Boks on track for silver medal?

Rugby is officially in a World Cup year and the implications of that will overshadow every first-class match between now and when hosts Japan face Russia in the opener on 20 September.

At the start of the new year, New Zealand, Ireland, England, Wales, South Africa and Australia occupy the top six spots on the World Rugby rankings. We dived into the archives to see how the Springboks are tracking and to gauge what historical impact the rankings have had in a World Cup year.

The above chart reflects the world rankings for the current top six teams as reported in January of each year from 2004.

During that 15-year span, the All Blacks have only twice ‘dipped’ to second place, a position most often occupied by the Boks. Ten years after Jake White guided South Africa to the top of the pile, Allister Coetzee’s reign ended with the Boks kicking off 2018 in sixth place.

Rassie Erasmus went 7-7 in his first season at the helm and thus the Boks begin this year in fifth place. It’s an improvement on recent seasons but worryingly as low we were in the wake of Kamp Staaldraad and a failed 2003 World Cup under Rudolf Straeuli, previously considered by many to be the low point in Bok history.

Meanwhile, spots two, three and four are occupied by the Six Nations trio of Ireland, England and Wales. Since the last World Cup, Ireland have twice beaten the All Blacks, Wales have four wins against the Boks, and England have won two Six Nations titles. This marks the first time in the history of the World Rugby rankings that the year has dawned with northern hemisphere nations occupying two of the top-three spots.

As ominous as that seems, there’s reason to be mildly optimistic about South Africa’s chances in Japan later this year. The Boks started 2007 in fourth place and went on to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup, while better rankings (3rd and 2nd respectively) did not result in victory in either of 2011 or 2015.

Perhaps even more encouraging is the standing of the losing finalists. In 2007, England (ranked 7th) reached the decider, France went from sixth place in January of 2011 to a nail-biting finale against the All Blacks at Eden Park in October of that year, and the Wallabies faced New Zealand for all the marbles in 2015 after starting that year in fifth place.

Sure, every Bok fan longs to see a grinning Siya Kolisi covered in confetti later this year, but few would grumble if South Africa recovered from the valleys of 2016 and 2017 to walk away from the 2019 World Cup with the silver medal.

— Staff Writer

- All Out Rugby Staff Writer

Let's chat

  • Barry

    You’re right, Silver is a realistic target, but this is South Africa….we want Gold!

    Frankly I think it will be one of the more hotly contested tournaments. Any of the top six are capable of going all the way and there is also Scotland on the up and up and don’t overlook Argentina, they will cause some upset! If players are managed carefully and we have few injuries we have a good shot at it!

    Don’t see Staeuli as the low point in Springbok rugby, though his tenure was not great! We quickly forget how Illdisciplined the players were in those days – mostly on the wrong side of the law – something had to be done. His 52% win ratio is a little better than Erasmus and way better than Toeties 44%, who in my view takes the cake by some considerable margin!

    • SweetAz

      I believe gold is realistic as well, in what is basically a knockout tournament any one of the top 6 could win it. You just have to look at how many times the AB’s have been knocked out even though they were NR 1 in the world. Even the ones they won at home against the French they should actually have lost and they were one kick away from losing the last one against the Boks in the Semis.—So even the NR 1 team only won it with a bit of luck.
      So its really the luckiest team, who draws the most favourable refereeing amongst the Top 6 who will win it. This particular tournament is very hard to call because the teams are much closer than what they have ever been before.

      • John Comyn

        A few ref calls either way is a major factor but, typically, the defensive side wins. I’m not sure but I think our defense in 2018 was not the best or the worst. It started very badly and go better the more time Nienaber had with the side.

      • Winston

        Well said, the ref seems to ultimately decide the RWC these days, unfortunately

  • Sharky

    The bottom line is that if we beat NZ in our first game we will probably face Scotland in the quarters… but lose to NZ and it’ll probably be Ireland. I know which route I’d prefer!

    In any event, this is probably the most competitive world cup yet with any of the top 7 (yes, even Scotland) being able to take it.

    The Guardian “power rankings” are also interesting. Considering current momentum they have the top 10 as:

    1) NZ
    2) Ireland
    3) SA
    4) Wales
    5) England
    6) France
    7) Australia
    8) Scotland
    9) Argentina
    10) Fiji

    • SweetAz

      I dont think Scotland has the depth to string together the required number of wins, -in fact, historically very few teams have that ability. You basically need to have a team where most of your players and your reserves are nr1 or 2 in their position internationally. I think the winner will come out of the first 5 on that list.

    • SweetAz

      I would swap 1 and 2 as well as 3 and 4. Unfortunately, I suspect we will be severely hamstrung by the 50% transformation policy. It is an election year and we all know how much noise empty vessels can make.

      • albert Hoffmann

        if u think so then i definitely would nt.

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