What we learned from the one-off Test between the Boks and Wales in Washington, and the Blitzboks’ performance at the London Sevens, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks begin Rassie Erasmus era in forgettable fashion
A few weeks prior to Saturday’s one-off Test against Wales in Chicago, Erasmus openly admitted that one of the reasons for the unusual fixture was for the organisers to ‘make some bucks’. From a purely rugby perspective, it didn’t make much sense, with Erasmus having to take a ‘second-string’ squad to the USA, while preserving a host of likely first-choice players ahead of the upcoming three-Test series against England. Unfortunately, a completely mix-match side – one completely devoid of any settled combinations – failed to rise above the difficult circumstances on Saturday. Unfortunately, a new-look Bok side appeared understandably disjointed from the get-go, and ultimately succumbed to a disappointing two-point defeat in an error-riddled game. It was hardly the ideal start to the much-heralded Erasmus era, but he will know that the real business starts now.
Esterhuizen, Mapimpi and Kitshoff provide a few bright lights
There weren’t many players who dramatically enhanced their credentials in Saturday’s loss to Wales, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Big centre André Esterhuizen did put in an industrious performance at No 12, and was one of the few players who appeared capable of breaking down the Welsh defence. Out on the wing, Makazole Mapimpi looked confident and comfortable, with his out-and-out pace certainly serving as an indicator of what he can offer at Test level. Among the substitutes, no player made more of an impact than Steven Kitshoff, who helped transform the Bok scrum in the second half and very nearly swung the match in favour of his side.
Test in America proved to be an anti-climax
In an apparent quest for World Rugby to continue growing the game, there has been a lot of talk about the growing interest in rugby in the USA, while there were hopes that a sizeable crowd would turn up to watch the Boks and Wales in Washington on Saturday. Unfortunately, the end result saw a largely uninspiring crowd turn up, while the broadcast coverage of the Test left a lot to be desired. It served as a reminder of a story that emerged in the weeks prior to Saturday’s Test, which suggested that the fixture could be called off largely due to the slow rate of ticket sales. For the Boks and Wales, they could be forgiven for questioning whether the effort of the journey was worth the reward.
Boks must improve kicking, aerial game against England
It has to be said that the inclement weather in America certainly contributed to a rather dreary Test match. In an apparent attempt to play to the conditions, the Boks put boot to ball with regularity, and yet the out-of-hand kicking of halfbacks Ivan van Zyl and Elton Jantjies left a lot to be desired. Faf de Klerk is expected to wear the No 9 jersey against England, and it will be interesting to see if his kicking game has improved after a stint playing for the Sale Sharks in the UK. At flyhalf, Handré Pollard will also be under some pressure to ensure he controls the game effectively with the boot. Inexperienced wings S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi can also expect to deal with a number of contestable kicks, and they will quite literally need to rise to the occasion.
Valiant Blitzboks will be proud, but equally disappointed
The Blitzboks came into the London Sevens leg trailing the series-leading Fijians by four log points. With just one tournament to come after the England stop, the Springbok Sevens desperately needed a victory to restore hope of defending their title. As fate would have it, the Blitzboks came up against Fiji in the Cup final, but it would be the Islanders who proved simply too good once again. Throughout this season, there have been plenty of missed opportunities for the Blitzboks to lament, but they have never lacked any character or courage. Again in London, the Blitzboks simply refused to give up the fight in a thrilling final, but there can be no denying that Fiji are most deserving of what looks sure to be another sevens title. The Blitzboks can still hold their heads high, but having failed to achieve all their goals at this year’s Commonwealth Games and this season’s Sevens Series, they will now have to set their sights on the Sevens World Cup.
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