What we learned from the second round of the Rugby Championship, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks brought crashing back down to earth
At the start of the Rassie Erasmus era, there has mostly been an air of optimism around the signs of progress that the Springboks have made in key areas. A series win over England and a bonus-point victory in the Rugby Championship opener certainly provided cause for encouragement, but Saturday’s rematch against the Pumas brutally exposed some serious shortcomings. Once again, defensive disorganisation and poor tackling gifted Argentina a succession of opportunities, while the Boks’ accuracy and effectiveness when it came to cleaning out at the breakdown left a lot to be desired. It was the sort of performance that will have rattled the Springboks, and they will need some real mental fortitude to retain belief in their ability to bounce back on the upcoming tour to Australasia.
Travelling woes come back to haunt South Africa
In the lead-up to Saturday’s clash in Mendoza, several pundits pointed out how South African teams had often found Argentina to be an unhappy hunting ground. Just this year, all four South African Super Rugby franchises came up short when taking on the Jaguares away from home, and the Boks have also endured some struggles in Argentina over the past few seasons. And yet, very few expected the Springboks to regress as quickly as they did. Despite coming into this clash with virtually the same side that comfortably overcame Argentina in Durban the week before, the Boks looked rattled from the moment they stepped out onto the playing surface in Mendoza. It can’t be overlooked that home-ground advantage and altitude assisted the Boks in both their comeback wins over England in June, but in their first real test away from home, they never looked likely to overcome another poor start.
Several problem positions becoming apparent
Erasmus has spoken extensively about the need to build depth ahead of next year’s World Cup, but after six Tests in charge, he might well be a little concerned over several key positions. In particular, there appears to be a lack of clarity over who is the best option at tighthead prop, while the balance of the back row has looked problematic at the start of the Rugby Championship. In addition, there is still plenty of debate about whether Handré Pollard is fulfilling the required role as a flyhalf general who dictates proceedings, and then there’s clearly some uncertainty over the Boks’ best midfield combination. Erasmus won’t want to panic after Saturday’s defeat, but he will also know that there is limited time to address some of these problem positions.
Goal-kicking struggles affecting Pollard’s confidence
In the golfing world, there is often talk about the feared affliction of the ‘yips’, which causes a player to lose all faith in his ability to sink the simplest of putts. It’s more of a mental breakdown than anything else, but there is often no turning back once it has taken effect. It’s the sort of issue that seems to be affecting Pollard, who missed the simplest kick at goal early on in Saturday’s clash, and never seemed to fully regain his confidence. Pollard also missed five shots at goal in Durban, and it’s an area of his game where he clearly needs to rebuild the belief in his abilities. There could be a case made for the goal-kicking duties to be rather handed over to someone else in order for Pollard to focus solely on running the show from flyhalf, but there is no obvious replacement who can provide back up in this regard.
Heading into the Rugby Championship, there were some pundits who suggested that talented Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga was a strong contender for the All Blacks’ No 10 jersey after an outstanding Super Rugby season. However, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen had little hesitation in continuing to back Barrett, who repaid that faith in fine fashion this past Saturday. Everything Barrett touched turned to gold in a four-try display that served as a stark reminder of his world-class abilities. The only debate really is whether Barrett could soon be held in the same high regard as All Blacks legend Dan Carter.
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