Despite some massive hurdles, 2021 turned out to be a welcome return to form for South African rugby, after almost the entire 2020 year was decimated due to the Covid pandemic.
The Springboks returned to action for the first time since the 2019 World Cup final, local tournaments such as the Currie Cup and Rainbow Cup were successfully completed and the big four South African franchises officially joined the North in the United Rugby Championship.
Obviously with the pandemic still ongoing it continued to cause problems for all of the teams that took part in the above tournaments, however in all it was a satisfying return to professional rugby action for the country.
The Springboks, by their standards, will be the first to admit that they did not have the best year results-wise as they emerged with eight wins and five losses from their 13 games.
However, in the context of the raging Covid pandemic and incredibly tough bio bubble life they had to live in at times, including a punishing three month stint that began in June and ended at the start of October, it was understandable that the team wasn’t always at their best.
Add to that the fact that the Boks hadn’t played any international rugby since the 2019 World Cup final, it was in fact an impressive feat to emerge from the year with the world’s number one ranking still in their grasp.
The highlight of the year for the Springboks was without a doubt their mightily impressive 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions.
Other highlights for the Boks included a fantastic win over the All Blacks at the end of the Rugby Championship and a thumping win over Scotland at Murrayfield on their end of year tour.
The low point was their third place finish in the Rugby Championship, after they had a disastrous tour Down Under, losing three of their four games, including going down twice to unfancied Australia.
The star performers for the Boks over the year were captain Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende and Makazole Mapimpi.
After being treated incredibly poorly by Australian ref Nic Berry in the first British and Irish Lions match Kolisi stood up and produced arguably his most impressive year in a Springbok jersey, putting in some brilliant performances while he became much more assured in his captaincy.
Etzebeth was desperately unlucky not to be nominated for World Rugby’s Player of the Year award after a barnstorming year, Am and De Allende proved that they are the world’s best centre combo and Mapimpi completed his record of scoring against every country he has faced so far.
SA managed to successfully hold two Currie Cup tournaments, from November last year to January and from June until September, while the main franchises competed in the Rainbow Cup.
All three of those tournaments were hampered by Covid at various stages, however valuable rugby was able to be played, with the Bulls the star performers on the local front, winning both Currie Cups and finishing as runners-up in the Rainbow Cup, losing to Benetton in the final in Italy.
The main event of the year for the local franchises however took place in September as they started their journey up North with the United Rugby Championship.
It has been a difficult start for the SA sides, with the highest placed team the Lions at 10th on the log, however considering their first four games were played in the UK and Italy without their Boks, it should only get better for them as the tournament goes on.