What we’ve learned from the past weekend's Test matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
The Springboks still have plenty to do
A rather strange sentiment seemed to prevail in the wake of the Boks’ hard-fought victory over Ireland on Saturday, which secured a 2-1 series win. Although coach Allister Coetzee and captain Adriaan Strauss expressed relief and satisfaction at the result, it was clear that they were also fully aware that plenty of work still lies ahead if they are to have any meaningful say in the Rugby Championship. Basic errors and poor system execution often blighted the Boks’ performances during the three-Test series, and in the end it was a healthy dose of good fortune and character that enabled them to come away with the all-important victory when it mattered most. The Boks remain a team in transition, and they’ll take the series win and run, but they should not overlook the fact that vast improvement is required before the Rugby Championship rolls around in August. The Boks’ kicking game, breakdown work and ball-in-hand synergy will remain areas for attention. The Boks need time, but they’ll also have been reminded during the Ireland series that a highly expectant South African rugby public lacks patience.
Lions players have added great value to the Boks
Prior to the June series against Ireland, a lot was made of the value that the in-form Lions players could add to the Springbok setup. The hype has proven to be not that far from the mark. Ruan Combrinck and Faf de Klerk were two of the real bright lights for the Boks this June, while Lions skipper Warren Whiteley made a meaningful impact off the bench before producing an industrious effort in his first Test start this past Saturday. Lionel Mapoe has also been solid at outside centre, while Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys and Franco Mostert were all impressive performers off the bench. Allister Coetzee did well to back form players for his first series at home, and in the end that faith in locally-based players paid dividends along the way to an important 2-1 series win. Certainly, virtually every Lions player succeeded in enhancing their reputations in a Test environment.
England can add panache to pragmatism
With England having already secured a historic 2-0 series win coming into Saturday’s clash against Australia, many wondered whether the visitors would be able to get themselves up for another big Test. Especially when one considered that England had been forced to make a whopping 213 tackles during a gruelling second Test encounter. Yet Eddie Jones’s charges were certainly far from fatigued as they kept their noses in front during the second half and came away with a memorable 44-40 win. While the first two Test wins were built on territorial and defensive dominance by England, this time they proved that they can also play a more attractive brand of rugby and still come away with the result. Although Australia edged most of the attacking stats, England played with the freedom of a side that already had the series in the bag, and produced some eye-catching pieces of play on their way to a series whitewash. It was yet another loud warning sign sent out by the second-ranked team in world rugby who have now won 10 games on the trot.
The All Blacks remain in a class of their own
In the first two Tests between the All Blacks and Wales, the visitors proved to be competitive foes for large portions of the matches, and very little separated the sides at half-time. In the end, it required second-half flourishes for New Zealand to ultimately come away with victory. However, in Saturday’s final Test in Dunedin, the All Blacks turned on the style as they once again proved that they remain a cut above the rest. Despite making a number of changes to the side in order to look at other members of the squad, such as George Moala at 13, the All Blacks tore Wales apart, running in six tries while conceding none. In the end the All Blacks made 566m to Wales’ 193, beat 22 defenders to 11 and executed 12 clean breaks to three on their way to a resounding 46-6 victory that once again underlined their world champion status.
The gap is closing between north and south rugby
When Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was asked at Saturday’s post-match press conference how much he believed separated sides from the northern and southern hemisphere, he quipped: ‘Six points’. While it was in reference to Ireland’s six-point loss to the Springboks, he was not wrong in suggesting that increasingly very little appears to separate the southern hemisphere’s traditional ‘giants’ from their counterparts up north. To be fair, the All Blacks continue to enhance their superiority as world rugby’s leading side, but it’s clear that Australia and the Springboks have lost some considerable ground. England have meteorically risen to No 2 in the world after a series whitewash over the Wallabies, while Ireland came within one score of a historic series win over South Africa. And while Wales were ultimately outclassed against New Zealand, they did prove to be competitive for large parts of the first two Tests. If June’s Test series are anything to go by, there are indeed some winds of change gradually blowing through world rugby.
Photo: Anne Laing/Gallo Images