History of Rugby Union in South Africa
First internationals: 1891–1913
The South Africa team that played the second test v the British Isles
The first British Isles tour took place in 1891, at Diocesan College. These were the first representative games played by South African sides. The tourists won all twenty matches they played, conceding only one point.
The British Isles' success continued on their tour of 1896, winning three out of four tests against South Africa. South Africa's play greatly improved from 1891, and their first test win in the final game was a pointer to the future.
In 1903 the British Isles lost a series for the first time in South Africa, drawing the opening two tests before losing the last 8–0. Rugby was given a huge boost by the early Lions tours, which created great interest in the South African press. South Africa would not lose another series—home or away—until 1956.
The first South African team to tour the British Isles and France occurred during 1906–07. The team played tests against all four Home Nations. England managed a draw, but Scotland was the only one of the Home unions to gain a victory. The trip instilled a sense of national pride among South Africans.
The South Africans played an unofficial match against a 'France' team while the official French team were in England; the Springboks won 55–6.
It was during this tour that the nickname Springboks was first used.
The 1910 British Isles tour of South Africa was the first to include representatives from all four Home unions. The tourists won just one of their three tests. The Boks' second European tour took place in 1912–13. They beat the four Home nations to earn their first Grand Slam, and also defeated France.
By the first World War, New Zealand and South Africa had established themselves as rugby's two greatest powers. A Springbok tour to New Zealand and Australia in 1921 was billed as "The World Championship of Rugby". The All Blacks won the first Test 13–5, The Springboks recovered to win the second Test 9–5, and the final Test was drawn 0–0, resulting in a series draw.
The 1924 British and Irish Lions team to South Africa lost all four Tests to the Springboks. This was the first side to pick up the name Lions, apparently picked up from the Lions embroidered on their ties.
The All Blacks first toured South Africa in 1928, and again the Test series finished level. The Springboks won the first Test 17–0 to inflict the All Blacks' heaviest defeat since 1893. The All Blacks rebounded to win the second Test 7–6. After a Springbok win in the third Test, the All Blacks won 13–5 to draw the series.
Despite winning South Africa's second Grand Slam, the Springbok tourists of 1931–32 were an unloved team, due to their tactics of kicking for territory. It was successful however, winning against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as defeating all their Welsh opponents for the first time.
In 1933, Australia toured South Africa, with the Springboks winning the series 3–2.
In 1937 South Africa toured New Zealand and Australia and their 2–1 series win prompted them to be called "the best team to ever leave New Zealand".
The British Isles toured South Africa again in 1938, winning the majority of their tour matches. The Springboks secured easy victories in the first two tests. However, the Lions bounced back to record a win in the third test, for the first Lions win on South Africa soil since 1910.
Danie Craven was appointed coach in 1949, and started his coaching career winning ten matches in a row, including a 4–0 whitewash of New Zealand on their 1949 tour to South Africa.
The 1951–52 team that toured Europe was considered amongst the finest Springbok sides to tour. The team won the Grand Slam as well as defeating France. Hennie Muller captained the side. The South African highlight of the tour was a 44–0 defeat of Scotland. The team finished with only one loss, to London Counties, from 31 matches.
In 1953, Australia toured South Africa for the second time and although they lost the series they defeated South Africa 18–14 in the second test. This was the first Springbok defeat for 15 years. The 1955 British Lions tour to South Africa four-test series ended in a draw.
In 1956, Springboks toured Australasia the All Blacks won its first series over the Springboks, in "the most bitterly fought series in history."
When France toured South Africa in 1958 they were not expected to compete. France exceeded expectations and drew 3–3. The French then secured a Test series victory with a 9–5 victory.
