Chasing Greatness: Springboks' quest for world domination continues in 2024

Chasing Greatness: Springboks' quest for world domination continues in 2024

The Springboks head into 2024 as the No. 1 ranked team in the world and back-to-back Rugby World Cup champions. So what will they do for an encore?

The Boks have certainly enjoyed a great deal of success in their long and proud history, but 2023 will go down as a banner year even by their lofty standards.

To head to the northern hemisphere and pull off an audacious defence of their Rugby World Cup crown by grittily grinding out three of the gutsiest do-or-die victories in the history of the tournament, even as they inflicted heartbreak after heartbreak on their much-vaunted opponents and their fans, is sure to stay long in the memory of Bok fans the world over.

But heavy is the head that wears the crown and the challenge for the Springboks in the year ahead will be living up to their current billing by proving they are exactly where they deserve to be in the current hierarchy of world rugby - right at the top.

The new coach is the same as the old coach

At least for the time being, SA Rugby has opted for continuity by returning Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus to the head coaching role he held until handing the reins over to Jacques Nienaber following their last World Cup win in 2019.

That means the Springboks find themselves in the enviable position of losing their World Cup-winning coach but retaining the man who mentored him throughout his four-year tenure and was highly instrumental in their success during that time.

It essentially means that even after two straight World Cup wins, the current Springbok era is not ending at all, and the Boks will be able to benefit from a lot of continuity both on and off the field going forward.

Consider also that there was only one confirmed retirement amongst the players as well, with the legandary Duane Vermeulen the only one of the current crop of Bok greats calling it a day.

Captain Siya Kolisi isn't retiring, nor are virtually any of the Boks' world-class forwards. In the backline, the future looks just as promising, with a whole host of young players coming through the ranks in recent years to add an extra dimension to the Bok attack.

And while the aftermath of their last World Cup win was severely affected by the Covid pandemic, there will be no such challenges this time around, allowing Erasmus to plot the way forward for the team without any serious disruption.

How will the Boks look to evolve?

While the Springboks devised a very successful formula in France built on their devastating defensive and set-piece powers married with a lethal counter-attacking ability, the challenge for the Bok coaches in 2024 and the years ahead will be in deciding how much of their DNA they retain and how much they decide to tinker with and evolve the winning formula.

With an innovative coach like Erasmus at the helm, it seems doubtful the Boks will choose to simply rest on their laurels and not look to add a few more weapons to their arsenal.

Erasmus and Nienaber often spoke of how the pandemic prevented them from kicking on the way they would have liked after the 2019 World Cup. And with a British & Irish Lions series looming, they had no choice but to adopt a more conservative mindset and narrow focus.

In the years leading up to the 2023 World Cup, however, you could start to see some new ideas and tactics taking shape, but Nienaber and Erasmus would be the first to admit their side was not the finished article.

While there's certainly no need to make drastic changes to the current formula, it feels like this current Springbok side still has more potential to unlock, and it's going to be fascinating to see what new ideas the Boks bring to the table in 2024.

The higher you climb, the more visible the target

Being successful also means everyone's aiming at you, and the Boks can expect some fierce competition in 2024 and beyond.

Consider that the All Blacks have just ushered in a new era with the arrival of Crusaders architect Scott Robertson, or that Ireland have just given their impressive head coach Andy Farrell another four years in which to try and mastermind a World Cup win.

France are down but certainly not out, with their current crop of hugely talented players eager to right the wrongs of their disappointing exit at the hands of the Boks, while the likes of England and Scotland are both growing powers.

All of these sides and quite a few more are going to be gunning for the Boks in the years ahead - many of them motivated by revenge - so they better be ready for what's coming at them.

The Springboks wouldn't be back-to-back world champs if they weren't able to handle a little bit of heat, however, and if there's one thing their most recent World Cup victory has shown them, it's that they're more than able to cope with the pressure.

By Mike Schmitt