What a turn-around for Rassie Erasmus. South Africa‘s head coach went into the weekend thinking his position was under threat, but ended it with a deluge of praise and gratitude from around the world.
Make no mistake, the Springboks did the game a favour. Their historic victory over the All Blacks in Wellington rescued the Rugby Championship from another year of abject tedium. It also reminded every leading Test country that the mighty Kiwis are mortal.
Putting aside the four-nation alliance of the Lions, no team had beaten New Zealand, in New Zealand, since the Boks managed it back in 2009. In the nine years since that fixture, the All Blacks had won 54 Tests against all-comers. Their home rule was a remarkable feat of sporting supremacy.
South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe celebrates scoring a try in his side’s victory over New Zealand
No wonder South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit broke down in tears at the end. It had taken a herculean collective effort to break the cycle. The defensive spirit demonstrated by Erasmus’s men was astonishing to behold – allowing them to win a game that the stats suggested they should have lost, horribly.
Very few teams can prevail with just 25 per cent possession and territory, especially when a multitude of officiating decisions are going against them.
Their courage and tenacity revealed cracks in the world champions’ polished façade. Scrum-half Aaron Smith was mercilessly harried by Sale’s Faf de Klerk and was hauled off soon after half-time. Time and again, there were unfamiliar Kiwi handling errors. That’s what pressure does.
The defeat was the All Blacks first to South Africa on home soil since 2009
Beauden Barrett has a glittering repertoire of skills and tricks, but Test No 10s cannot be so fragile in front of goal when every point counts – as it rarely does with New Zealand.
And his refusal to take charge and attempt a late drop goal suggested that old lessons have not been learned.
They are human after all, these mythical figures. When the heat is on, they crack, just like everyone else.
On the back of this momentous occasion, the All Blacks will come to Europe in November with a trace of doubts in their minds.
The next time they find themselves in a tight corner, they will face the dreaded and alien scenario of feeling vulnerable. That could occur at Twickenham. It is highly likely to occur in Dublin.
That is the Springboks’ gift to the world. They have revived hope and uncertainty and intrigue, at a time when endless Kiwi dominance had led to growing public apathy in the south. Predictability is the enemy of sport and, mercifully, it has been chased out of town.
Rassie Erasmus smiles following his team’s surprise victory in Wellington on Saturday
Gloucester power pack provides a platform
Much credit for Gloucester’s emergence as potential title-challengers this season has gone to their new No 10, Danny Cipriani – who continues to take the breath away with audacious and brilliant passing.
But the magician needs a stage to perform on. His pack are providing it, to resurrect the West Country club’s proud heritage.
Val Rapava Ruskin has provided a set-piece cutting edge with his powerful scrummaging, while Lewis Ludlow and Jake Polledri are providing abrasive physicality and defensive tackling in the back row, and Ed Slater is another tough, imposing presence up front.
This is proper Gloucester; ruffling feathers and taking no prisoners.
Jake Polledri (left) has provided abrasive physicality and defensive tackling in the back row
Eddie Jones is on the look-out for X-factor. Time to pick Joe Cokanasiga then.
England have a good stock of electric wingers, armed with express pace, nimble footwork and predatory instincts, but none of them are the size of a house.
Bath’s Fiji-born giant wrought havoc against Harlequins. There was a flying finish, very nearly an even better one, one deft assist and a multitude of one-handed carries and overhead passes. It was like watching the great Racing 92 lock Leone Nakarawa. That is high praise.
Cokanasiga even shows an appetite for hitting rucks. Hard. He is a freakish talent and must be given a Test audition in November.
Owen Farrell is often referred to by team-mates as a coach on the field, such is his ability to run the show with a precise grasp of tactical requirements.
On Saturday, he was unable to play due to a minor injury, so he sat with the Saracens coaching staff at Franklin’s Gardens.
The fly-half will surely follow his father, Andy, by moving into full-time coaching one day. Such is his disdain for the media and any hint of hype, a move into punditry seems highly unlikely
As if losing to South Africa wasn’t bad enough for New Zealand, they have been warned about the threat of an exodus of players in their prime.
New Wasps fly-half and recent All Black playmaker Lima Sopoaga admitted that ‘the jersey is not enough for a better life’.
Many of his compatriots have dismissed his comments as those of a fringe player with an agenda, but they should heed what he says. Economic forces will dictate that by the 2023 World Cup, New Zealand will either have to pick exiles – in a major policy shift – or permit a raft of sabbaticals, to prevent a mass migration.
Lukhan Tui deserves sympathy, rather than condemnation. The Australia flanker became embroiled in a brief scuffle with a spectator after the Wallabies’ defeat to Argentina on the Gold Coast.
Tui’s stepfather had died three days before the match and the man he clashed with had allegedly pushed his sister. For Rugby Australia, the incident served to draw attention from a dire result, in front of a meagre crowd of 16,019.
For head coach Michael Cheika, the post-match focus on Tui partially spared him another savage inquest. A year out from the World Cup, his job is in jeopardy.
Lukhan Tui walks from the stands with a family member after he had an altercation with a fan
The last word
The Pro 14’s credibility problem was laid bare again in Cork last Friday, as the Ospreys suffered a 49-13 drubbing at the hands of Munster.
Head coach Allen Clarke made 12 changes and his weakened side leaked seven tries. Clarke reacted to the result by saying: ‘We didn’t come here to throw a game.’
Of course that wasn’t the intention, but that was the inevitable consequence of leaving out so many top players. It is a common theme in the league and the Irish provinces are the ones who most regularly engage in squad rotation, often at the behest of the national management.
But Leinster in particular at least have the depth of quality resources to mix up selection and still compete, whereas the Welsh regions do not have the resources to do so. Player welfare was the winner in Cork, but the league was undoubtedly the loser.