A routine victory for the Springboks at Emirates Airline Park was fully justified by their performance on Saturday. Not only were there individual plaudits to be handed out, but as a team and within specific units of their team, there will be plenty for Rassie Erasmus to be pleased about.
We already knew that the strength in depth at scrum-half is more than enviable but just when the order of hierarchy seemed to be settled, in steps the diminutive Herschel Jantjies to nab Man of the Match on debut and a brace of sniper-like tries whilst he’s at it.
Cobus Reinach then comes off the bench and pinches a try with the final touch of the game to put more gloss on the scoreboard and bag the all-important bonus point.
S’bu Nkosi had a stellar run out on the wing and looked more than assured in defence and under than the high ball than he had in the early stages of his international career despite a couple of loose tackles, whilst the competition in the back row was only heightened by the performance of Francois Louw.
Over the ball, Louw was at his imperious best with two turnovers and he also made ten tackles. It was a great day for the versatile and experienced back rower.
Not everything was rosy in the Protea garden, but that said, it will have answered more than a few of Erasmus’ questions he may have had about his squad.
The lineout didn’t function in the way that you would usually expect the Springbok lineout to do so for a start. Bongi Mbonambi only missed his man once and Lood de Jager let one slip through his hands squarely into his face but the rolling maul wasn’t as powerful as it has been in the last few campaigns. This should be rectified when the starting front row’s come back into play but it won’t have gone unnoticed.
Andre Esterhuizen has taken some serious flack for his performance yesterday and unfortunately for the inside centre, the stats seem to back this up. For the Sharks he is a constant menace but yesterday he only carried twice for a gain of just three metres. Frans Steyn, his replacement in the second half, carried six times for a gain of 27 metres. That performance alone may have ended his chances to play a part at the World Cup as Damian De Allende looks likely to start against New Zealand with Steyn coming off the bench again to get more minutes in the 2007 world cup winning veteran’s legs.
Handre Pollard was already going to be one of the most important players at the World Cup for the Boks but after Elton Jantjies performance yesterday, that has now possibly made him the most important player of all.
Jantjies kicked at goal beautifully but he can’t quite control a test match for 80 minutes still. Erratic kicking out of hand and running out of ideas and options sometimes put his teammates under pressure or stemmed the momentum that his forwards had gained for them. Things weren’t clicking with Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel outside of him but defensively he hid at times as well. The Lion missed two of eight tackles attempted but the telling moment was the Australian disallowed try in the first half.
When Lukhan Salakaia-Lotu was given the forward pass and starting galloping for the line, the fly-half seemed to cower away from running towards him to make the necessary tackle whilst merely pointing at the maurading blindside. It was all very strange to watch as Nkosi overtook him to attempt to make the tackle himself.
Overall, there were more positives than negatives though and what it shows is that South Africa have strength in depth in most positions and that competition is going to be fierce as they head to Japan.
For Australia however, the performance level and type of play that they are demonstrating becomes more and more woeful as the Michael Cheika reign stumbles on.
It’s now 56 years since a win at Ellis Park and judging by yesterday’s performance, they may make it to the full century!!
I’ve said this more than once but Cheika should have been out of a job a long time ago. At the last World Cup he needed a rule change to bring back Matt Giteau and ultimately save his job but four years later, there is no Giteau shaped saviour in sight.
One dimensional, no Plan B and a team full of workmen that are looking around the pitch for someone else to tell them what to do or inspire them.
The front row is as soft as it’s ever been and Michael Hooper simply can not carry the pack on his own. When David Pocock is not alongside him to share some of the burden, Hooper’s overall game is affected and he has less influence on the outcome.
Bernard Foley seems to be less confident playing on the gain line than he has been in previous years and the inside ball that has served him so well, especially in the last World Cup, is so predictable now that it has been completely nullified by any opposition.
Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani looked dangerous when they got quick ball but when that type of ball comes just a couple of times per match because it’s not being recycled quick enough, then what chance do they have of imposing themselves on the game?
I can’t actually recall Reece Hodge getting the ball on his wing. That probably says all you need to know. In fact, he carried four times for four metres and conceded one turnover. Not all stats paint a truthful picture but I am pretty sure that those do. It’s not even a indictment on Hodge but on the team that can’t manufacture openings for him or any of the back three.
The Australian coaching team seem to love picking these workman like players that make a yard or two here and there and fight to get over the gain line but the time to switch this up has finally arrived.
Play Kurtley Beale or Christian Leali’ifano, when fit again, at ten or twelve with Marika Koroibete on one wing and Jack Maddocks on the other with Tom Banks or Dane Haylett-Petty at the back. That’s a back line full of guile, power and imagination. Koroibete should now come in for the next test as he travelled back to Australia to be at the birth of his child just before this loss.
Haylett-Petty is the perfect example of a Michael Cheika player. He’s a great Super Rugby player and gives 100% every time he walks on the pitch but as a winger, he just isn’t a threat when he’s on the field. You don’t read his name and start worrying about him. Eight tries in 32 tests is one try in four. He’s workman like, as I keep repeating and he deserves a shot but you can’t persist with a winger’s strike rate that poor. International wingers should not be butchering the chance that he knocked on yesterday. Simple as that.
Cheika has more work on his plate this close to the World Cup than any other Tier One coach and unless he makes dramatic changes for this weekend and they power over Argentina, I fear their season and World Cup may be over before it’s even begun.