What we learned from the Test between Wales and the Springboks in Cardiff on Saturday, as well as the matches in London and Rome, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Disappointing finish for erratic Boks
In various facets of play, the Springboks left their worst performance for last in 2018. Coach Rassie Erasmus picked the strongest available side for Saturday’s clash against Wales, and reiterated how important it would be for the Boks to end the year with a morale-boosting victory. Instead, the Boks looked completely flat, while finding themselves haunted by ill-discipline, basic errors and poor ball protection. In addition to lacking any real penetration on attack, a couple of defensive lapses saw the Boks fall 14 points behind early on, and from there they never really looked like recovering. In some respects, it’s been the story of a season in which the Boks have shown signs of encouraging progress, but also battled for consistency.
Wily Welsh underline increasing strength up north
It hasn’t been a particularly memorable November window of international action for any of the Rugby Championship teams. Instead, it’s the likes of Ireland, England and Wales who should take plenty of confidence into a World Cup year in 2019. It’s become abundantly clear that the gap between the south and north has significantly diminished and that the World Cup could well be an open race. In Cardiff, Wales illustrated this once again with a highly intelligent and accomplished performance that saw them frustrate the Boks with fierce contesting at the breakdown and a gutsy defensive effort. By also enforcing an smart strategy of avoiding kicking to set up a lineout, they prevented the Boks from establishing any ascendancy from this strong set piece. In short, Wales once again outsmarted and outplayed their more fancied opponent from the south.
Kolbe the one bright light for Boks
When the Boks reflect on a season that produced something of a mixed bag, one of the real positives has to be the impressive reward of backing Cheslin Kolbe at Test level. Having earned something of a surprise call-up during the Rugby Championship, the former Stormers star has provided a breath of fresh air at national level. Having been elevated into the Boks’ starting lineup at the last minute on Saturday, he was once again one of their standout performers as he darted around the park and provided a spark almost every time he touched the ball. Despite his diminutive stature, he has also proven himself to be an especially gutsy defender. He has been one of the finds of the season for the Boks.
Farrell’s tackle technique in question again
When the Boks faced England earlier this month, Owen Farrell was at the centre of controversy after making a no-arms hit on André Esterhuizen that went unpunished. At the time, a lot was said about Farrell’s league-style tackle technique, and it came again into the spotlight when he hit Wallabies lock Izack Rodda with a similar tackle on Saturday. This time, referee Jaco Peyper rather bizarrely ruled that it wasn’t worthy of a yellow card or quite possibly a penalty try, despite replays clearly showing that there were no arms in the tackle. It’s also something World Rugby needs to address to eradicate this sort of dangerous tackle from the game.
All Blacks rediscover their mojo
With Ireland having secured a memorable win over the All Blacks last weekend, there were many pundits who began to question whether New Zealand were beginning to lose their aura of invincibility. This past week, well-respected coach Brendan Venter even suggested that they had regressed to a point where they could be regarded as ‘any other Test team’. However, the All Blacks responded with an emphatic statement on Saturday as they clinched a resounding 66-3 win over Italy. Although some might question the quality of the opposition, the All Blacks certainly rediscovered their attacking flair to score 10 tries on the way to an important season-ending triumph.