There are some extraordinarily interesting – and in some cases memorable – observations to take out of this weekend’s rugby where the Six Nations Championship and Super Rugby series kicked off and the Blitzboks faltered.
There is the loudmouthed bragging of Eddie Jones which was upset by the defeat of England against a very young and inexperienced team. (Is Eddie worse with his thoughtless utterances and rudeness than Donald Trump??!!)
Then there was the turnaround of the Cheetahs from a lucky one-point, last gasp PRO14 win the previous Saturday against the Kings to a 45-0 drubbing of the Eastern Cape side in the return match on Saturday; the way Crusaders, without so many of their past stalwarts who are now playing their trade overseas, started off their Super Rugby campaign against the Waratahs which they won 43-25 at home; and the hard times ahead for the Lions who were 38-8 thrashed in Argentina.
It was with a measure of glee that one witnessed the way the young and inexperienced France side under new coach Fabian Galthié took apart the much-vaunted England side in especially the first half of their Six Nations match.
There wasn’t a silver medal to snub as they churlishly did after losing the World Cup final, and their dejection – again without any obvious spontaneity during the customary shaking of hands afterwards.
The young France combination rubbished Eddie Jones pre-match interview. Jones, too often leading with his mouth instead of his head, had even set his side the goal ahead of the Six Nations Championship of becoming “the greatest team that ever played rugby”.
Now, after two successive defeats to South Africa, where he was out-witted as coach, and Franc eon Saturday, he has plenty of work to achieve the loudmouthed goal. England have now conceded 56 points and scored only 29 in those two matches.
For the record: France led 17-0 at the break, were up 24-0 after 55 minutes, and then twice withstood immense pressure from England with a sequence of rucks within a meter of their tryline which reminded of a similar situation that probably clinched the World Cup for South Africa.
A number of new stars emerged on the side of the home team, and doubts remain about the leadership in the England side.
Just when one thought that the Blitzboks, impressive in their pool outings, had shaken off the lethargy of their Hamilton performances in the previous tournament and that the young speedsters had now taken over from the older greats like Branco du Preez and Cecil Africa, they disappointed.
Having progressed to the final by impressively beating last weekend’s tournament runners-up France and the the USA in the semi-final, the Blitzboks looked rattled from the outset in the final against Fiji, who were 12-0 up after only one pass!
They dominated the rucks with pure aggression and power, forced the Blitzboks into many errors – and not only handling errors that could perhaps be forgiven in heavy rain – and were the better team on a day when the South Africans were rather below par. A kick-off not going the full ten metres, a botch kick-off receival that gave Fiji a try just after the start, being rucked off the ball … It goes on.
The indications are nevertheless there that coach Neil Powell is moving to a ‘’new team with less starting time for the older hands.
This new bunch could become a real force in over the next few years.
Sharks vs Bulls
The Sharks broke the the Bulls stranglehold over them, winning their first match in ten since 2014.
They won the close match 23-15 and did so on merit.
However, while there were warning signs for the Bulls after the loss of eight Springboks in Handré Pollard, Duane Vermeulen, three locks Lood de Jager, RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins, Schalk Brits, Jesse Kriel and Travis Ismaiel. They will have to get their act together and step up significantly.
The Sharks played the more exciting rugby in a scrappy match where the known class and also the experience of former Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn shone through.
His teammates, like the Sharks, however need to gel into a team before they will be a factor with a chance of Super Rugby honours. Hopefully the Sharks four-match tour to Australasia will achieve that for them without too many league points squandered before they find the necessary the cohesion.
They led by only a single point, 16-15, until the very last move when replacement scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba scored a try to deny the Bulls a bonus point.
Stormers vs Hurricanes
The Stormers forwards annihilated the very poor Hurricanes on the day, winning 27-0 against a side rated by the bookies as third favourites to win the Super Rugby competition. Little was seen of former British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts because the Stormers opted to keep it with their pack, five of whom played in the World Cup final.
Still, a little more width when they were well ahead would have been pleasant to see. Mind you, there was ‘a lack of accuracy and vigour on attack’ that coach John Dobson admitted was a concern.
There was also the warning sign that it was mostly the brilliance of scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies that gave them the needed bite on the scoreboard, although the forwards’ dominance of course set the platform for that.
One remains somewhat unconvinced of Damian Willemse as a flyhalf at this level, especially in a match where the emphasis is on territory and forward play, although it is perhaps too soon to form an informed opinion. And this style will be very much the way the Stormers will approach their season.
Jaguares vs Lions
The Lions, with a new coach and new captain for the season, were outplayed by the Jaguares. The loss come as no surprise. The Jaguares had won all six of their last matches in Argentina and led the Lions 3-1 in wins at home before this game.
However, the 20-point margin was easily the best yet by the Argentinians, and the seemingly disjointed Lions urgently need an experienced defence coach to take care of their defence. They missed 37 of their 163 tackles and allowed the Jaguares 19 clean breaks.
New coach Cash van Rooyen will have some thinking before he selects the team for next weekend’s home game against the Reds.