Tough draw for South Africa at 2019 Rugby World Cup

South Africa was always going to be in a tough group when the draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup was made in Tokyo on Wednesday. The Springboks’ poor performance in 2016 and the plummet down the world rankings meant South Africa’s seeding was poor. But the Springboks’ worst fears were realised when they were grouped along with New Zealand in Pool B. Coach Allister Coetzee is philosophical about the prospect of playing their arch-rivals for the first time in a World Cup in the group stage. He says if you want to win the World Cup you have to beat the best in the world. Which isn’t what happened in 2007 when the Springboks won without having to face the All Blacks and the then-powerful Wallabies, both of whom were knocked out in the quarterfinals. All Black coach Steve Hansen says the draw is tough for his side and already predicts the SA-NZ pool game will be one of the games of the tournament. For South African fans who are more used to seeing the All Blacks thumping the Springboks in recent years, there is a mood of pessimism that the Boks might not even make it past the group stage. The bookies lengthened South Africa’s odds of winning the World Cup from 9/1 to 12/1. Sport 24’s Rob Houwing is calling for calm. – David O’Sullivan

By Rob Houwing 

A touch of instant perspective, please…the draw has just been made for who will play who upfront at the 2019 World Cup, not a determination of who will be bowing out before the quarter-finals.

An almost inevitable theme of domestic paranoia, given the Springboks’ 2016 annus horribilis, appeared to reign supreme on social media when it was revealed from Japan on Wednesday that the national side will face the defending-champion All Black juggernaut in Pool B at the premier event.

Picture courtesy of Twitter @Springboks

Yes, that creates the strong likelihood, based on present form and related factors, that the Boks will instead be scrapping fiercely to ensure second-placed finish among the five in their group and a berth in the knockouts – something the twice-winners (1995 and 2007) have never previously failed to land.

In that context, Italy being announced as the next most significant threat to an onward Bok ticket isn’t the worst outcome, considering that presently seventh-ranked South Africa scuttled wide of the Argentina (placed in tough Pool C) “landmine”, thank goodness.

The Pumas would have been tougher nuts to see in the same pool than the Italians, most will concur, not least because they are able to boast reasonably recent maiden victories at home (2016) and away (2015) over the Springboks, and are sharpening their act progressively in the form of the Jaguares in Super Rugby.

There is also the fillip that the Boks, even if beaten by their fiercest traditional rivals from the Land of the Long White Cloud during pool play, would only next run into them in a possible final.

Now call me the haplessly blinkered optimist if you insist, but I am also quite adamant in my belief that when aforementioned Italy earned their own, first ever Bok scalp (20-18) in 13 attempts in Florence late last year, it was during what can only be described as a nadir period for the green-and-gold cause.

And by definition – “the lowest point in a situation” – it is impossible to be in any deeper dwang than a nadir.

Losing had become cultural among Allister Coetzee’s charges by then; despondency, tactical uncertainty and selection instability ran extraordinarily deep in the squad representing this supposed superpower of the game.

The reverse also came, although this is not offered as any special excuse, at the very back end of the calendar year, when southern hemisphere limbs are sore and hearts yearning for beach and braai even if results on an end-of-year northern trek happen to be all dandy, by contrast.

To be frank, if such levels of routine ineptitude and sterility are emulated at any stage during the course of the 2017 Test campaign, then I find it hard to believe that the already precarious Coetzee will still be at his post come RWC 2019, which is still well over two years away.

That time gap to the tournament is enough for things to change – even violently, spectacularly – for any nation contemplating the latest edition of the World Cup.

Rugby Union – New Zealand Press Conference – Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey – 1/11/15. New Zealand’s Richie McCaw with the Webb Ellis Cup after the press conference. Action Images via Reuters / Henry Browne

In fairness to Coetzee and his closest confidantes, maybe they have spiritedly absorbed lessons from the near-unrelenting 2016 anguish and are diligently working toward a more purposeful, better-plotted and well-defined upward curve this year (even if a great many critics out there are clearly already prepared to adopt a much bleaker view).

Bear in mind also that just a year in rugby can either be a conspicuously long time, or staggeringly short one.

In 2006, for example, the year before the Springboks earned their second hold on the Webb Ellis Cup, they were in a wretched state at various times, with further RWC success seemingly a million miles away.

That decidedly choppy campaign included a 36-26, and four-tries-to-one, humiliation at the hands of France at Newlands, the utterly dispiriting 49-0 debacle against the Wallabies in Brisbane, a 19-point loss to the All Blacks in the Pretoria heartland and two losses from three on the European tour.

The World Cup draw for 2019? It is what it is.

In the meantime, there are some 28 months for the Springboks to assemble a combination potent, decisive and determined enough to make a fist of RWC 2019, whoever stands in their way in Japan itself.

I wouldn’t bother too much with the butterflies just yet.

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 – Sport24


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