What we learned from this past weekend's international matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks have embraced new team culture
After the horror season of 2016, there would have been very few pundits who would have confidently predicted the Springboks could turn things around so effectively this June. Yet, against many expectations, the Boks have cruised to a series whitewash against France, while having embraced a new team culture under the leadership of Warren Whiteley. The Boks are finally playing with confidence and cohesion, with the improvements made on defence particularly reflecting the commitment of the players, while the environment in camp seems to be a happy one. The fact that Brendan Venter is also set to remain as the team’s defence guru during the Rugby Championship is a massive boost.
Jan Serfontein has come of age
During the June series against France, Serfontein sent out a timely reminder just why he has always been regarded as one of the brightest young prospects in South African rugby. At Ellis Park on Saturday, the 24-year-old was deservedly named Man of the Match after producing another industrious performance, with his immense work rate standing out. The good news for the Boks is that the dynamic centre will pass the 30-cap eligibility mark for overseas-based players during the Rugby Championship, with Serfontein then set to head abroad. However, the No 12 jersey has well and truly been made his own this June.
All Blacks can win in other ways
Before Saturday’s opening Test against the Lions, there were some who thought it might be a closely-fought encounter, but the end result turned out to be an emphatic 30-15 victory for the All Blacks. While the Lions certainly had their chances, it was the All Blacks’ outstanding scramble defence that often prevented them from finishing off try-scoring opportunities. Besides the unheralded work the All Blacks completed on defence, they contested fiercely at the breakdowns, while imperious lock Brodie Retallick led a powerful display in the forward exchanges.
Lions need to consider changes for second Test
At the start of the Lions' tour to New Zealand, coach Warren Gatland insisted that he didn’t want to draw a clear line between his ‘first-choice’ and ‘midweek’ team too soon. In fact, his intent to keep competition for places alive enabled the likes of Liam Williams and Elliot Daly to play their way into the starting lineup. However, there has remained a sense that Gatland is unsure of his best configuration, and if he now hopes for a change in fortunes in the second Test, he may need to make some changes. Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny must be strong contenders to come into the starting XV, while a 10-12 combination between Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell could be a masterstroke.
Warrick Gelant displays his prodigious talent
Gelant is another player who has failed to make the expected impact in a battling Bulls side this Super Rugby season. However, there has never been any doubt about the potential that the talented 22-year-old possesses. As it turned out, the youngster sent out a timely reminder of this during an impressive showing for South Africa A on Friday night, which saw him secure a brace of tries. The fullback undoubtedly remains a player to watch for the future.
Photo: Piet de Beer-Strydom/HM Images