Five lessons from the Rugby Championship and Currie Cup this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Boks missing physical grunt up front
South Africa headed into this Rugby Championship without the services of big forwards such as Duane Vermeulen (injured), Bismarck du Plessis (omitted) and Willem Alberts (omitted). These are three influential forwards who have consistently formed the backbone of the Bok pack over the last few seasons, adding a real physical presence to proceedings on both defence, at the breakdown and with ball in hand. On Saturday, it was clear once again just how much the Boks are missing a powerful player such as Vermeulen, who has always contributed so significantly when it comes to providing gainline ascendancy on attack or defence. Similarly, the presence of overseas-based players such as Du Plessis and Alberts has been missed. It therefore came as no surprise when Alberts was called up on Sunday to replace the injured Lood de Jager. The forward pack will need to make a big step up if the Boks are to have any hope of being competitive against the All Blacks this Saturday.
Bok backline makeup still questionable
Allister Coetzee made a bold call in the leadup to last Saturday's Test against the Wallabies when he opted to start Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel in the midfield. He also took the decision to back Francois Hougaard to make an impact on the wing. Right from the outset, it seemed as if this sort of light Bok backline lacked balance, and ultimately there turned out to be very little impact on attack against Australia in Brisbane. It's clear that new combinations are still battling to gel, while Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies are yet to consistently produce the sort of halfback game management that is so important at Test level. Johan Goosen has also battled to make the desired impact at fullback. Options are limited, but it's clear that the Bok backline is still lacking much-needed cohesion.
All Blacks sustain irrepressible pressure
After 50 minutes of action in the All Blacks' Test against Argentina on Saturday, the world champs led by just two points. Yet, there was an air of inevitability about the manner in which they powered to a strong finish, outscoring their opponents 33-0 during the final half an hour to ultimately come away with a resounding 57-22 victory. Again, the All Blacks illustrated that their conditioning is simply peerless, while they have the confidence and composure to finish a match with the same sort of intensity that they started it with. It's something that we have become so accustomed to, but there should be no lack of appreciation for this ability of the All Blacks to sustain intense pressure on their opponents for the full 80 minutes.
Undefeated Cheetahs on track for top-spot finish
The Cheetahs' impressive win over the Sharks on Saturday was their fifth in a row and took them four points clear at the top of the Currie Cup log. It was a crucial result considering that just a solitary log point separated the Free State side from the Durbanites heading into the weekend's action, while the Blue Bulls are set to launch a late charge for top spot. The Bulls are four points behind the Cheetahs, but finish their pool campaign with games against the Griquas and Boland that they should be expected to comfortably win. The Cheetahs will be fully aware of this, and it therefore remains key for the Bloemfontein-based side to take something away from this weekend's clash with the Golden Lions. From there, they should back themselves to clinch bonus-point wins against the Pumas and Griquas to remain in pole position for a home final.
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