Five lessons from this past weekend's international matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Springboks in crisis
When the Boks suffered a scarcely believable defeat to Japan in the opening game of last year’s World Cup, it was widely acknowledged to be the lowest point in Springbok rugby. However, this has surely been rivalled by Saturday’s first-ever loss to Italy. Considering it was a result that came after an embarrassing season littered with historic defeats, there is simply no getting away from the fact that the Boks are in a state of crisis. Again, the Boks were ineffective on attack, passive on defence and outmuscled at the collisions. As it stands, there is simply no silver lining to a dark Springbok cloud.
Conflicted players mentally shot
In the aftermath of the Boks’ historic loss to Italy, the players’ emotions said it all. To a man, they looked shocked and embarrassed, but they also gave the impression of helplessness. There is a sense that they are in a deep hole and have no real idea of how to climb their way out of it. In the SuperSport studio after the game, there also appeared to be concurrence that the players’ on-field struggles were a reflection of mixed messages that were coming off it from the coaching staff. After a year to forget, it does appear that the Boks are not only physically fatigued, but mentally too.
Allister Coetzee to face axe?
Immediately after the Boks’ historic first-ever loss to Italy on Saturday, SA Rugby sent out a statement from president Marx Alexander to confirm that a full 2016 season review would be conducted following the final Test of the year against Wales. It was a relatively ambiguous statement and there was no suggestion that Coetzee’s job would be safe. To axe Coetzee after just one year in charge would be an almost unprecedented act, but after a season where the Boks have lost seven games out of 11 – and suffered one embarrassment after another – there are very few rugby reasons to suggest another year at the helm would be justified.
Closing the gap up north
England are now on a 12-match winning streak. Ireland are on the rise and recently secured a historic first-ever win over New Zealand. Italy have just beaten the Boks, and after Scotland suffered a narrow defeat to Australia last weekend, they finally came up trumps with a well-deserved victory over Argentina on Saturday. It’s clear that any perceived hegemony of southern hemisphere rugby can no longer just be taken for granted. Yes, the All Blacks are still a cut above the rest, but the Springboks and Wallabies are in a downward spiral, which contrasts with the upward curve that the likes of England, Ireland and Scotland are on.
All Blacks, Barrett remain masterclass
For the first time in recent memory, the All Blacks came into Saturday’s Test against Ireland under some pressure. After recently suffering a first-ever loss to Ireland, New Zealand were out for redemption and in the end they achieved just that. Again, the All Blacks had to face a physical and fearless Ireland side, but this time they rose to the occasion and produced an immense defensive effort to repeatedly thwart the home side, while striking when it really counted. As he has done so often this year, Beauden Barrett once again proved to be the catalyst for the All Blacks as he produced an inspirational all-round effort to ensure his side came away with a deserved 21-9 win.