Five lessons from the Rugby Championship this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Springboks’ aura fading fast
It’s been an inauspicious season for the Boks. One that started with a historic first-ever loss to Ireland in South Africa and now, most recently, saw them suffer their biggest defeat ever on home soil after being pummelled by the All Blacks on Saturday. And it’s not over yet. The Boks still have a notoriously treacherous end-of-year tour to contend with, where defeats to Wales and certainly England would not come as much of a surprise. Following the Boks’ first loss of the season in Cape Town, opposing coach Joe Schmidt was asked at the post-match press conference whether he felt the Boks’ aura was diminishing. He attempted to deny that fact, yet it’s a question that has continued to pop up throughout the season. The sad truth is that Saturday’s embarrassing loss to the All Blacks simply underline just how the Boks and South African rugby has completely lost its way, while a once widely respected aura is waning.
Boks still bringing zero on attack
In six matches in the Rugby Championship, the Boks scored a measly eight tries. Revealingly, their last was during the early stages of the clash with the All Blacks in Christchurch on 17 September. Besides the fact that the Boks finished the tournament with the least number of tries, they were also ranked bottom for clean breaks (40), carries (496), metres made (1,643) and defenders beaten (83). Their attacking game hasn’t been aided by injuries and changes in key combinations, but the Boks have also often been their own worst enemy. Their decision-making and accuracy with ball in hand has been simply woeful at times, and the underperformance of some highly regarded players is a cause for real concern. Not for some time have the Boks looked so completely impotent on attack, and a more experienced coach simply has to be brought in to supplement this area of the game.
Woeful Bok defence drags on
While the Springboks have been powerless on attack this season, their defence has been hardly any better. Following the departure of renowned defensive guru Jacques Nienaber to Munster, the inexperienced Chean Roux stepped in, but it’s been a battle ever since. Quite simply, the Boks have looked disorganised and completely devoid of confidence on defence. However, this certainly hasn’t been aided by poor kicking and particularly poor kick-chase lines that have often compromised their defence, while they’ve lacked the necessary physicality in key positions to make an impact in that facet of play. Ultimately, the Boks finished the campaign with an 83.4% success rate, but it’s mightily revealing that they conceded 98 points and 15 tries in two matches against the All Blacks. On Saturday, they missed a whopping 33 tackles. Say no more.
Current All Blacks could be best ever
Pundits are fast running out of superlatives to aptly encapsulate just how good this All Blacks team is. On Saturday, the All Blacks recorded their sixth successive bonus-point win to complete a perfect clean sweep in the Rugby Championship, while equalling the top-tier Test record for consecutive wins (17). It was also their biggest-ever victory over the Boks. In the buildup to the clash, it had been revealing to hear the views of former All Black Jeff Wilson, who was convinced that the team of 2016 was in fact even better than the World Cup-winning side of 2015. He insisted they had evolved as a side and that the injection of some fresh blood had enabled them to begin to play with even more freedom. That assertion proved to be spot on in their 57-15 annihilation of the Boks, and right now, it’s hard to imagine any side being good enough to beat them. There can be no doubt that this generation of All Blacks could well go on to be regarded as the best team in history.
Wallabies worthy of second-place finish
In the immediate fallout of the Boks’ humiliating loss to the All Blacks on Saturday, few South Africans would have been likely to pay too much attention to the following battle between the Wallabies and Argentina in London. It certainly wasn’t the most high-quality encounter, but it was an entertaining clash that eventually saw the Wallabies emerge as 33-21 winners to finish second in the Rugby Championship. Considering that the Aussies came into the competition on the back of a 3-0 series loss to England and then suffered emphatic back-to-back defeats against the All Blacks, it could have all gone south in a hurry. However, the Wallabies responded well and ultimately lost just one further game (against the Boks in Pretoria), and few can argue that they weren’t deserving of a second-place finish.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images