What we’ve learned

What we’ve learned from the international matches this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

The Boks lacked composure and cohesion against Ireland
Allister Coetzee’s honeymoon period as Bok coach came to an abrupt and unexpected end on Saturday. Very few – if any – pre-match pundits would have expected an injury-hit Ireland side to come away with their first-ever win in South Africa, let alone when they were reduced to 14 men for the better part of the final hour. Yet few could have expected the Boks to be as poor as they were. None of the Boks’ big-name players made much of an impact, while the team lacked composure as Ireland continued to frustrate them with committed scramble defence. Tactical naivety and some very poor decision-making when opportunities arose also prevented the Boks from establishing a foothold in the match despite playing for 57 minutes with a one-man advantage, including 10 of those minutes when Ireland were in fact down to 13 men. As a result, the Boks succumbed to yet another shock defeat that certainly had similarities to last year’s losses to Argentina in Durban and Japan in the opening round of the World Cup.

Pat Lambie will be missed at Ellis Park
One has to feel for Lambie. Some 33 of his 51 Test caps have been earned as a replacement, while injuries have regularly curtailed his opportunity to make a consistent impression on the national stage. However, with Handré Pollard out injured, and Elton Jantjies battling a finger injury, Coetzee opted to back Lambie as his No 10 for Saturday’s clash against Ireland. He made an encouraging start, but just after the quarter-hour mark, he was felled by a flying CJ Stander, who collided with the flyhalf and knocked him out cold. Lambie had to be stretchered from the field, and it was clear that the Boks missed his composure, experience and kicking game as they failed to implement the correct tactics against a 14-man Ireland. Lambie has already been ruled out of the second Test, and may also be in doubt for the third. It’s yet another terribly unlucky break for the Sharks pivot.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe was the bright light on a bleak weekend
Not only did the Boks lose this past weekend, but so did the SA A side and the Junior Boks. It didn’t make for pretty viewing. However, Notshe was one of the standout performers for the SA A side who certainly enhanced his reputation. The athletic loose forward impressed with ball in hand and produced a vibrant all-round performance, which also included an excellent try. Notshe has been deployed in different positions in the loose trio for the Stormers, and started at No 6 for the Junior Boks, but there were certainly indications that he could become a future Springbok in the form of former athletic No 8s such as Bob Skinstad and Ryan Kankowski. Notshe is certainly on the radar of Allister Coetzee, and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t in fact earn his first Test cap before the end of the series against Ireland.

The All Blacks remain a peerless 80-minute team
In another indication of how the northern hemisphere teams are beginning to close the gap on their southern hemisphere counterparts, Wales produced a highly impressive effort against the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday. The Welsh have never won a Test in New Zealand and haven’t beaten the Kiwis for 63 years. Yet they held the lead until as late as the 55th minute, and briefly threatened to cause a major upset. However, as they’ve done so often in the past, the All Blacks changed tactics, upped the intensity with the impact of some outstanding replacements, and finished as the stronger team. Three tries in the final quarter enabled the world champs to come away with a comfortable win in the end. This once again demonstrated you have to play for 80 minutes to beat the supremely conditioned All Blacks.

Don't underestimate the importance of goal-kicking at Test level
You have to hand it to Eddie Jones. He’s turned England into a well-oiled machine in a very short space of time. The Six Nations champs and Grand Slam winners were efficient and highly effective in their dismantling of World Cup runners-up Australia in Brisbane on Saturday. However, while England and impressive goal-kicker Owen Farrell were outstanding on the day, they were also aided by the fact that opposite number Bernard Foley had an off day with the boot, missing three shots at goal. It could have been a different scenario had Foley kicked his goals, while England applied plenty of pressure as they kept the scoreboard ticking over. It served as another reminder that goal-kicking is a top priority at Test level, and surely part of the reason Lambie was preferred to start ahead of Jantjies for the Boks’ first clash with Ireland.

Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis