Five lessons from the Rugby Championship this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Adriaan Strauss isn’t done just yet
The Bok captain was an emotional man after Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies, and it was understandable as to why. As the leader at the helm of the Boks, Strauss has faced plenty of criticism this season, not only for his own performances, but that of the team. While many critics have called for Strauss to relinquish the captaincy and No 2 jersey, he responded at Loftus with an inspired performance. Strauss particularly made a massive impact in the first half, where he completed 59m, executed three clean breaks and won a turnover. It was a key contribution in the context of a closely fought encounter, while his on-field leadership was also excellent as the Boks secured a much-needed win, with Strauss deservedly being named Man of the Match.
Boks’ set piece still a primary strength
If there is one area where the Boks have excelled since the start of the season, it has been at the lineouts. During the June Test series against Ireland, the Boks won 40 lineouts on their own ball for a success rate of over 90%, while they then carried that form over into the Rugby Championship. Again, on Saturday, the Boks enjoyed a 100% success rate at that set piece, taking their overall percentage for the season to an impressive 94.1%. And although the Boks have had some new combinations in the front row, they’ve generally performed solidly at scrum time, particularly on their own ball. On Saturday, the Boks enjoyed ascendancy over the Wallabies at this all-important set piece, with a number of forward replacements making key contributions. It’s sure to be another crucial facet of play in this Saturday’s final Rugby Championship Test against the All Blacks.
Paige, Steyn and Lambie delivered desired impact
In the lead-up to Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies, there was plenty made of the selection of Rudy Paige and Morné Steyn as the Springboks’ new halfback combination, as well as the inclusion of Pat Lambie in the less familiar fullback role. In the end, all three players acquitted themselves well, with Steyn particularly demonstrating the value of his experience and kicking game as he slotted four penalties and two drop goals to score all of the Boks’ points on the night. Paige completed all his primary roles well, providing quick, clean service and showing lots of bravery on defence before he had to be replaced due to a head knock. At fullback, Lambie did show some signs of rustiness after a long absence from frontline action, but he generally looked cool, calm and collected. All three players justified their selections, and injury permitting, should retain their places for the final Rugby Championship Test.
Boks still need killer instinct
During the June series against Ireland, the Boks managed to score just seven tries over three Test matches, while they’ve now recorded just eight over the first five matches of the Rugby Championship. On Saturday, the Boks reverted to a more pragmatic approach as they secured a much-needed win, but again they failed to offer much with ball in hand. Overall, the Wallabies made 509m to 330, completed 113 carries to 87, while beating 21 defenders to nine. The visitors also enjoyed 55% of possession and 60% of territory. For the first time this year, the Boks failed to score a try, and while that will hardly matter considering they came away with the win, there is still clearly a need for the Boks to add a ruthless edge to their attack.
All Blacks remain unstoppable
After their resounding win over Argentina in Buenos Aires, New Zealand have now won 16 Tests on the trot. The world champs have not lost a game since slipping up against Australia last August, and they’ve shown simply no signs of slowing down since progressing through the 2015 World Cup undefeated. The victory over the Pumas saw the Kiwis clinch a fifth successive bonus-point win in the Rugby Championship, with the All Blacks outscoring their opponents five tries to two. Although some thought it might be a closely fought affair, the All Blacks again demonstrated their lethal attacking ability, particularly with a three-try blitz just before half-time. Ultimately, there just appears to be no way of stopping this thundering All Blacks machine that is powering towards a world-record sequence of wins.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images