Bok bench needs better management

As the Boks ease into a wonderfully exciting new dawn, there remains some doubt around coach Heyneke Meyer’s feeling for the actual flow of the game and his use of the assets on the bench.

Tank Lanning in his weekly Ultimate Rugby column

So after an absorbing Rugby Championship, especially given that the winner was decided prior to the last round of matches, the end result is that Argentina sneak into top 10 of the IRB world rankings, England edge Australia into 3rd, and the Springboks close the gap fairly significantly on the All Blacks at the top of the pile …

I gave no particular obsession with said IRB rankings, but that does précis this year’s Rugby Champs story particularly well!

The Aussies, instead of building on the fantastic performance of the Waratahs in Super Rugby, have fallen off the bus, and in need of some serious introspection, the Argentinians have improved remarkably, adding structure and defence to both their attack and defence, the All Blacks remain the team to beat, despite many an “expert” writing them off prior to the tournament, and the Springboks, while still brutally physical, have evolved to include a more ball in hand approach, enabling them to realistically challenge the New Zealanders for that top spot at last.

The world game is perfectly set up for the Southern Hemisphere sides end of season visits to the sleet and snowy land of next year’s Rugby World Cup!

While pondering those salivating North vs South November fixtures, perhaps a quick look back at the salient points arising from the final weekend’s Rugby Champs games …

The Pumas deserve a Rugby Champs win. Apart from an abrasive pack that includes the best scrum on the planet, they are now playing rugby that will have sides taking notice, rather than just aiming to spoil the opposition’s ball – something they are still annoyingly good at though. But I am not sure they deserved this win on Saturday.

Nigel Owens, so good the week before at Newlands, and without doubt the best referee in the world, seemed to come a little unstuck in the Mendoza cauldron. The three Wallaby yellow cards were obviously game changing, and to my mind, debatable.

But it was the lazer aimed at Bernard Foley’s eye by someone in the crowd as he set up to take a kick at poles that left me with a particularly sour taste in my mouth. That is simply disgraceful behaviour and something SANZAR and the IRB need to investigate. Being stripped of their win and log points would not be an unfair punishment, but at worst, they should be forced to play their first home Rugby Champs game next year at an empty stadium.

There is no room in rugby for that sort of behaviour.

At Ellis Park young flyhalf Handre Pollard proved yet again that he is the man to spearhead this new dawn for Springbok rugby. Happy to take the ball flatter and happy to take on defences, rather than just stick the ball in the air for the wings to chase, the Boks have added an extra arrow to their quiver. An arrow that sees their game evolving into one that is less predictable, and one that will allow them to actually take on the All Blacks for the first time in years. That they have a like-minded flyhalf in Pat Lambie on the bench makes the approach more sustainable, and thus more dangerous.

There still has to be a little doubt over coach Heyneke Meyer’s feeling for the actual flow of the game, though. At Newlands, he used the bench very effectively against the Aussies to get some momentum into the game in the last 10 minutes. At Ellis Park, instead of recognizing that the players on the park had the momentum against the All Blacks, he seemed to be intent on sticking to a formula that worked the previous week. A formula that came very close to backfiring a mere 7 days later.

But it didn’t, and the result was a fair reflection of what transpired over the 80 minutes.

The Boks were hugely dominant in the first half, yet the All Blacks remained in touch on the scoreboard. In Wellington, it was the other way round, with the Boks almost managing to burgle a win in a game the All Blacks dominated.

It’s about belief, and both these sides have it in spades. It’s what sets them apart from the rest.