2013 saw Springboks on the up

Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Morné Steyn (AFP)
Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Morné Steyn (AFP)

Johannesburg - If their success record is anything to go by, 2013 signalled the rise of the Springboks as they ended the season as world number two - runners-up to the All Blacks.

Statistically, it was their most successful season since 1998, winning 10 of their 12 matches this year for an 83 percent winning record. The only team to beat the Springboks were the world champions New Zealand.

The All Blacks unbeaten record in their 14 Test outings this year, however, may suggest a deep divide between them and the rest of the world.

The final Rugby Championship meeting between the top two sides at Ellis Park in October ranked among the best of rugby encounters in recent years.

With the Boks still in with a shout to take the Championship title for the first time since 2009, the stage was set for a riveting match.

South Africa went into the game needing a win with a four-try bonus point, as well as having to deny the world champions a bonus point.

While the Springboks managed to score four tries, their deviation from a more pragmatic approach played into New Zealand's hands which saw the visitors winning 38-27 and with it the title.

The victory only tightened the All Blacks' stranglehold on the Boks, having won all four matches between the two sides since Heyneke Meyer took control of the South African side.

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the Springboks should have stuck with the game plan which held them in good stead throughout the year instead of the expansive style they employed in the Ellis Park Test.

A victory would also have denied the Kiwis their perfect record, but Meyer and his troops should be commended for going for gold instead of aiming for second best.

The Boks continued where they left off on the 2012 end-of-year tour beating Italy, Scotland and Samoa in the opening Incoming Series in June.

Arguably the highlight of the year was South Africa's impressive 38-12 routing of Australia in Brisbane.

It was possibly their most clinical performance this year for their first ever victory at the Suncorp Stadium and first in Brisbane since 1971.

While the Brisbane Test could be considered the highlight of the year, the showdown with the All Blacks a week later was, without doubt, the low point and included some dubious refereeing by Frenchman Romain Poite.

Poite flashed a red card at imposing hooker Bismarck du Plessis in the 42nd minute of the clash, following two debatable yellow-card decisions, which effectively ended the game as a contest.

Despite being a man down against the best team in the world for the rest of the match, the Boks put up a valiant effort to bow out with their heads held high with the All Blacks winning 29-15.

The team opened their end-of-year tour beating Six Nations champions Wales in Cardiff, and went on to collect the scalps of Scotland in Edinburgh and the French in Paris, ending the season with an impressive winning record.

The rise of prodigious lock Eben Etzebeth had been nothing short of a revelation this season as he demonstrated maturity which belied his age.

His mammoth performances in the green and gold earned him, not only South African accolades, but a nomination for the IRB's 2013 World Player of the Year - an indication he had arrived on the international stage.

The introduction of the unpredictable Willie le Roux brought a new dimension to the Springboks' backline with the playmaker proving to be a perfect fit either as fullback or wing.

The year was also characterised by the return of Springbok stalwarts Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf, centre Jaque Fourie and enforcer lock Bakkies Botha after an absence of almost two years.

Meyer scored a major coup by being able to call on the experience of Du Preez after he had made himself unavailable owing to club responsibilities in Japan after the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

His experience and ability to read the game was immediately felt in his return to the Springbok fold, playing off the bench in the opening Rugby Championship match against Argentina at the FNB Stadium in August.

Fourie made his comeback against Wales and was selected in the starting XV in all three matches of the tour, along with wing JP Pietersen who also saw Springbok action for the first time in 2013.

Du Plessis established himself as possibly the best hooker in world rugby, with team-mate Adriaan Strauss ranking a fraction behind him.

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has grown in stature as the leader of the team, proving to be a diplomat on and off the field, while he also produced arguably the best rugby of the year.

The Boks laid the perfect foundation in 2013 to see them challenge New Zealand for world supremacy the year before the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

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