good year not so great

IT HAS been said that 2009 was South Africa's best rugby year and that John Smit's Boks are the best of all time.

IT HAS been said that 2009 was South Africa's best rugby year and that John Smit's Boks are the best of all time.

The huge depth of South African rugby has also been emphasised, notably by coach Peter de Villiers.

That it has been a good year is indisputable. A great year, however, it was not. There has been a lot of hype about the series win over the British and Irish Lions. The reality, however, is that the Lions had won only two series in 10 previous tours to South Africa since 1903.

The Lions were this time beaten 2-1 in an acrimonious series, while the Springboks won the Tri-Nations with only a single loss from six matches. How good the opposition were is immaterial. In Test rugby a win is a win.

And in the Springbok jersey, a loss is a loss.

The year-end tour - or perhaps "tours" with two different coaches and the 37 players plus enforcements only together for a single week out of five - was a rude awakening.

From the loss against a Leicester Tigers side who were without 12 of their regulars and another against an under-strength Saracens, to the losses against France and Ireland in the Tests, it was a disaster.

And the tour was included in a year that in many aspects was one of the Boks' worst yet and definitely not close to the best in Bok history.

From a 78percent winning record after the Tri-Nations, De Villiers' side slumped to a rather average 67percent in Tests - and if the two midweek tour games are added, to 57percent.

Their 2009 Test record was not as good as that of 2005 (eight wins and one draw from 12 games), 2004 (nine wins from 13 matches), 1998 (11 from 12) or 1995 (10 from 10).

The 2009 season also produced their fourth worst record of all time in overseas Tests, with only three wins from six games.

Strange replacement calls such as the (regular) cheapening of Test caps by giving players a run of 73 seconds at the end of a Test, and replacing a loosehead with a tighthead while there was a loosehead replacement on the bench, were indicative of poor planning and tactics.

They nearly lost the first Test against the Lions through silly replacement calls by coach De Villiers and ultimately won after a desperate last-second tackle by Morne Steyn on Ugo Monye. The second was also won by Steyn with a last-gasp penalty from within his own half after the Lions, on top, were hamstrung by the enforced uncontested scrums. The Springboks won the first two Tests 26-21 and 28-25.

In the third Test the Boks opted to make 10 changes. The Lions were forced to do the same.

The changes gave the Boks the chance to show their depth against the Lions' dirt trackers who were weakened by injury withdrawals before and during the tour.

The Lions won 28-9.

In the Tri-Nations, the Boks were a cross-kick away from defeat against the All Blacks in Hamilton, and they were fortunate that they played the Kiwis without Dan Carter in the first two Tests.

Business Day' s Mark Keohane wrote: "That the Boks were international team of the year after taking a beating from the Irish was as close as it comes to an Irish joke, and it wasn't a particularly funny one." - Sapa-AFP