Peter Bills: South Africa must try to make history

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The Independent Online

If the Springboks' march towards their first Tri-Nations title since 2004 continues apace on Saturday against Australia in Cape Town, and there seems no reason on earth why it shouldn't, then just one more target will stretch before these Springboks.

In the 22 years of the Rugby World Cup, no country has ever won back-to-back tournaments. The closest anyone has come to rugby's Holy Grail was Australia, winners in 1999 and runners-up in 2003, and then after extra time.

Manifestly, these South Africans have the capacity to make history in that regard. By the time of the next World Cup, they should still have most of this side available.

The only question marks would appear to be against three players: John Smit, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. Smit will be 33 when the 2011 tournament starts in New Zealand, Matfield 35 and Botha 32. Otherwise, there is an argument to be made that just about every other player in the team will be, injuries permitting of course, virtually at their peak.

These will be the ages in 2011 of the rest of the team that played in Durban last Saturday: Frans Steyn 24, JP Pietersen 25, Jaque Fourie 28, Jean de Villiers 30, Bryan Habana 28; Morne Steyn 27, Fourie du Preez 29; ‘Beast' Mtawarira 26, Bismarck du Plessis 27, Heinrich Brussow 25, Juan Smith 30 and Pierre Spies 26.

Schalk Burger (remember him?) will be 28, Andries Bekker 27.

What is arguably just as important is that almost all these players will have a wealth of Test match rugby experience behind them, guys with 40 or 50 caps or in many cases, a lot more than that.

The combination of players at their peak age wise and in terms of experience of rugby at the highest level, is intimidating indeed. It was the key to England's World Cup win in 2003 in Australia. Players like Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Trevor Woodman, Phil Vickery, Matt Dawson, Neil Back, Jonny Wilkinson, Will Greenwood and Josh Lewsey were virtually all at their peak. Indeed, there was a view that as a side, England had ‘gone over the top' and were on their way down, having peaked 18 months earlier.

Whether that was true or not remains a matter of conjecture. But even if true, it showed that senior players with all the experience in the world could still win a World Cup even if just past their best. Thus, it may well be that players like John Smit, Matfield and Botha will still be around in two years time, able to last the course and still make a significant contribution because of all their expertise and know-how.

It would appear a seismic shift in world rugby patterns and trends would be required to stop South Africa going into the next World Cup as overwhelming favourites to win again and make history.

Of course, much will depend upon how those players are managed in the intervening period. Injuries can ruin careers in this sport, loss of form can cost places.

But it is some tribute to the legacy Jake White left Springbok rugby that so many of his players who triumphed at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, should again be around in 2011, vying to make world rugby history. And this list of players completely ignores any younger, thrusting candidates who might, in the next couple of years, force their way into contention for a place in the squad or even the side by 2011. For sure, there are plenty of those bursting to get onto the highest stage of the game in their country.

Truly, South African rugby's cup runneth over at this time...