What we learned from the Test matches involving the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks let down by discipline, struggles up front
When the Boks beat England in the second Test in Bloemfontein to wrap up a series win, their performance was largely based around the physicality and ascendancy of the forwards. However, the Boks seemed quite literally stuck in the mud at Newlands on Saturday, with the forwards battling to establish any real go-forward, while the hosts also had their struggles at scrum time and at the breakdown. In the end, the Springboks conceded as many as 14 penalties – compared to just six from England – with Owen Farrell punishing South Africa from the kicking tee as he claimed a personal points haul of 20. In the context of a wet-weather contest, discipline, kicking and set-phase accuracy were always going to be crucial, and ultimately, it was England who came up trumps in these key facets of play on Saturday.
Questions remain over Jantjies’ international aptitude
A glance at social media on Saturday night showed a rather predictable torrent of criticism aimed at Elton Jantjies after his error-riddled display against England. However, there are also those who will continue to insist that Jantjies still has what it takes to produce consistently commanding performances as a Test flyhalf. He is simply the sort of player who has always polarised opinion, but as Bok coach Rassie Erasmus suggested after the game, Jantjies is a ‘grown man’ who will know that it wasn’t his best outing at Newlands. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances such as the weather, an unsettled backline and the slow ball provided from an unsteady platform up front, but it also serves no purpose to ignore the shortfalls that led to such an inconsistent performance. Erasmus was correct in saying that Jantjies mustn’t take all the blame, but he will also know that there are certain aspects of his game that need to be fine-tuned if he is to remain the Boks’ back-up flyhalf for all conditions.
Ireland deserved series winners, but Folau hard done by
There can be no denying that Ireland were full value for their memorable 2-1 series win over Australia after claiming a thrilling 20-16 victory in Saturday’s decider in Sydney. For Ireland, it was their first Test series win in Australia for 39 years, and a triumph built on gutsy defence and classy game management. The three clashes were Test rugby at its best, and in the end, Ireland proved that they are most deserving of the No 2 ranking in world rugby. However, Australia will certainly have a right to complain about the yellow card dished out to star fullback Israel Folau on Saturday. Having gone up to contest a high ball, he made contact with Ireland loose forward Peter O’Mahony, but there was no doubt that the fullback was looking to legitimately compete for possession. Questions also surely have to be asked about the responsibility of the lifter, CJ Stander, to bring his teammate safely back to ground. Ultimately, it was yet another reminder of the dangers of the aerial contest, especially when referees are ruling so strictly on the safety of players.
McKenzie, All Blacks pass depth test
In his first Test start at flyhalf, the diminutive Damian McKenzie produced a highly accomplished performance in the No 10 jersey, scoring two tries and converting all his goal kicks for a personal points haul of 24. Of course, there will always be the odd question mark over his defensive ability, but McKenzie undoubtedly displayed that he has what it takes to offer the All Blacks another option at flyhalf. McKenzie’s inclusion was one of 11 changes to the All Blacks’ match-day squad for the final Test, and in that context, it was undeniably impressive that they scored 35 unanswered points over the final 50 minutes of the match. It also illustrated some different options available to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, and served as a reminder of just how good the world champs can be when they turn it on.
World Rugby must answer over poor officiating
No one can really argue about the result in Saturday’s Test in Dunedin, but while the All Blacks surged to a resounding 49-14 victory, they once again received a highly favourable refereeing call in the first half. With the scores deadlocked at 14-14, referee John Lacey clearly impeded a French defender, and in turn, provided a gap for Damian McKenzie to score and send the All Blacks into a rather fortunate seven-point half-time lead. Lacey only briefly reviewed the incident, before somehow coming to the conclusion that there was no significant interference. It was a blatant mistake, and it once again raises the question over perceived favouritism towards the All Blacks from officials, with questionable decisions having also gone in favour of New Zealand in the first two Tests of the series. World Rugby simply has to show some accountability and take action over the poor officiating that has blighted the All Blacks-France series.
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