Five lessons from the Rugby Championship and Currie Cup this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Springboks’ defence remains a problem
As a team in transition, the Boks were always likely to have some struggles on defence in this Rugby Championship, particularly after bidding farewell to renowned defensive guru Jacques Nienaber, who recently joined Munster. Chean Roux, who previously assisted the Boks as part of the Mobi Unit on refereeing and technical aspects, came in as his replacement, but it’s been clear that the team is still adjusting to the deployed defensive system. The Springboks have had just an 83.9% tackle success rate in the competition, while they missed 22 tackles against the All Blacks in Christchurch this past Saturday (while making 62). It’s been just one of the problem areas that has continued to haunt the Boks throughout the competition.
Boks need to change flyhalf
Pat Lambie started the Test season as the Springboks’ first-choice pivot, but a serious concussion suffered in the opening encounter of the year opened the door for Elton Jantjies to claim the No 10 jersey. Considering that Jantjies had been arguably the form South African flyhalf throughout Super Rugby, many expected the transition to the Test arena to be a seamless one. However, it’s been obvious that Jantjies has struggled to adjust to the Boks' different style of play, with his game management, defence, decision-making and kicking lacking any real consistency. Jantjies particularly had a forgettable day against the All Blacks on Saturday, and Allister Coetzee will now surely need to consider a change at 10 for the home Tests in Pretoria and Durban. Pat Lambie made his return from concussion against the EP Kings on Saturday, and it now remains to be seen whether he will be brought straight back into the Bok setup.
Springboks-All Blacks rivalry under threat
Under Heyneke Meyer, the Boks lost seven of their eight Tests against the All Blacks between 2012 and 2015. On Saturday, the Springboks’ regression since the two teams last met in last year's World Cup semi-final was emphatically underlined as South Africa suffered their heaviest defeat (41-13) since 2011. The scoreline aptly reflects just how much now separates these two teams that for so long have been regarded as the greatest of rivals. While the All Blacks deserve full credit for the manner in which they have taken their game to the next level over recent years, it's also painfully evident that the Boks remain in freefall. New Zealand have now already secured this year’s Rugby Championship title, and when the two teams meet in Durban on 8 October, the Boks will only have pride to play for. It’s a dead rubber that the Kiwis would still be expected to win, while condemning the Boks to another defeat at the hands of their traditional rivals, who are now just in a completely different class.
Wallabies have bounced back well
After finishing as runners-up at last year’s World Cup, Australia suffered a sequence of five straight defeats as they lost 3-0 to England in June and then endured back-to-back losses against the All Blacks at the start of the Rugby Championship. It led to a considerable outcry Down Under, with coach Michael Cheika coming under increasing pressure. Nevertheless, the Wallabies found a way to finally end their win drought when they overcame the Boks in Brisbane, while they then produced undoubtedly their performance of the year to power past the Pumas in Perth this past Saturday. In particular, the Wallabies’ defence was outstanding as they were forced to make 143 tackles to 54, but still managed to score five tries to two. It demonstrated their ability to shore up some problem areas, while now putting themselves on track to finish in second spot in the Rugby Championship.
No stopping the Cheetahs
There is increasingly reason to believe that the Cheetahs could repeat the Lions’ feat of going through the entire Currie Cup season undefeated on their way to the domestic title. On Friday, the Bloemfontein-based side impressively overturned an 18-point deficit to tame the Lions on their way to a sixth successive win of the season that looks set to ensure they finish at the top of the Premier Division standings. With the Cheetahs finishing their campaign with games against the Pumas and Griquas, they should certainly be expected to secure the rights to home-ground advantage throughout the playoffs. There is no doubt that the Cheetahs will be extremely difficult to beat on their home turf, and the signs are there to suggest they could go through the entire season undefeated.
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