Five lessons from the Currie Cup final and Bledisloe Cup Test, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Cheetahs effectively married attack with defence
During the pool stages of the Currie Cup, the Cheetahs scored an impressive 49 tries and 366 points as they established themselves as an irrepressible attacking force. However, their highly effective defence didn’t get the credit it deserved. During the round-robin stage, the Free State side conceded just 18 tries and a miserly 181 points. The Cheetahs then carried that form over into the semi-finals, where a virtually flawless all-round performance saw them hammer the defending champion Lions 55-17. And while the Bloemfontein-based team didn’t quite replicate that performance in Saturday’s title decider, their strong defence once again laid the foundation for a comfortable victory. It again served as a reminder that offensive defence can be just as much of a weapon as ball-in-hand play, while also illustrating the effectiveness of finding a healthy balance between the two.
Smit, Petersen and Venter deserved Bok call-ups
There have been questions this season as to whether a Currie Cup devoid of a host of top players can be accurately gauged as a barometer for higher honours. Roelof Smit, Sergeal Petersen and Francois Venter have been three of the top performers throughout the season, and there is every reason to believe they can make the step up to Test level. Smit will add a much-needed alternative option at openside flank, while the in-form Petersen will boost the Boks’ depth out wide. In a year where the Bok centres have also failed to make an impact, Venter can provide the sort of solidity and hard running that has been lacking. The call-ups for these three players, as well as that of Jean-Luc du Preez, again proves that the Currie Cup is a competition capable of producing Test players.
All Blacks prove unstoppable
Say what you will about the All Blacks’ relatively unconvincing 37-10 win over the Wallabies on Saturday, but there can be no denying that this New Zealand side has staked an emphatic claim to be regarded as the best team in history. Although they were far from their best in Auckland, and did benefit from at least one dubious official decision, it was ultimately a case of mission accomplished. They now hold the tier-one record for successive wins (18), and could well go on to challenge for the all-time record of 24 consecutive victories. During the final half an hour of the contest, the All Blacks scored three tries and as many as 22 points as they once again proved that there is simply no side that can compete with them for the full 80 minutes.
Cheika, Wallabies sore losers
For much of the Rugby Championship, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has given the impression of a petulant child up in the coaches box. On numerous occasions when a questionable decision has gone against his team, Cheika could be seen offering up expletives while gesticulating angrily. He was at it again during Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup encounter, while he delivered an unnecessary rant after the game instead of crediting the All Blacks for the incredible winning record that they’d achieved. When asked for his views on the Kiwis breaking the record, he simply said: ‘I don’t think they really want my comment.’ He went on to complain about a number of other on and off-field ‘issues’ that simply provided the impression of being a sore loser.
TMOs keep on making costly errors
Although the All Blacks were ultimately deserved victors, they again benefited from a dubious decision by the officials. It came at a time when the game was delicately poised, with Wallabies winger Henry Speight having looked to score a try early in the second half that would have brought the scores level with the conversion to come. However, South African TMO Shaun Veldsman came into play and ruled that Wallabies winger Dane Haylett-Petty had prevented Julian Savea from reaching Speight. He hardly looked to have changed lanes, but the try was nonetheless ruled out. Moments later, there was another questionable call when the officials failed to pick up on the fact that Bernard Foley held back the arm of Dane Coles as he looked to dot down for a try. Again, it illustrated that errors continue to be made despite the use of technology.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images