Boks glad to see back of 2006

While New Zealand reaffirmed their status as the world's number one rugby team and favourites for next year's World Cup, South Africa battled through 2006, winning just five of their 12 tests.

While New Zealand reaffirmed their status as the world's number one rugby team and favourites for next year's World Cup, South Africa battled through 2006, winning just five of their 12 tests.

With the World Cup in France a little more than nine months away, it was a year in which the Springboks suffered record defeats to Australia and Ireland and in which coach Jake White suffered his first defeats on home soil - against France and New Zealand.

But it was also a season in which the Springboks recorded their first win against England at Twickenham in nine years.

And for White, the victory could not have come sooner as the defeats against Ireland in Dublin and against England in the first test resulted in some of South Africa's rugby bosses calling for him to resign.

White took plenty of strain this year, not only because of his team's poor results, but because of some strange selections.

At one stage he recalled veteran outside back Andre Snyman to the team, and also handed De Wet Barry a start against France in Cape Town. Both players had been considered well past their prime for some time.

White also selected a back triangle of uncapped players for the test against Ireland in Dublin, while world-class winger Bryan Habana was picked at outside centre in the same game, with disastrous consequences.

The expanded southern hemisphere Tri-Nations competition, also including Australia and New Zealand, turned into a nightmare, as did the November internationals in the northern hemisphere when White opted to rest a number of his seasoned campaigners.

While White wouldn't have been pleased with the rugby produced, he did at least find the raw talent he was looking for.

Nineteen-year-old Sharks utility back Francois Steyn, who played at wing, fullback and flyhalf on the tour to Ireland and England, was the big find of the tour.

The international season started well enough for White and his team with the Boks recording a comfortable, if not convincing, series win over Scotland. The Boks triumphed 36-16 in Durban and then 29-15 in Port Elizabeth, with the home team relying largely on the boot of veteran fullback Percy Montgomery.

A week later in Cape Town, a five-match winless run started for White and the Boks when they crashed 36-26 to France - the South African team's first defeat at home under White. It got a whole lot worse a few weeks later when the Boks suffered their heaviest defeat to Australia (49-0) in Brisbane as the Tri-Nations got under way.

The Boks then went down 35-17 to New Zealand in Wellington before an improved performance in Sydney, going down 20-18. But the losing streak continued on home soil when in front of 50 000 fans at Loftus in Pretoria the Boks suffered their fifth defeat in a row, 45-26, to Graham Henry's All Blacks.

The emergence of big Blue Bulls loose forward Pierre Spies and the availability of fit-again flyhalf Andre Pretorius boosted a desperate Bok team and thanks to a last-gasp Pretorius penalty in Rustenburg, the home team managed to beat the All Blacks, 21-20.

A week later in Johannesburg the Boks exacted their revenge on Australia 24-16.

With a weakened and largely experimental team, including players who hadn't been in action for five weeks, the Boks duly suffered an embarrassing 32-15 defeat by Ireland at Lansdowne Road, their biggest in history. - Sapa-AFP

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