CRAIG LEWIS identifies some of the good, the bad and the ugly to take away from the final round of the Rugby Championship.
You can take your pick from an emphatic Springbok performance against the Pumas on Saturday. In the past, the Boks have endured their fair share of struggles in Argentina, but after a slow start, they romped to a 46-13 win. In the context of a display that was far from perfect, don’t underestimate the significance of this result, which was the biggest margin of victory achieved during the Rassie Erasmus regime. What was really good to see, though, was the immense scrumming performance of Trevor Nyakane and the Bok pack as a whole, which truly laid the foundation for victory. Nyakane increasingly looks like a strong contender to remain the first-choice tighthead prop. In addition, Handre Pollard produced one of his most rousing individual performances in recent memory, claiming a 31-point haul, which included two superbly-taken tries. This is a Bok team on the rise. The rest of world rugby will be on high alert.
You can rest assured that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus and his charges will not be getting too carried away after Saturday’s win and Rugby Championship success. As stand-in captain Duane Vermeulen suggested, the entire Championship campaign has been primarily seen as a stepping stone towards the World Cup. When the Springboks do reflect on Saturday’s encounter, they will be fully aware that some of their exit play did leave a lot to be desired, with Faf de Klerk occasionally guilty of some ill-time box kicks. When it came to receiving the kick offs, Vermeulen generally did a fantastic job, but at times he did look somewhat isolated. It’s basics such as this that the Boks will be determined to clean up as they get set for a rematch against Argentina this weekend.
Some of the reaction to the All Blacks’ heavy defeat to the Wallabies on Saturday has been strange to say the least. For so long, New Zealand have reigned supreme at the top of the world rankings, and yet, as soon as they’ve shown some fragility, there are critics who have been only too happy to deliver some cheap shots. Certain reports suggested All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had been guilty of arrogance, and had been left with ‘egg on his face’ after the Kiwis plunged to a 47-26 loss in Perth. Objectively, for the better part of the last decade, the All Blacks have established themselves as one of the greatest teams in world sport, and it just comes across as a bit short-sighted to suddenly celebrate their relative fall from grace. After all, this All Blacks side has repeatedly proven to be more than capable of bouncing back with a vengeance, and it would be a very brave pundit to suddenly write them off.
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