Springboks Test players Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe top five photo ashley vlotman

Springboks Test players Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe. Photos: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images.

Year in review: Do the Springboks receive a pass mark or not?

As the year draws to a close, we reflect on the Springboks’ Test season and assess whether the team should receive a pass mark or not.

Springboks Test players Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe top five photo ashley vlotman

Springboks Test players Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe. Photos: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images.

As the year draws to a close, we reflect on the Springboks’ action-packed Test season and assess whether Jacques Nienaber’s team should receive a pass mark or not.

The Springboks have not enjoyed the most successful year. In fact, a 61.5% win percentage is not at all good for a team of South Africa’s stature in world rugby.

The Springboks won eight of their 13 Tests this year, losing one game each to the Wales, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and France; but they did beat both Wales and Argentina twice, and the All Blacks, Wallabies, Italy and England once each.

At first glance, it’s a set of statistics that makes for grim reading. But that’s just it: statistics. The phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” springs to mind when the Springboks’ results are used as the sole yardstick measuring the team’s success.

Context is needed.

State of the nation:

The Springboks are in a much better state at this particular stage of the four-year World Cup cycle than they were during the same period in the previous cycle.

Despite the mixed bag of results, off-field drama that was outside of the coach’s control and a spade of injuries to key players at crucial stages, Nienaber made the best of the hand he was dealt and all things considered he and his team did fairly well under the circumstances.

Throughout this season, the Springboks have played some of its best, most consistent rugby of recent years; that was as a direct result of the management team’s problem solving and ability to adapt quickly to unforeseen situations.


The unavailability of flyhalves Elton Jantjies and Handre Pollard, prompted Nienaber to use first Frans Steyn then Damian Willemse in that role. Steyn lasted just one game. While Willemse performed admirably in general play, his goal-kicking left much to be desired. But again Nienaber was confident enough to hand that responsibility to Cheslin Kolbe and Faf de Klerk, in order to take the pressure off Willemse.

And when Willemse fell to the wayside due to an injury, Nienaber called on the inexperienced Manie Libbok to not only fill that vacant playmaker role but to attempt to solve the Boks’ goal-kicking woes on the end-of-year-tour; which Libbok did. That is just one clear example of Nienaber’s problem-solving.

The widely preconceived notions that South Africa play boring rugby and that the Boks’ attack is static also need debunking. The Springboks scored 43 tries at an average of 3.3 per Test this year; and crossed for tries in all but one of their internationals this season, when they drew a blank in the second Test against Wales in July.

Despite critics’ best efforts to downplay South Africa’s attacking prowess, it’s an undeniable fact that the Bok offence has come in heaps and bounds this year, although the execution still lacks at times.

With a clear plan on the way forward, a set game-plan [sans execution at times] in place, several promising signs to work with, a few valuable lessons learned and fourth in the World Rugby rankings, the Springboks will head into 2023 — a World Cup year — in a much stronger position than they did 2019 when won the World Cup against all odds.

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As a collective, one can’t really fault the Springbok squad for their efforts in 2022. They performed admirably despite many a curveballs throughout a disruption season on and off the field.

That said, there are a players who underlined their status as the best in the world in their respective positions.

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According to Opta, South Africa had the best performing scrum this season; winning 13% of opposition scrums with Frans Malherbe in the front row, a feat no other Tier 1 prop achieved on opposition scrums in this calendar year.

Eben Etzebeth stole six lineouts in Test rugby in 2022, the most of any Tier 1 player, while he was also the top ranking lock for dominant carries (15), defenders beaten (eight) and offloads (seven) this calendar year.

And then of course there was the meteoric rise of Kurt-Lee Arendse into the Test fold; a stroke a genius by Nienaber and a joy to watch for rugby fans the world over.

In what was an incredible debut campaign on the Test stage for Arendse, the speedster scored seven tries in seven Tests, including a stunning solo effort against England which was undoubtedly his best one yet as he turned Marcus Smith inside-out on the way to the tryline.

Arendse scored the most tries of any player in the Autumn Nations Series (5), while he also topped the charts for carry metres (481) and linebreaks (7, level with Darcy Graham).

Before injury struck and ended his Test season, Lukhanyo Am made four linebreaks in a game against New Zealand in this year’s Rugby Championship, no Tier 1 player made more in a game this year, while it was the most by a Springboks player against the All Blacks since Willie Le Roux in 2015 (4).

Skipper Siya Kolisi was also at his brilliant best in 2022, leading from the front with one industrious display after another. An example of his dominance is that he made 11 dominant tackles during this year’ Autumn Nations Series, the joint most of any player (along with England’s Tom Curry). In fact, 38% of Kolisi’s tackles were dominant, the highest rate of any player in the series.

The above mentioned are just a few selected instances of the invaluable contributions Am, Etzebeth, Malherbe, Kolisi and Arendse made to the Springbok cause this year. And if they can carry that form into 2023, the Springboks will be a scary prospect come the World Cup.

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Player-depth and succession planning:

One of the Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus’ core goals for the year was to strengthen the Springboks squad depth with a wider player pool to select its 33-man 2023 World Cup party from.

A whopping 10 players were capped by the Springboks in 2022, with Salmaan Moerat, Elrigh Louw, Grant Williams, Ruan Nortje, Deon Fourie, Ntuthukho Mchunu, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Evan Roos, Canan Moodie and Manie Libbok all making their Test debuts.

Earlier this year, in the second Test against Wales in South Africa, Nienaber put the cat among the pigeons when he made 14 changes to his team, with only Etzebeth retaining his spot in the starting lineup. Six uncapped players were in the match-day 23 and all made their Test debuts.

It was a decision that attracted widespread criticism, with many overseas pundits saying Nienaber were disrespectful towards Wales. Closer to home, Nienaber was accused of cheapening the Springbok jersey by just handing out ‘undeserving’ caps to random players.

While the debut raged on on social media platforms, Nienaber quietly and cunningly went about his business. Nienaber perfected the balancing act of blooding in young players to give them the needed experience and winning when it mattered, all the while strengthening his squad in every position as he builds towards next year’s World Cup.


The Springboks’ results column for the year 2022 may not read how they would have liked it to, but Nienaber dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s where needed this season.

All things considered, the Springboks a primed for a big 2023 Test season and well-placed for the looming World Cup in France.

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Springboks Test team photo ahead of England 2022 game at Twickenham. Photo Springboks
Springboks Test team that played England at Twickenham in 2022.