What we learned from the third week of end-of-year Test matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Springbok pack stood tall
All year, the Boks’ real strength has been up front, where the likes of Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi have been consistently impressive performers. Even without Marx in tow on Saturday, it was again the Bok pack that laid the foundation for an important 35-6 win over Italy in Padua. It was no surprise to hear Allister Coetzee hail the performance of the pack at the post-match press conference, with the Springboks having clearly outmuscled their opponents to lay the foundation for an emphatic win in miserable conditions.
Handré Pollard bounced back
There was a fair bit of pressure on Pollard heading into Saturday’s clash against Italy. The week before, the 23-year-old had produced a rusty performance in what was his first start since the 2015 World Cup, and it didn’t take long for some to suggest he wasn’t ready to take control of a Test match. However, he silenced those critics on Saturday with a superb all-round performance in inclement weather, while slotting four kicks from four in a display that suggested he may be heading back towards his best form.
Louw, Vermeulen proved value of overseas-based players
There was an apparent element of reluctance to recall both Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen this year, with the loose-forward duo only cracking the nod once there had been injuries in the camp. However, the impact and commitment of both Louw and Vermeulen has been abundantly apparent since they joined up with the national side, and the pair were once again highly influential on Saturday. Louw was a menace at the breakdown throughout the clash, while Vermeulen led from the front as the Boks overpowered Italy in the physical exchanges.
Scotland are a team on the rise
Scotland’s 53-24 win over Australia on Saturday has to be seen in context considering that Wallabies prop Sekope Kepe was red-carded just before the break. However, the manner in which the Scots clinically executed an eight-try victory should be readily acknowledged, while it can’t be forgotten that they were very unlucky to suffer a narrow defeat to the All Blacks the week before. Gregor Townsend appears to have made a seamless transition in taking over from respected coach Vern Cotter, and Scotland certainly appear to be going from strength to strength.
Rieko Ioane should be the World Rugby Player of the Year
Another All Blacks win. Another stunning display from young winger Rieko Ioane. That’s really been the story of 2017, with the 20-year-old emerging as just the latest star to come off the incredible New Zealand conveyer belt of wingers. Ioane scored two superb tries in the All Blacks’ comfortable 33-18 win over Wales on Saturday, and sent out yet another reminder that he should be the front-runner to claim the World Rugby Player of the Year award.
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP Photo