What we’ve learned

Five lessons from this past weekend's international matches, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

Boks have hit rock bottom
There can be no sugar-coating just how bad a year it has been for the Boks. Saturday's defeat to Wales left their win percentage for the year at a shocking 33%. No South African side has ever fared so badly in a single year during the professional era, while Allister Coetzee now has the ignominy of having the worst return of any coach in his first year at the helm. Again, the Boks were simply clueless against Wales, failing to make a single line break and lacking any real physicality and fight on defence. If there were any doubts about just how deeply rooted the Springbok crisis is, these were completely eradicated in Cardiff.

Selection gamble backfired
When Coetzee selected four debutants in his match 23 for the season-ending clash with Wales and overhauled a number of combinations, many saw it as a sign of him looking to the future, but it was also undoubtedly a sign of desperation. In the end, a new-look side lacking cohesion failed to find any sort of spark, with Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies particularly disappointing in a return to the halfback pairing that did duty for a large part of the season. The rest of the newcomers also failed to make much of an impression as the sad state of affairs in South African rugby became even more patently obvious.

Coetzee will fight to save job
In the aftermath of the Boks’ latest loss to Wales, there were numerous cries for Coetzee to do the honourable thing and resign. However, in an interview with certain reporters over in the UK, Coetzee has revealed that he still believes he can turn the team’s fortunes around. In statements that very much make Coetzee sound like a coach in denial, he primarily puts the team’s struggles down to the fact that he was appointed only a couple of months before the start of the season. Although he said he would be willing to step down if there is no improvement next year, it’s clear that he still wants to stay in the top job for the immediately foreseeable future.

England, Ireland keep rising
While it’s been a year to forget for the Springboks, and to a lesser extent, for Australia, it’s been a season of immense progression for England and Ireland. On Saturday, England recorded their 13th successive win as they overcame Argentina at Twickenham despite playing the majority of the match a man down, and are now just one game away from going through the entire year unbeaten. Over in Dublin, Ireland also continued to impress as they claimed another big southern hemisphere scalp with a 27-24 victory over Australia. Having impressed against the Boks in June, Ireland recently defeated the All Blacks in a historic encounter in America, while they again underlined their immense improvement against the Wallabies on Saturday.

All Blacks can win ugly
It’s been a year where many observers have run out of superlatives to describe the feats of an All Blacks side that beat Wales 3-0 in June, secured the Rugby Championship title with a perfect record and have now gone unbeaten on their end-of-year tour to Europe. Besides their one uncharacteristic blip against Ireland in Chicago, it has been a year where they have only gone from strength to strength following last year’s World Cup. Last Saturday, New Zealand did appear to be weary at the end of a long season, but as they so often do, the Kiwis still found a way to move up a gear in the second half and ultimately claim a hard-fought 24-19 win over France in Paris.

Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

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