Five lessons from this past weekend's international matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
No end in sight to Bok blues
Very few pundits would have believed the Boks had a realistic chance of overcoming England at Twickenham on Saturday. Yes, history was on the side of the Springboks, who had not lost to the English since 2006, but every other sign pointed towards a victory for the hosts. In the end, Eddie Jones’s vastly superior team clinched a comfortable win as was widely predicted, but the failure by the Boks to make it a realistic contest provided yet another damning insight into just how far the national side has fallen. The Boks should be mightily grateful that next weekend they will have an opportunity to come up against a weak Italy side, where victory should be expected, but there is every chance that they could go down to Wales in their final tour match. That would leave them with an abysmal 42% win rate in what would go down as one of the most shocking seasons for the national side.
New-look loose trio offered nothing
Beyond their own failings, the Bok coaching staff did have very little choice this week but to improvise in terms of their loose-trio selections. Injuries to Francois Louw, Jaco Kriel and Roelof Smit left the Boks without a specialist openside flank in their squad, forcing a reshuffle that saw Willem Alberts start out of position at No 6, while regular lock Pieter-Steph du Toit had to slot in at blindside flank. It added size and physicality to the Bok back row, but as has been the case throughout the year, there was a clear lack of balance to the loose trio. Du Toit had his struggles on defence, while Alberts was unable to make much of an impact at openside. These players certainly can’t be seen as the scapegoats in a Bok team that has multi-faceted problems, but such a weakened loose trio has certainly not helped the cause.
Defence and attack problems persist
When Johan Goosen scored for the Boks just on the hour mark at Twickenham, it finally ended a try-scoring drought that had lasted more than 280 minutes, with Bryan Habana having last dotted down in the Springboks’ Rugby Championship clash with the All Blacks in Christchurch. And when England crossed for their fourth try en route to a first win over the Boks since 2006, it saw Allister Coetzee’s team concede their 31st five-pointer in 10 Tests this year. Both sets of facts are a damning indictment of the Boks’ inability to either strike with ball in hand, or to boast an effective enough defence to win Test matches without possession. All in all, it epitomised the Boks’ all-round struggles in a year to forget.
All Blacks have unparalleled player depth
For the first time in almost 18 months, the All Blacks had to face a fair dose of criticism this past week after a lacklustre performance saw Ireland secure a shock first-ever win over New Zealand last weekend, which ended their record-breaking victory sequence. Despite this surprise result, the Kiwis took the criticism on the chin, while coach Steven Hansen had no fear in making a total of 12 changes to his lineup for this past Saturday’s Test against Italy. In the end, the result against demonstrated the depth in New Zealand rugby, with a new-look All Blacks side cruising to a resounding 68-10 win.
Wallabies battling for consistency
Australia got their European tour off to a flying start with a 32-8 win against Wales in Cardiff last weekend, but had to rely on a healthy dose of good fortune to salvage a one-point win over Scotland at Murrayfield this past Saturday. Again, the Wallabies failed to back up one good performance with another – as was often the case in the Rugby Championship – and afterwards coach Michael Cheika was scathing of his team’s concentration and intensity levels. The Wallabies next play France in Paris before taking on high-flying England, and only a vast all-round performance would see them stand any chance of completing a Grand Slam.
Photo: David Rogers/RFU