What we learned from the Test between the Springboks and France on Saturday, as well as the All Blacks’ win at Twickenham, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Mbonambi, subs made key impact
In two big games this year, there have been some questions over the conditioning of Bongi Mbonambi. When the hooker was replaced before half-time in the Test against Australia in Brisbane, Rassie Erasmus suggested that he had run out of steam at that point. Western Province coach John Dobson made a similar statement when Mbonambi was replaced at half-time in the Currie Cup final. Whatever the case may be, Mbonambi made the utmost of his limited game time against France on Saturday as he accurately executed his lineout feeds under pressure, while scoring the match-winning try with a well-timed breakaway from the back of a maul. Besides Mbonambi’s impact, Francois Louw secured a crucial turnover for the Boks, while most of the substitutes brought some much-needed energy to proceedings.
Irony in late referee call
France looked certain to claim a 26-22 win on Saturday when Louw won the Boks a penalty deep in their own 22. Elton Jantjies then looked to get maximum distance on the kick to set up one final attacking lineout, but failed to find touch. All wing Damian Penaud had to do was collect the ball, kill a few seconds and France would have won. Instead, he marginally touched the sideline with literally just a couple of seconds left on the clock. Experienced referee Nigel Owens took stock of the situation, and calmly and correctly ruled that the lineout must take place. Another four minutes of dramatic rugby flowed from there, with Mbonambi ultimately claiming the match-winning try in the 85th minute. Considering the controversy of a last-minute refereeing decision that went against the Boks against at Twickenham the week before, there was some real irony to the way things went in favour of South Africa this time around.
Bok win shouldn’t overshadow issues
Just as the controversial Owen Farrell tackle at Twickenham largely overshadowed the Boks’ poor performance against England, one wonders if the last-gasp victory against France might also cloud the objective assessment of the Springboks’ performance in Paris. The fact remains that the Springboks had produced a largely frustrating display of error-riddled rugby up to the 80th minute, with a rejuvenated French side doing enough to lay the foundation for what really would have been a deserved win. Nevertheless, the Boks will take this result and run, but they will be only too aware that they have to clean up their act when it comes to taking opportunities, while their kicking game and security under the high ball remain areas that require improvement.
Pollard impresses again with goal-kicking
Handré Pollard deserves plenty of credit for keeping the Boks in the game on Saturday. Despite the best attempts of a vociferous home crowd to distract the flyhalf when lining up shots at goal, he remained cool and calm under pressure. Pollard ultimately produced a flawless goal-kicking performance in Paris, slotting two conversions and five penalties for a 19-point haul, and in truth, he never really looked like missing. There was a bit of swagger about Pollard from the kicking tee, and it’s highly encouraging to see that he has rediscovered his goal-kicking confidence as the World Cup draws ever closer.
All Blacks remain great escape artists
It’s no surprise to see that England coach Eddie Jones said he was ‘devastated’ by Saturday’s one-point loss to the All Blacks. The hosts had looked so good throughout the first half an hour of proceedings, and took a well-deserved 15-0 lead to leave New Zealand well and truly backpedalling. In such typical fashion, though, the All Blacks rallied to score 10 unanswered points just before half-time to shift momentum back in their favour. Beauden Barrett then displayed his all-round class with a drop goal and crucial penalty, while the Kiwis also received some almost customary good fortune from the officials to complete another great escape.
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