to the country in top positions. Eramus is renowned in South Africa for his innovative approach to the game,joining him you have Nienaber, a defence guru who will work with all the top sides in the country. The Springbok side has been guilty of poor coaching and these two will provide the side with the world-class coaching the nation deserves.
3. The return of SA coaches from Japan
Dawie Theron, Jimmy Stonehouse and Pieter Rossouw will all return to South Africa after stints in Japan. Rossouw will return to his role with Paarl Gim, where he has helped some of the top talents in the country push on in their careers. Stonehouse will be returning to the Pumas - who may be playing in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2018 - while Theron has not confirmed a position as of yet.
Theron is an interesting topic as the former SA U20s coach could be included in the Erasmus’ plans for the Springboks.
4. The return of key players
It’s becoming increasingly clearer that Duane Vermeulen will end his stint abroad and return to South Africa - turning down multiple offers from European and Japanese clubs - with his Springbok ambitions being the driving factor. He is likely to return home at the end of the Top 14 season and may play the final few rounds of Super Rugby - like Kitshoff did this year - and will hopefully be involved with the Boks against England and in the Rugby Championship.
Warren Whiteley will also return from injury giving the boks plenty of options at no.8, with Hanro Liebenberg returning from injury after being on the fringes of the Test side. All 3 players will bring leadership to the squad and provide options in a specialist position that was mostly filled by flankers this year.
5. The 30 Cap rule
Reports coming from inside the SA Rugby set-up suggest that Erasmus is not fan of the 30 cap rule and that the rule could be dropped - having not been in place for even 12 months. This opens the door for plenty of top players to return into the Green and Gold. A player like Vincent Koch is a perfect example on why the rule must be dropped. The Boks have struggled at tighthead with Redelinghuys retiring, injuries and overall lack of quality at tighthead in South Africa.
6. Super Rugby will be better
The SA Super Rugby squads already look stronger after the Kings and Cheetahs were dumped from the competition and the ‘new’ format is better for the competition going forward. The Australian sides also look stronger going into the 2018 season - which could help the fight against the dominant New Zealand sides. The Bulls will be better in 2018, while the Lions are likely to continue their fine form in the competition. While the Sharks and Stormers showed flashes of brilliance in 2017 and will hope they can build on that.
7. SA sides in the Pro 14
The Kings have started poorly but they should improve in their 2nd season in the competition, they must if they wish to hold onto their top players. The Cheetahs have impressed up North and will look to build on that throughout the 2017/18 season and beyond. One of the positives of having two sides in Europe is that we are exposed to different styles of the game which will help the national side going forward.
8. England in June
England are easily one of the top 3 sides in the world right now and they will head to South Africa after a long domestic season and their 6 Nations campaign, while the Boks will be preparing for their first test of 2018. Eddie Jones’ men are well coached and he has built up some serious squad depth. England will give us a good idea on how far along we are in our preparations for the 2019 World Cup. A series win against the English would show an extreme U-turn in the national side, but it will by no means be easy. Realistically you would want the starting 23 against England to be the squad for the World Cup and that line up could be completely different to what we saw in 2017.
9. John Mitchell
Mitchell is the 6th coach to appear on the list and rightfully so, South African sides have been poorly coached recently. Historically when the Bulls are good the Springboks are good and to be frank, the Bulls have been poor for far too long.
Mitchell has a proven track record in turning things around and is a fantastic coup for the men from Pretoria. Things are really looking up for the Bulls and one can only hope that that will filter into the Springboks as it has in the past.
10. It can’t get much worse
Well maybe it can but let’s stay positive, above are 9 things that could change the SA Rugby fortunes in 2018 and we may only need a few of them to happen to make 2018 a good year for South African Rugby.
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