Anti-apartheid protests: 1960s–1970s
In 1960, international criticism of apartheid grew in the wake of The Wind of Change speech and the Sharpeville massacre. The Springboks increasingly became the target of international protest. The All Blacks toured South Africa in 1960, despite a 150,000 signature petition opposing it. The Springboks avenged their 1956 series defeat by winning the four-match test series 2–1 with one draw. Later that same year the Springboks toured Europe, and they defeated all four Home unions for their fourth Grand Slam.
The 1962 British Lions tour to South Africa lost all three tests. In 1963 the touring Wallabies beat the Springboks in consecutive tests, the first team to do so since the 1896 British team. In 1964, in Wales' first overseas tour they played one test match against South Africa, losing 3–24, their biggest defeat in 40 years.
South Africa had a poor year in 1965, losing matches in a tour of Ireland and Scotland, and in a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
The planned 1967 tour by the All Blacks was cancelled by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union after the South African government refused to allow Maori players. In 1968 the Lions toured and lost three Tests and drew one.
Next year in the 1969–70 Springbok tour to the UK and Ireland the Springboks lost test matches against England and Scotland, and drew against Ireland and Wales. Throughout the tour however, large anti-apartheid demonstrations meant that several matches had to be played behind barbed wire fences.
In 1970 the All Blacks toured South Africa once again—after the South African government agreed to treat Maoris in the team and Maori spectators as 'honorary whites'. The Springboks won the test series 3–1.
In the Springbok tour of Australia in 1971, the Springboks won all three tests. As in Britain three years before, however, massive anti-apartheid demonstrations greeted the team, and they had to be transported by the Royal Australian Air Force after the trade unions refused to service planes or trains transporting them. A planned tour of New Zealand for 1973 was blocked by New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk on the grounds of public safety.
The Lions team that toured South Africa in 1974 triumphed 3–0 (with one drawn) in the test series. A key feature was the Lions' infamous '99 call'. Lions management had decided that the Springboks dominated their opponents with physical aggression, so decided "to get their retaliation in first". At the call of '99' each Lions player would attack their nearest rival player. The "battle of Boet Erasmus Stadium" was one of the most violent matches in rugby history.
Sporting isolation: 1970s–1980s
The 1976 All Blacks tour of South Africa went ahead, and the Springboks won by three Tests to one, but coming shortly after the Soweto riots the tour attracted international condemnation. Twenty-eight countries boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics in protest, and in 1977 the Gleneagles Agreement discouraged any Commonwealth sporting contact with South Africa. In response to the growing pressure, the segregated South African rugby unions merged in 1977. A planned 1979 Springbok tour of France was blocked by the French government.
The Lions toured South Africa in 1980, losing the first three tests before winning the last one.
The 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand went ahead in defiance of the Gleneagles Agreement. South Africa lost the series 1–2. The tour and the massive civil disruption in New Zealand had ramifications far beyond rugby. In 1981, Errol Tobias became the first non-white South African to represent his country when he took the field against Ireland. South Africa sought to counteract its sporting isolation by inviting the South American Jaguars to tour. The team contained mainly Argentinian players. Eight matches were played between the two teams in the early 1980s—all awarded Test status. In 1984, England toured losing both test matches; of the players selected, only Ralph Knibbs of Bristol refused to tour for political reasons.
Due to the isolation from apartheid, from 1985 to 1991, South Africa did not play a single test match against an established country, although South Africa did play some matches against makeshift teams.
In 1985, a planned All Black tour of South Africa was stopped by the New Zealand High Court. A rebel tour took place the next year by a team known as the Cavaliers, which consisted of all but two of the original squad. The Springboks won the series 3–1. In 1989, a World XV sanctioned by the International Rugby Board went on a mini-tour of South Africa; all traditional rugby nations bar New Zealand supplied players to the team.
South Africa was not permitted by the International Rugby Board to compete in the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup, nor in the following 1991 Rugby World Cup.
