What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the past weekend's international matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.

Heyneke Meyer's Springboks can overturn a big deficit
The Boks were extremely lucky to beat Wales in Nelspruit on Saturday, but deserve credit for fighting back from 17-0 down to make it 17-14, and then from 30-17 down to win 31-30. This was one of the best Welsh performances ever, yet the Boks were able to hang in there and strike back when it looked like the game was gone. They were also able to win despite a shocker from Aussie/Kiwi referee Steve Walsh, who made several controversial calls, including the awarding of a try to Ken Owens when the Wales hooker clearly placed the ball short of the line and then rolled it forward.

Handré Pollard is ready for Test rugby
The Junior Boks' captain would rather have had the Junior World Championship trophy in his hands after the final against England, but it was some consolation when he received the 2014 IRB Junior Player of the Year award. The 20-year-old flyhalf had an outstanding tournament, kicking well at goal and out of hand (with both feet), attacking the advantage line and playing his part on defence. And, as you'd expect from someone in his third global U20 tournament, he showed great maturity as a leader and had a calming influence on his team-mates. It was no surprise when Pollard was added to the Bok squad for the Test against Scotland in PE and he should make his debut off the bench at some point in the second half.

England's talent development system is working
In 1998, England played in their first U21 Sanzar-UAR Championship (the predecessor to the U21 World Cup) and lost all four of their matches against South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina. The English scored just 28 points in total and were humiliated 93-7 by New Zealand. Sixteen years later, and the England U20s have won back-to-back IRB Junior World Championships, in France and New Zealand. So what's changed? According to The Times' Alex Lowe, the English structure is better connected now (with Stuart Lancaster, the head coach of the England team, in overall charge as the head of player development), the England Qualified Player (EQP) scheme provides Premiership clubs with financial incentives to develop home talent, the academy system is working, and youngsters are given playing opportunities in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and A League to gain experience. The system is clearly ensuring that England's U20 stars reach the top, with eight of the team that contested the Junior World Championship final in 2011 in the current England senior squad.

Malakai Fekitoa is the man to back up Conrad Smith
Smith's broken thumb saw Fekitoa make his first Test start at outside centre, against England in Hamilton on Saturday. The 22-year-old, Tongan-born Highlander gained 81m with ball in hand (the same as Julian Savea, with only Ben Smith, 115, making more), carried the ball 14 times (second only to Smith's 16), made three tackles (without missing one) and forced a turnover on the ground. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen now knows he has an able replacement for Conrad Smith when the 77-Test veteran is unavailable.   

Japan are on the up, Italy are in a downward spiral
Japan beat Italy for the first time ever when they won 26-23 in Tokyo on Saturday. It was the Japanese's 10th Test win in a row, while the Italians have now lost nine successive matches. Former Wallabies head coach and Springbok technical analyst Eddie Jones has clearly made a big impact with the Brave Blossoms. While their streak began with wins against weak opposition in Russia, Spain, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Hong Kong, they have since beaten tier-two teams Samoa, Canada, the USA and Italy. The Azzurri's nightmare run began with a loss to Argentina in November 2013. They then lost all of their Six Nations matches this year, as well as all of their June Tests, against Fiji, Samoa and Japan. Embattled coach Jacques Brunel will be feeling the heat.

Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

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