A full calendar year without a Springbok match: that danger sadly exists under present global circumstances … but might it help them create a new milestone for longevity in remaining unbeaten following a World Cup trophy success?
It seems an intriguing enough thought. A full 2020 wipe-out of their scheduled home Tests against Scotland (two) and Georgia, the Rugby Championship, and an intended four further games on an end-of-year European tour would see the Boks probably remain out of action all the way to the start of the major 2021 three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions from 24 July.
That would mean a gap of almost 21 months, from 2 November last year when they beat England 32-12 in the RWC 2019 showpiece at Yokohama, to the first Test against the Lions at FNB Stadium.
It would be a pretty formidable “automatic ticket” to unbeaten status from a time lapse point of view, and also be a strange way for a new head coach, Jacques Nienaber, to painstakingly begin his tenure if his 2020 is a complete no-go for Test activity.
The 21 months would quickly mean the Springboks leapfrog several prior RWC-winning teams in calendar-length terms for staying unbeaten – including both their compatriot predecessors, of 1995 and 2007.
Francois Pienaar’s outfit of ’95 (and a bit beyond for some, including him) won the Webb Ellis Cup at Ellis Park on that immortal June 24 day in front of Nelson Mandela, and won four further matches before suffering a 21-16 defeat to Australia in the inaugural Tri-Nations competition at Sydney on 13 July 1996 – an unbeaten period of almost 13 months.
After winning the World Cup on 20 October 2007 in France, John Smit’s team also won their next four Tests before succumbing to New Zealand 19-8 in Wellington on 5 July the following year: around eight and a half months onward.
But now for the more sobering news: if the current Boks fancy going a landmark-setting, near eternity since their Japan-hosted heroics without further setback, it will take some doing … even if they are to enjoy the solid head start of a guaranteed 21 months.
The record for an RWC-winning team staying unbeaten subsequently is held by the victorious All Blacks of the maiden 1987 World Cup (20 June triumph in that showpiece): in pure calendar terms, they remained without a loss – though there was one draw involved – for an incredible three years and two months onward.
That was up to 18 August 1990, when they finally crashed to Nick Farr-Jones’s Wallabies 21-9 in Wellington after a further 16 wins and one stalemate following the World Cup hoisting by David Kirk.
Two other RWC-winning New Zealand sides also had praiseworthy records for some time after their trophy successes: the 2011 team lasted about 13 months (12 wins, one draw) undefeated, and the 2015 side some 20 months (15 wins).
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