What we learned from the final round of the Rugby Championship, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks’ late ill-discipline, poor game management proved costly
Heading into the final quarter against the All Blacks, the Boks led 30-13. The rare feat of successive wins over New Zealand looked to be firmly within their grasp. Yet, during the crucial latter stages of this clash, the Boks’ composure and discipline deserted them. Soft moments suddenly allowed the All Blacks to set up field position, and begin to mount a meaningful comeback. Just when the Boks needed to take a breath and play percentage rugby, they instead dramatically lost their shape. The All Blacks surged back and snatched a two-point victory. It’s a result that is sure to hurt, but the Boks will also hope to have learned a valuable lesson about retaining composure during the latter stages of such a big clash.
Boks missed Le Roux, De Klerk late in the game
Over the course of the 2018 season, Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk have emphatically vindicated their Springbok recalls from English clubs. The two playmakers were once again at their influential best on Saturday, with the duo pulling the team’s attacking strings with aplomb as the Boks produced a tactical masterclass for a large portion of proceedings. Unfortunately, the duo couldn’t see out the end of the match, with Rassie Erasmus explaining that De Klerk had been battling with cramp, while Le Roux suffered a blow to the head. Unfortunately, it meant the Boks had to close out the contest without two of their key backline generals, and their experience was certainly missed.
Boks produced tactics to outsmart All Blacks
At Saturday’s post-match press conference, Erasmus said the one thing that had particularly pleased him from the clash against the All Blacks was the manner in which the Boks had enforced their tactical blueprint. Indeed, it’s not very often that the Springboks enjoy such dominance in terms of territory and possession, while they left New Zealand looking rather frustrated as they enforced a highly effective kicking game. It was another example of the Springboks coming into a crucial encounter with a clear-cut strategy that they had worked at tirelessly during the week. Regardless of the outcome, they should be particularly pleased by their ability to apply such pressure on a highly-regarded All Blacks side that didn’t always seem to have much of an answer.
Pollard continues goal-kicking progression
For the second week in a row, Handré Pollard produced a flawless performance from the kicking tee. It’s a far cry from the struggles that Pollard endured during the early stages of the Rugby Championship, and All Blacks captain Kieran Read acknowledged at Saturday’s post-match press conference that the Bok flyhalf certainly looked to be back to his best form. Pollard slotted three penalties and three conversions in Saturday’s clash – a couple from challenging angles – and again made a telling contribution to the Bok cause. The importance of having an assured goal kicker cannot be underestimated in a World Cup context, and it’s great news for the Boks that Pollard looks to have quickly rediscovered his rhythm in this regard.
All Blacks remain irrepressible in final quarter
At the All Blacks’ post-match press conference on Saturday, coach Steve Hansen emphatically hailed the character of his side. It’s not often that a New Zealand team is made to look as ordinary as they did at various stages of the contest in Pretoria, and yet they once again found a way to win. It speaks to an enduring never-say-die attitude that remains a hallmark of their game. Despite having travelled to South Africa after a lengthy trip back from Argentina, they were the team to finish with a flourish as they scored three crucial tries in the final quarter. It’s a credit to their character and conditioning, and still deserves plenty of kudos.
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