What we learned from the opening round of the Rugby Championship, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Eben Etzebeth sends out reminder of class
In the buildup to Saturday’s Test between the Boks and Argentina, Eben Etzebeth detailed how difficult it had been to miss almost nine months of action due to an injury. He reiterated that the Rugby Championship opener would provide an opportunity to prove to himself and others that he was ready for a return to Test rugby. As it turned out, Etzebeth produced an immense 80-minute performance on Saturday, with coach Rassie Erasmus even admitting that they could not have expected such a rousing display following his long lay-off. In all, Etzebeth made 14 carries and completed 55m in a powerful ball-carrying performance that provided an apt reminder of just what he’s able to add to the side.
Boks need to improve accuracy, execution
Although the Springboks claimed a desired bonus-point win over Argentina at Kings Park, both Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi were certainly not getting too carried away at the post-match press conference. Despite dominating both territory and possession in the first half, the Boks trailed by four points at the break after failing to make the most of several opportunities in the opposition 22. Besides a few lost lineouts, the Springboks also failed to display the desired accuracy with decision-making and ball in hand. As Erasmus pointed out after the game, it was really only a half-an-hour period after half-time that they performed to the desired level, with the search continuing for greater accuracy and execution as they head towards a rematch against Argentina in Mendoza.
Mapimpi grabbed his opportunity
Over the course of the June Test series against England, powerful wing S’bu Nkosi emerged as one of the Boks’ standout performers. Unfortunately, Nkosi picked up an injury upon his return to the Sharks, which will rule him out of most of the Rugby Championship. It was a particular blow for the Boks as it wasn’t quite clear who would be the automatic replacement, but Mapimpi was entrusted with that role against Argentina, and certainly made the most of it. The Sharks flyer racked up 81m from 11 carries, with his searing pace regularly testing Argentina’s defence out wide. It bodes well for the Boks to continue building such depth at wing with the World Cup just over a year away.
No way to stop the All Blacks surge
The Wallabies could not really have hoped for a better first-half performance in Sydney on Saturday. Australia’s linespeed on defence was out of the top drawer, with a number of powerful defensive hits forcing the All Blacks into some uncharacteristic errors. However, for all that effort, the Wallabies could only muster a 6-0 lead, while they looked to be starting to tire as the All Blacks scored a superb try just before half-time. Then came the classic All Blacks surge, with New Zealand punishing the Aussies as the game opened up, before eventually cantering to a resounding 38-13 win. The Boks will have taken note of just how difficult it is to keep the All Blacks at bay for the full 80 minutes, with this remaining the foremost challenge for any team aiming to upset the Rugby Championship reigning champs.
Kings Park crowd engenders debate
Kings Park has always been regarded as a fan favourite, with plenty of tradition attached to the vibe of pre-match braais on the outer fields of the stadium. However, the atmosphere was undeniably flat for much of Saturday’s Test, with 26,836 the official figure for the crowd attendance, which puts the stadium at just over half-full. Despite certain efforts to promote the Test as much as possible, this average figure of attendance is hardly out of the norm for Durban, and the fact remains that it hardly serves as much incentive for future Tests to continue to be brought to Kings Park.
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