Every year is important in South African rugby‚ but after the disappointment of 2016‚ 2017 is looming as a vital season for the sport.
Here are some key dates to look out for in the coming months:
January: Although a date has not been set‚ the next meeting of Super Rugby’s coaches with SA Rugby and the Springbok hierarchy will happen before the end of the month.
It is a vital continuation of the coaches’ indaba process that started late in 2016. This month will also bring finality on the review process into Springbok coach Allister Coetzee’s first year in charge and whether he will be sacked or not.
SA Rugby has said that a final decision will be made before the end of the month.
April 7-9: The Hong Kong Sevens is the crown jewel of the World Sevens Series and the oldest prestigious tournament on the circuit.
It is also the only title the Blitzboks have never won.
Coach Neil Powell has targeted winning in Hong Kong as a priority.
After their superb start to the 2016-17 campaign — winning in Dubai and finishing runners-up in Cape Town — the Blitzboks are well set to gain that elusive Hong Kong title.
June 10: Springboks versus France at Loftus Versfeld.
The first Test of the 2017 season will be vital for several reasons.
It is the first of the three-Test series against France‚ and three-Test series are often defined by the outcome of the first match.
It will also be the Boks’ first Test after the abysmal 2016 season. They are currently on a four-Test losing streak, and five in a row would make it the first time since 2006 and only the fourth time in the Springboks’ history that they have clocked up this dubious statistic.
If Coetzee is still the coach the match will be vitally important for him as he tries to save his reputation and career.
If there is a new man in charge of the Springboks it would be equally important for him to start off on a winning note and set a positive tone for the rest of the season.
July 15: Super Rugby’s final pool matches.
The Bulls against the Stormers and the Sharks versus the Lions on the final weekend of pool play could go a long way towards deciding the playoff places for the South African teams in the transcontinental tournament.
The Bulls and the Stormers battled it out in Africa Conference 1 last season and they are likely to do the same in 2017. The Sharks and the Lions are also headed for a showdown to finish top of Africa Conference 2.
The Cheetahs and Jaguares of Argentina might be spoilers but those final two matches will have ramifications for the entire conference.
September 16: All Blacks versus the Springboks in Auckland.
The Boks have not won in Auckland since 1937 and they have fallen way behind the reigning World Cup winners and Rugby Championship title holders in recent seasons.
The All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park since 1994 making it a formidable battle for the Boks. If the All Blacks fare poorly against the British & Irish Lions, whom the play twice in Auckland in June 2017‚ the Springboks’ chances will improve.
Whatever happens, this will be the occasion to measure whether their slide has continued or turned.