What we learned from the second week of end-of-year Test matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks will take ugly one-point win
It does indicate just how far the Boks have fallen that a messy one-point win over a beleaguered French side has generally been met with sheer relief. It’s understandable when one considers that the Springboks were coming off a historic 35-point loss to Ireland, while they had previously managed just a solitary away win during the tenure of Allister Coetzee. Yet the fact remains that the Boks somehow found a way to dig deep and secure an important win that will at least relieve some pressure as they head into their final two tour fixtures against Italy and Wales.
Handré Pollard was clearly rusty
Criticism flowed thick and fast on social media as Pollard produced an erratic performance in Paris, with his kicking out of hand and particularly at goal both leaving a lot to be desired. However, it can’t be forgotten that this was Pollard’s first extended Test-match outing since the 2015 World Cup. There would be no point in losing faith in him after an understandably rusty performance, but there will certainly be some additional pressure on him to perform with greater consistency when the Boks next take on Italy. Most importantly, he needs to rectify the goal-kicking woes that saw him miss four relatively regulation shots at goal against France.
Malcolm Marx’s star continues to shine
This has been a year that has seen Malcolm Marx come of age. At times, his lineout throwing remains worryingly inconsistent, but he has become such an immense contributor to various other aspects of the game. Once again on Saturday, Marx’s work at the breakdown was a major feature of his play as he repeatedly slowed the ball down or won a turnover. The young hooker was also physical and fearless when taking the ball into contact, and once more emerged as one of the Springboks’ most prolific players on a night when they needed it most.
Francois Venter made the desired impact
The Cheetahs skipper faced a big task as he came into the less familiar inside centre berth to start his first Test since the 2016 end-of-year tour. Yet Venter emerged as the standout back as he produced an industrious performance that saw him pop up across the park on defence, while he was direct and determined when taking the ball to the line. In the absence of Jan Serfontein, the Boks have been desperately searching for someone to take control of that all-important No 12 jersey, and Venter importantly proved that he was up for the challenge. Unfortunately, question marks still remain over the impact of centre partner Jesse Kriel and the Boks’ unconvincing back three.
Officiating blighted England-Australia clash
Michael Cheika almost stole the show at Twickenham on Saturday as the TV footage repeatedly showed the Wallabies coach animatedly reacting to dubious refereeing decisions, while more than once making his way down to the touchline to remonstrate with the fourth official. Young referee Ben O’Keeffe certainly did appear to be overawed by the occasion, while England undoubtedly received the rub of the green when it came to decision-making. Two Wallabies tries were ruled out through marginal calls, while an England five-pointer was awarded in a 50-50 situation, after the ball had come dangerously close to touching the sideline in the lead-up to a try.
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