PLANS FOR 2024: SA Rugby plots more glory for Springboks, crack at an Olympic medal for Blitzboks and a boost for Bok Women

PLANS FOR 2024: SA Rugby plots more glory for Springboks, crack at an Olympic medal for Blitzboks and a boost for Bok Women

The Springboks made history in October when they became the first South African side to win back-to-back World Cups, and the first nation to win four global titles overall.

On a longer timeline, however, the sport should be bolstering the women’s and men’s programmes to the point where both national teams are primed to peak at their next respective World Cup tournaments, in 2025 and 2027.

Over the past six years the Boks have established themselves as the gold standard across South African sport – in their results, their approach to high performance and their attitude towards transformation.

As many have observed in the wake of their most recent World Cup triumph in France, they have shown politicians in this country what real leadership looks like.

There’s a fear that complacency – and the defection of head coach Jacques Nienaber to Irish club Leinster – may dilute their potency in 2024. But director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is already putting plans in place to ensure that the side continues to win more accolades, and possibly an unprecedented hat-trick of world titles in 2027.

Apart from a one-off against Portugal, the Boks couldn’t have asked for a tougher home schedule in 2024. The season will commence with a two-Test series against Ireland in July, followed by the Rugby Championship, which will include two home matches against the All Blacks.

SA Rugby Rassie

Rassie Erasmus, director of rugby, before a summer international match between New Zealand and South Africa at Twickenham in London on 25 August 2023. (Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

Ireland have dominated world rugby for the better part of two years, and beat the Boks 13-8 when the two giants collided in the pool stages of the recent World Cup. They will be desperate to secure their first series victory in South Africa, while the Boks – who haven’t beaten Ireland since 2016 – will also have a point to prove.

Beyond that, the Boks will be chasing their first Rugby Championship title since 2019. The two-game series against the All Blacks will be especially significant, given New Zealand’s loss to South Africa in the 2023 World Cup final. The Boks will be gunning for their first series victory against the All Blacks and ultimately their first Freedom Cup title since 2009.

Winning those matches and claiming those accolades would strengthen the Boks’ position at the top of the rankings.

Planning is already well under way. Erasmus and his coaching staff will continue to monitor the progress of the World Cup-winning players – who have produced mixed performances for their franchises and overseas clubs in recent weeks – and indeed the individuals likely to represent the opposition.

Blitzboks seeking improvement

Erasmus will have other responsibilities to juggle during a crucial period for the game. The Olympic Games will be staged in Paris between 26 July and 11 August, and South African rugby will be desperate to finish that campaign with a medal.

The Blitzboks claimed bronze at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, but failed to get a medal at the subsequent tournament in Tokyo. According to SA Rugby Sevens boss Marius Schoeman, the Covid-19 pandemic had a severe impact. The Sevens programme is still playing catch-up today.

The Blitzboks began the 2023-24 World Rugby Sevens Series with a bang when they won the Dubai tournament in early December. The Cape Town Sevens, however, provided the harshest of reality checks.

The Blitzboks lost to Ireland in the pool stage, before sustaining a heavy 28-0 defeat by Australia in the quarterfinals. They went on to lose 31-7 to a lacklustre New Zealand side in the fifth-place playoff.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Argentina and Australia win in Cape Town as Blitzboks fall apart again

While they are ranked second on the Sevens Series table behind Argentina, they clearly have much to address ahead of the next leg in Perth at the end of January, and in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Libbie Janse van Rensburg of South Africa scores a try during their WXV 2 match against Samoa at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on 27 October 2023. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

Steady progress in women’s rugby

In 2021, Erasmus’s decision to appoint former Ireland star Lynne Cantwell as South Africa’s first Women’s high performance manager was hailed as a watershed. Since then, the women’s domestic and international schedules have been revamped, and South Africa’s top players have received greater exposure to top-flight rugby.

The Women’s Premier Division has been restructured, and the Bulls Daisies recently became South Africa’s first fully fledged professional women’s team. National players have been contracted, and they have had the chance to experience more internationals and tours.

Since the system was rebooted in 2021, the Bok Women have been building towards the 2025 World Cup. They travelled to the last global tournament in New Zealand and sustained three straight losses. Though they may be hard-pressed to qualify for the playoffs in 2025, they will be aiming to secure their first win and to register more competitive performances.

Some have criticised the Bok Women Sevens team in the wake of their results in Dubai and Cape Town. They will start the new year as the lowest-ranked side in the 12-team Sevens Series. And yet, as is the case with the 15-a-side team, their performances need to be viewed in a broader context.

The Bok Women have made important strides over the past 12 months, qualifying for the Sevens Series for the first time in nearly a decade, and subsequently for the 2024 Olympics. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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