What we learned from this past weekend's Tests and British & Irish Lions tour game, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Springboks make step in the right direction
The Boks’ 37-14 win over France on Saturday is worth taking a moment to enjoy. Yes, France are far from the most formidable side and were missing several first-choice players, but all the pressure was on the Boks. After last year’s horror campaign, which heralded just four wins, Saturday’s Test in Pretoria was more about the Springboks making a statement of intent. To be fair, they mostly did that with a far more committed and organised performance, while producing some well-worked tries. Of course, there’s plenty of room for improvement for the Boks, but at least this is a positive start.
Lions players vindicate selections
Malcolm Marx was the deserved Man of the Match on Saturday as he produced an outstanding all-round performance, but most of his Lions teammates weren’t far behind. Ross Cronjé was effective and efficient in his first Test at No 9, Elton Jantjies marshalled proceedings with aplomb at flyhalf, while Andries Coetzee provided plenty of X-factor at fullback. In the second row, Franco Mostert put in an industrious performance, and while winger Courtnall Skosan didn’t have many opportunities on attack, he certainly didn’t look out of place. All in all, they were led by Warren Whiteley, who was tireless on defence and regularly popped up in open play.
Whiteley is a natural Test captain
Last week must have seemed like something out of a dream for Whiteley, who not only welcomed his second child into the world, but slotted into the Bok captaincy role for the first time in a Test week. Yet, at the captain’s press conference last Friday, he was typically engaging and continued to send out all the right messages. Before kick-off on Saturday, he could be seen spending some extra time with one of the young mascots as he led the Boks on to the field, while he went on to produce another committed performance. He does appear to be a superb ambassador for the team at a time when it’s needed most.
British & Irish Lions prove their mettle
The unforgiving British media has been getting stuck into the Lions at the start of their tour to New Zealand, with the visiting team having struggled to a narrow win over a weak New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side, before slumping to defeat against the Blues. However, coach Warren Gatland produced a tactical masterclass on Saturday as he picked what could be close to the first-choice team to face the All Blacks, with the Lions silencing the critics with an impressive 12-3 win over the in-form Crusaders. Outstanding defence served as the foundation for victory, with the Lions providing insight into how a top New Zealand side can be beaten.
England have depth and never-say-die spirit
Eddie Jones’ side may have seen their 18-match record-equalling winning streak come to an end against Ireland in March, but once again they found the means to return to winning ways in Argentina on Saturday. Although the visitors were without 15 first-choice players on British & Irish Lions duty, they were still good enough to beat a strong Pumas side, with replacement Denny Solomona scoring a 78th-minute try to clinch a thrilling 38-34 victory. Not only did the result showcase some of England’s back-up talent, but also the never-say-die spirit that has been so readily evident under the guidance of Jones.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images