What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the Rugby Championship and Currie Cup this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

The Boks desperately need to settle on a style of play
On repeated occasions since the start of the June series against Ireland, coach Allister Coetzee has suggested the Boks will settle on a more cohesive brand of rugby the longer they spend time together as a unit. Yet, as they headed into Saturday’s fifth Test of the season, the Boks produced arguably their most disappointing half of rugby to date. Basic errors, poor defence and a complete lack of incisiveness on attack blighted their efforts as Argentina comfortably opened up a 13-3 lead, and left the Boks chasing the game. As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Pumas made 192m to 61, 44 carries to 23, five clean breaks to none and enjoyed the better of both the possession (57%) and territory (58%) stats. There appears to be a real lack of clarity about how the Boks want to go about their business, and players who offer different strengths seem to be caught between styles of play. If the Boks are to avoid finishing bottom of the Rugby Championship standings, they desperately need to establish a clearer understanding of their new identity.

Goal-kicking remains a major problem area for the Boks
There can be no denying that Elton Jantjies was consistently the form flyhalf in South Africa throughout the Super Rugby season, but his goal-kicking success rate finished at a disappointing 72%. Unfortunately, Jantjies has battled to transfer his Super Rugby form on to the Test stage, while again, erratic goal-kicking remains a considerable concern. It’s one of the reasons that Morné Steyn was recalled to the match 23 for Saturday’s clash in Salta, and to be fair, he also missed a relatively regulation conversion. Overall, the Boks missed three penalties and that two-pointer, which could have changed the nature of the outcome in Salta. Jantjies has gone for scans after suffering a groin injury in Saturday’s encounter, and it remains to be seen if he will be available for the Boks’ next clash with Australia. Either way, it cannot be overlooked that erratic goal-kicking has proven extreme costly throughout the international season thus far. And at Test level, it simply has to be seen as a priority.

The All Blacks continue to offer multiple threats
As was widely expected, the Wallabies put up a far more competitive showing in their second Bledisloe Cup encounter with the world champs on Saturday, but they were still simply no match for their Australasian opponents. Again, the much-vaunted attacking stats of the All Blacks tell a story. The Kiwis made 520m to 213, beat 27 defenders to 10 and completed 18 clean breaks to three. However, this was a clash that once again highlighted the All Blacks’ all-round strengths. In particular, their passing game was superb, with forwards and backs combining to great effect, and ultimately they made 179 passes to 84. In addition, the All Blacks again disrupted the Wallabies’ lineout (the visitors lost four of their throw-ins), while it was another strong display on defence from New Zealand, with just 10 tackles missed to 37. As is so often the case, the All Blacks also kicked more than their opponents (21 kicks in play to 18), and enjoyed the better of the territory stake. It served once again as another reminder that the All Blacks are undoubtedly the complete side.

The Wallabies’ lineout remains an area to target
In the opening encounter of Australia’s Rugby Championship campaign, their malfunctioning lineout proved to be a real issue. The Wallabies lost four lineouts as the All Blacks regularly read this set piece like a book, with the second-row pairing of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick reaping impressive rewards. There’s no doubt it would have been an area that the Aussies would have focused on ahead of Saturday’s clash in Wellington, with Adam Coleman coming in at No 5 in an effort order to shore up this area of the game. However, the lineout once again proved to be problematic for the Wallabies as they lost four of their own throw-ins, including three in the first half. There’s no doubt it’s an area that the Boks can look to target when they come up against the Wallabies on 10 September.

The Lions have built up impressive player depth
After such a superb Super Rugby season, nine Lions players were included in the current Springbok squad. Following the Super Rugby final, a new-look Lions side then kicked off their Currie Cup campaign with a resounding 68-26 win over the Pumas, but did slip to a surprise defeat against Griquas last weekend. The result saw coach Johan Ackermann make wholesale changes to the side, but he insisted that it was simply a case of rotating his squad and backing all the players in the system. As it turned out, that faith was impressively repaid as a new group of players seamlessly stepped in and romped to an emphatic 60-12 victory over Boland on Friday. The likes of Andries Coetzee, Dillon Smit, Victor Sekekete, Ruan Ackermann and Ramone Samuels all performed superbly as the Lions once again illustrated the strength in depth that has been created at the Johannesburg-based union over the past couple of years.

Photo: Gabriel Rossi/AFP Photo

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Craig Lewis