The South African Springboks: the “Mike Tyson” of the Rugby Universe?

Last month we talked about the potential of New Zealand turning into the NFL’s Buffalo Bills of the ‘90s when it comes to Rugby World Cup championships. Is it possible?  Yeah, and more than likely should the All Blacks fall short of winning the 2011 RWC when they have home nation advantage.


Now I’d like to turn my sights to another top team in the Rugby Universe, the South African Springboks.  Having won the RWC twice, including the most recently in 2007, they stride through the Rugby Universe as though they are a heavyweight boxer incapable of being defeated, with some secret knockout punch waiting to be unleashed.


But a question remains about the Springboks, especially given their …  aggressive and unorthodox (some would call it cheap shot) style of play.  Does, underneath that exterior swagger, beat the heart that many sports fans are familiar with, a combination of Mike Tyson (in his later, ear biting days) and too many low-swinging boxers to be named right now. 


If you were watching the Tri Nations earlier this summer, where Springbok Bakkies Botha essentially mounted the All Blacks’ Jimmy Cowan and head-butted him in game one of the series, earning a 9-week ban, then you might think that it does.


I think part of it hearkens back to pre-1995 days, when the Springboks were still banned from international play, due to the international boycott of South Africa due to apartheid. Feeling that they were being unfairly treated by the actions of their government, the Springboks returned to international rugby in 1992 with a chip on their shoulder.  The team, already known for trying to intimidate their opponents physically, appeared to ramp up the voltage a little bit and ever since have tried to aggressively impose their will  on the pitch.  And it’s worked for the most part, the evidence is in the results – ranked third in the most recent world rankings, two World Cup wins, still one of the most dominant teams in the world…


So, why bring this up?


Because the Springboks ARE two-time Rugby World Cup champions, dominant and highly ranked.  They are that Mike Tyson-esque team, the one who you know is good enough to become champions without cheating, but tries to throw a low blow when the ref isn’t looking.  It’s infuriating.  At first I thought “well, they are just playing hard-nosed rugby, giving as good as they received.”  And it’s not as if other nations out there are innocent, but the Springboks take it further than they have to, relishing their desire to take out those pre-1995 boycott days on whoever they play. 


It’s also because I wonder if they truly relish being the bullying, swaggering, black-hat wearing team of the Rugby Universe.  And because I know what happens to bullies once people start standing up to them.


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