Five lessons from the third round of the Castle Rugby Championship, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Springboks are serious Rugby Championship title contenders
The Boks arrived in Brisbane having won their last eight matches, but with those wins having come against northern hemisphere sides, Samoa and Argentina, the question was still being asked: How good are the Boks, really? They had been sublime against the Pumas at Soccer City, scoring nine tries, only to grind out a win against the same side in Mendoza, and the general feeling was that Brisbane would give us a real indication of the Boks' progress under Heyneke Meyer. And it did. The record-breaking, four-try win against the Wallabies showed that the Boks are on an upward curve and capable of beating the world's top teams away from home. The All Blacks in Auckland will pose a far greater challenge, but even if the Boks don't win there, they will return to South Africa knowing that two home wins could still see them lift the southern hemisphere trophy for the first time since 2009.
Heyneke Meyer got his selections right
The Bok coach was criticised by many for selecting Zane Kirchner at fullback and shifting Willie le Roux to the wing, but Kirchner had a solid game in Brisbane and scored the Boks' third try. Meyer also opted to start Bismarck du Plessis, which paid off. While the hooker knocked on with the tryline in sight at the end of the first half, he made a big impact with ball in hand and at the breakdown, where he acted as a second fetcher, forcing two first-half turnovers. Picking two big locks, in Eben Etzebeth and Flip van der Merwe, also paid off, as did the selection of the big Willem Alberts at blindside flank. The Boks bashed the Wallabies up front and in open play, with that extra bulk having a lot to do with it.
The Boks upped their game at the breakdown
Argentina won the breakdown battle against the Boks in Mendoza and almost won the match as a result. The Boks clearly learned from that experience because they were far more clinical in this aspect of the game in Brisbane. They cleaned out well, which allowed Ruan Pienaar to clear quickly from the ruck, while Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis both forced crucial turnovers. With Richie McCaw having been ruled out of the rest of the Rugby Championship because of injury, the Boks will fancy their chances of dominating the breakdown in Auckland too.
The Wallabies are their own worst enemies
We're constantly told that Australian sides have to entertain as well as win, because rugby union has to compete with Aussie rules, rugby league and soccer. After three defeats in the Rugby Championship, perhaps it's time for the Wallabies to worry less about entertaining and more about winning. On Saturday, they often tried to run the ball out of their own half only to lose possession and be punished by the Boks. One example was Quade Cooper throwing a 50-50 inside pass that resulted in a turnover and Willie le Roux's bonus-point try. Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie needs to realise that this is Test rugby, not Super Rugby, and the high-risk tactics that often worked for him with the Reds will result in disaster for the Wallabies.
The All Blacks are beatable
Yes, rain is a great leveller and no doubt played a part in the All Blacks being able to score only three tries against Argentina in Hamilton, and they may well have scored more on a dry night. But they have smashed teams in the rain before, and this wasn't a great performance by the world champions. They were dominated at times by the Pumas scrum, which would have put a smile on the faces of the Bok forwards, and made basic errors, like the one that led to the Pumas' first try. These All Blacks are certainly not unbeatable and the Boks can go into the Auckland match truly believing, and not just hoping, that they can win.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
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