Rainbow nation and 1995 World Cup
Apartheid was abolished during 1990–91, and the Springboks were readmitted to international rugby in 1992. They struggled to return to their pre-isolation standards in their first games after readmission. During the 1992 All Blacks tour, the first to South Africa since 1976, the Springboks were defeated 24–27 by New Zealand, and suffered a 3–26 loss to Australia the following month.
South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, with a surge of support for the Springboks among the white and black communities behind the slogan "one team, one country." This was the first major international sports event to be held in the Rainbow Nation. By the time they hosted the 1995 World Cup, the Springboks, coached by Kitch Christie, were seeded ninth. They won their pool by defeating Australia, Romania, and Canada. Wins in the quarter-final against Western Samoa (42–14) and in the semi-final against France (19–15) sent the Springboks to the final.
South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final against the All Blacks 15–12 in extra-time.
President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok shirt, presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, a white Afrikaner. The gesture was widely seen as a major step towards the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.
A series of crises followed in 1995 through 1997. Christie resigned in 1996 due to leukaemia. South Africa struggled in the new Tri-Nations competition, the All Blacks won a test series in South Africa for the first time in 1996, and the Lions won their 1997 South African tour test series two games to one. Coach Andre Markgraaff was fired in 1997 over a racist comment he made. The team suffered successive defeats in the Lions 1997 tour and the 1997 Tri Nations Series.
In 1997, coach Nick Mallett coached South Africa's unbeaten 1997 tour of Europe, and in 1998 the Boks tied the then-existing record for longest test winning streak, winning 17 consecutive tests, including the 1998 Tri-Nations.
At the 1999 Rugby World Cup the Springboks reached the semi-finals of the competition, where they lost to eventual champions Australia.
During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the Springboks lost by record margins to England (3–53), France, Scotland and New Zealand. At the 2003 Rugby World Cup, they were eliminated in the quarter-final round – their worst showing to date.
Following wins during the June 2004 tours, the Boks won the 2004 Tri Nations Series. The Springboks won the 2004 IRB International Team of the Year award. The Springboks finished second in the 2005 Tri-Nations.
The 2006 Springboks lost to France, ending their long undefeated home record. A poor 2006 Tri Nations Series included two losses to the Wallabies. Coach Jake White told the press in July 2006 that he had been unable to pick some white players for his squad "because of transformation"—a reference to the ANC government's policies to redress racial imbalances.
2007 Rugby World Cup victory
The Springboks before their 2007 World Cup match against Samoa
At the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, the Springboks won their pool. The Springboks then defeated Fiji 37–20 in the quarter-finals, and Argentina 37–13 in the semi-finals. In the final they prevailed 15–6 over England to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time.
In January 2008, Peter de Villiers was appointed as the first non-white coach of the Springboks. De Villiers's first squad included ten of colour. The team finishes last in the Tri Nations, but notched several wins during their 2008 end of year tour.
The 2009 season was more successful. The Boks earned a 2–1 series win over the Lions, and then won the 2009 Tri Nations Series. However, during the November tests they lost their top spot in the IRB rankings with losses to France and Ireland. Nonetheless, the Boks were named IRB International Team of the Year.
The Boks' June 2010 test campaign included a win over France (their first victory over the French since 2005).
However, the Boks performed poorly in the 2010 Tri Nations campaign, sliding to third in the world rankings.
In the 2011 Tri Nations the Boks rested a number of players in preparation for the upcoming World Cup. At the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the Springboks topped their group before falling to Australia 9–11 in the quarter-finals.
2019 Rugby World Cup victory
South Africa (Boks) won the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan after defeating England 32–12. It was for the first time that a Black South African rugby captain got to lift the Web Ellis Cup, the captain being Siya Kolisi who presented South African president Cyril Ramaphosa the number 6 jersey to commemorate Nelson Mandela, who wore the same numbered jersey during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
The final match between South Africa and England served as a rematch between the two in reference to the 2007 Rugby World Cup final. This marks the third time South Africa has won the World Cup which ties the team with the All Blacks for most Rugby World Cup wins.