Ok so I neglected to write previews for the past weekend of the Rugby Championship, purely out of laziness. But basically I would have said New Zealand to win comfortably, and South Africa to win after a hard-fought battle. I was quite wrong.
True to form, New Zealand won with relative ease. Beauden Barrett had yet another outstanding game, and proved to the world that he is the form No. 10 in world rugby at the moment. However the player of the weekend for New Zealand in my opinion was Israel Dagg. The fullback was placed on the right wing this weekend (swapping places with the versatile Ben Smith) and it was as if he’s never played another position in his life. Dagg was always part of the play, constantly looking for work, and rounded off a completely dominant performance with the first two tries of the game. The decision to switch Smith and Dagg around was an inspired one from coach Steve Hansen, and he will be ecstatic with how the move paid off.
The Wallabies were, however, hopeless for the second week in a row, despite a much improved defensive performance. Coach Michael Cheika had some choice words for the referee, Romain Poite, both during and after the match. On several occasions the camera cut to the Australian coaches box and no audio was required to know that what Cheika was shouting was not for sensitive ears. After the match, Cheika basically accused the frenchman of favouring the All Blacks at every turn, rather than simply admitting that it was the Wallabies that put themselves under serious pressure, and failed to capitalise on good attacking ball (although credit must go to the All Blacks for their aggressive defence).
And now on to the shock loss of my beloved Springboks…
In the opening 10 minutes of the match, it appeared that the Springboks had found the fire that they were lacking a week ago in Nelspruit, however the fire turned out to be just a flash in the pan. After some poor kicking from Jantjies and Goosen, and some good play by the Argentinians, Los Pumas went ahead and never really looked like giving up the lead.
In what was expected to be a tightly contested scrum battle, Tendai Mtawarira failed to impress and, on the day that he equalled the legend Os du Randt’s record for most caps by a Springbok prop, was upstaged by Vincent Koch and Steven Kitshoff. Throughout the first half, the scrumming contest was an absolute lottery to see who would earn the penalty, as the first half scrums were a complete mess. It was only when Kitshoff replaced the aged Mtawarira that the scrums looked to stabilise, and he dominated the ill-disciplined Ramiro Herrera for the remainder of the match. Koch showed some decent scrummaging talent of his own, despite being paired with the struggling “Beast”, and was suitably replaced by the impressive Lourens Adriaanse, who played a vital role in the dominance of the South African scrum in the second half. The three younger props also appeared to be a lot more mobile on the field that the 80 cap veteran, which shows that maybe it is time for the Zimbabwean-born former star to consider hanging up his boots.
On to the loose forwards, and we need to rethink a lot about them. Last week I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts of Oupa Mahoje, as he showed that his place was deserved in the starting line up. Mohave ran well with the ball and did well in securing our own possession, however it was on defence that he really stood out, making the most tackles (and fewest missed tackles) on the team (He doubled the tackling stats of his nearest teammate, Warren Whiteley). This week, however, my initial fears of Mahoje starting were realised. The Cheetahs blindside flanker once again started to slip up in his tackles, resulting in several high tackles (one of which he has been cited for) and showed a general lack of discipline on the field, and his tackle count came no where near the dizzying heights of his count from last week. However I would still be content if he retains his starting spot against Australia in two weeks time.
The same, however, cannot be said about the invisible man that is Francois Louw. The man from Bath failed to secure possession on South Africa’s own ball, and was completely absent on defence. A couple of half decent runs does not account for his lack in ability to do his initial job. The fiery Jaco Kriel came on with half an hour to go, and the tempo of the game drastically increased. Suddenly the Springboks managed to keep possession for several phases, the running improved, the commitment at the breakdown improved, and the South Africans looked once again that they were playing with a certain level of urgency. Ariel seemed to be everywhere on the park; he was at every breakdown, managed four turnovers, and several strong carries. The Lions talisman deserves to start in two weeks time against the Wallabies, as he genuinely looks like he is proud to play for his country, a rare commodity these days.
Speaking of being proud to wear the Green & Gold, the Springboks will sorely miss the likes of Ruan Combrinck for the next six weeks, as he fractured his fibula shortly before halftime. Jesse Kriel came on in his place on the right wing, and had a decent enough match, however the Boks noticeably missed the massive right boot of the speedster, as well as his ability to bust wholes in the defence.
As the Springboks are now in need of a right wing, I would then recommend that Damian de Allende be considered for the role. Despite a much improved centre combination last week, De Allende and Mapoe have still not synced up, and I put it down to a feeling that De Allende does not have the right attitude for an inside centre. Although he has the ability to pass, and has improved his distribution in the past two weeks, it is evident that De Allende would rather run with the ball than offload to his outside backs. The Boks could still make use of the Western Province centre, and I believe that he would feel more comfortable if he made the permanent switch to wing. This move would open the floor to the likes of Rohan Janse van Rensburg to make his much called for inclusion into the Springbok squad.
My last word on the Springboks has to go to the hapless hooker and captain, Adriaan Strauss. The bumbling blonde-haired boulder fails to make his way around the park and cost South Africa possession several times in vital areas, either by knocking the ball on in the tackle or failing to support his runners and clear out the breakdown. I am sure that Strauss is a magician in his spare time as, except for set plays (lineouts and scrums), he managed to pull a disappearing act for all the passages of open play. It is high time that coach Allistair Coetzee realises that his “first choice” hooker is not even the fourth best hooker available for South Africa, and Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx should be given their rightfully deserved opportunities at the No. 2 jersey.
On the whole I feel that the future of South African rugby seems quite dim. I would be happy to lose every match this season if Coetzee showed that he was building a gameplan and a squad of players that could contend the World Cup title in three years. However, looking at the current state of affairs, Coetzee has no idea what he is doing nor what type of gameplan he wants to play, and I fear that New Zealand will be looking forward to putting 60 points against the once proud Springboks.