What we learned from the fifth round of the Rugby Championship, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks claim commendable second-place finish
Considering that the All Blacks’ clash against Argentina kicked off after midnight in South Africa, many Bok fans will be waking up to the news on Sunday that New Zealand have rather predictably claimed the Rugby Championship title with a comfortable 35-17 win in Buenos Aires. The Boks remain seven log points behind the mighty All Blacks, but regardless of the outcome between these two teams in Pretoria this Saturday, South Africa cannot be displaced from second place. It’s a position that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus would surely have quite happily accepted had it been offered to him before the competition got underway. In claiming a solid 23-12 win over Australia on Saturday, the Springboks ensured that they have tasted success against every team in the Rugby Championship this season, with Erasmus’ charges having made real progress over the course of the campaign. The confident Boks will now be aiming to ensure they finish on a high against the All Blacks.
Pollard continues goal-kicking improvement
One of the real areas of concern following the Boks’ Rugby Championship opener revolved around the goal-kicking of Handré Pollard. Although the Springboks managed to claim a 34-21 win over the Pumas in Durban, Pollard missed five shots at goal, and appeared to carry this lack of confidence into the next match in Argentina. However, the Boks insisted that this was an area of his game that could be easily remedied, and to Pollard’s credit, his goal-kicking has mostly been out of the top drawer since then. The 24-year-old slotted all five shots at goal against Australia in Port Elizabeth, and looked confident in his all-round game. Knowing the importance of accurate goal-kicking at next year’s World Cup, it’s positive news that the flyhalf has improved his success rate from the kicking tee.
Du Toit remains in rare form
At the start of the Rugby Championship, Pieter-Steph du Toit started at lock against Argentina, before shifting to the bench as Franco Mostert returned from a rest. However, in the midst of a disappointing Bok performance in Mendoza, Du Toit made a massive impact as a substitute. He has not looked back since. Slotting in on the flank, Du Toit has made the No 7 jersey his own, and it’s fair to say that his transition from the second row to the loose trio is now complete. The 27-year-old was the official Man of the Match in Saturday’s win over Australia, which once again saw him complete a mountain of tackles (17), while he also made 17m from four carries. Du Toit has quickly become one of those players whose name will be first to be put down on the team sheet.
Boks coming to grips with defensive system
During the three-Test series against England in June, and at the start of the Rugby Championship, the Boks were exposed out wide on defence more than once. It was a clear sign of teething problems as some new players became accustomed to a new defensive system. It’s what Wallabies coach Michael Cheika referred to as a ‘high-line rush defence’ when he commended the Boks’ immense defensive effort in the second half on Saturday. Although the Boks would be the first to admit that it still remains a work-in-progress, they should be encouraged by the increased understanding and accuracy that is being displayed on defence. Indeed, the Springboks have seen that opportunities on attack can quite often be sparked from the pressure created on the opposition through suffocating defence.
Springboks must be wary of All Blacks backlash
Considering the continual improvement that Argentina have made as a Test team, there were those who thought that they could at least remain competitive against the All Blacks in Buenos Aires. However, with New Zealand coming off the back of a shock defeat against the Springboks, it was Argentina who bore the brunt of a decisive response – particularly from the All Blacks forwards, who dismantled the Pumas’ scrum. Coach Steven Hansen handed his team a pass mark for the 35-17 win, but he has already called for an even better performance against the Boks this Saturday. Rested stalwarts Kieran Read and Owen Franks will return for the rematch against the Springboks, who should be expecting the All Blacks to come out firing in response to the humbling defeat that they suffered at home a couple of weeks ago.
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