What we’ve learned

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

Bok victory won’t gloss over first-half woes
The Springboks produced their worst first-half performance in recent history on Saturday. Basic errors, missed tackles and handling errors blighted their efforts in the opening stanza, and left them on the precipice of a second successive shock defeat to Ireland. The manner in which they bounced back should certainly be lauded, with an inspirational second-half performance having been characterised by courage and character. Yet the Boks will also know that on a different day that sort of first-half performance would have left them dead and buried. They have to address their ill-discipline and poor ball security in contact, while ensuring they make a far better start to proceedings in the third and decisive Test. The Boks pulled off the great escape at Ellis Park, but they will readily acknowledge that they are miles from the complete product. Time and patience is required for this new Bok team to gel, but it can also not come at the expense of honest appraisal.

Substitutes can make the difference between winning and losing
Trailing 19-3 at half-time against Ireland on Saturday, the Springboks desperately needed their bench to the make desired impact at Ellis Park. They did that and some more, with Ruan Combrinck producing a second-half cameo that earned him the Man of the Match award within 40 minutes, while Warren Whiteley also made a meaningful contribution with a well-taken try and high work rate. Fellow Lions players Julian Redelinghuys and Franco Mostert were also impressive when they came on to add a different edge up front. Indeed, there can sometimes be a lack of appreciation for the importance of the specific roles that replacements play coming off the bench, and the Bok subs certainly made all the difference at a time when the ante had to be upped. For the past two weeks, the All Blacks have also relied on their subs to make game-changing contributions, and the likes of Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea have been superb coming off the bench. It’s a reminder of the 23-man effort often required to come away with victory.

Israel Dagg is back with a bang
Dagg celebrated his 50th Test appearance for the All Blacks in some style on Saturday. Coming in to start at fullback against Wales in Wellington, Dagg produced an inspired performance, adding a real spark to proceedings almost every time he touched the ball, while his decision-making on both attack and defence was out of the top drawer. Not only did he make 66 running metres and contribute with seven passes, he also finished off a well-worked try in the first half. Considering Dagg had to deal with the disappointment of missing out on selection for last year’s World Cup, and was playing in his first Test since July 2015, it was some way to mark his return as a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

Eddie Jones has inspired a remarkable England revival
On Saturday, England clinched their first-ever Test series win in Australia. It was a historic achievement made all the more impressive by the manner in which they overcame the Aussies in Melbourne. Despite enjoying just 30% of possession and having to make a whopping 200 tackles to 58 from the hosts, they managed to come away with a most deserved victory. England’s outstanding execution on defence and accuracy with the boot bore all the telltale signs of Jones’s immense coaching influence. In less than a year, he has now taken England to a Six Nations title, a Grand Slam success and a historic series win in Australia. He has yet to experience defeat as England coach, and considering how the host nation bombed out of last year’s World Cup, their meteoric rise to now be ranked second in the World Rugby standings certainly deserves plenty of plaudits.

SA A lacked experience and composure against the England Saxons
Last weekend, the SA A team produced a poor first-half performance and ultimately succumbed to a disappointing opening defeat to the Saxons. In Friday’s rematch, Johan Ackermann’s young team made a much better start to proceedings and deservedly moved into a 28-6 lead. At that point, it looked like the SA A team were set to level up the two-match series, but a lacklustre finish allowed the Saxons to work their way back into the game and eventually cross over for the match-winning try. The A side would have also been left to lament the wayward goal-kicking of flyhalf Francois Brummer, who missed three shots at posts. It proved to be a costly outcome that was further exacerbated by the fact there was no proven back-up goal-kicker to step in if needed.

Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis