South Africa can be pleased about the workman-like 27-6 victory over Argentina at Newlands in Cape Town. Their victory in the opening match of their Castle Rugby Championship campaign on Saturday was good but the hosts should not be ecstatic.
Morné Steyn proved his doubters and distractors wrong with a superb all-round performance as Springbok fly-half, while his half back partner, Francois Hougaard, was more convincing than during the three tests against England.
The Springbok pack surely demonstrated why they might challenge the Southern Hemisphere giants, Australia and New Zealand.
Generally, this is a very young group of Springbok forwards, but they impressed with the way in which they dominated against Argentina.
But there are areas of concern for the Springboks.
Firstly, the loss of Bismarck du Plessis for the remainder of the season because of a serious knee injury is a setback. Adriaan Strauss is good, but Bismarck is world class and a real enforcer of the highest class.
South Africa’s execution of the rolling maul was not great, and they also struggled to contain the Argentinian maul at times during the second half.
The Boks lost possession sixteen times, eight of those at the ruck and four to the Argentinean 22.
The visitors deserve credit for their spoiling tactics, South Africa still allows their own attackers to be isolated too easily when within striking distance of the try line.
This is lamentable against Argentina, but it could be disastrous against New Zealand and Australia.
Some of the Springboks deserve five stars for their performances, especially Steyn, Hougaard, Ruan Pienaar, who looked in excellent form when he came on as a substitute, Bryan Habana and Eben Etzebeth.
It was quite noticeable how Hougaard excelled as substitute wing when Pienaar came on to take over at number nine in the 60th minute.
One of South Africa’s greatest problem areas is that they look stereotyped and one dimensional on the attack.
The inability to score tries from first phase possession, must be worrying to coach Heyneke Meyer and his team.
The Boks are structured, but sometimes just a tad too structured.
New Zealand vs. Australia
New Zealand beat Australia 27-19 in their opening Castle Rugby Championship match on Saturday.
Their two first-half tries underlined what a classy outfit this All Black team is.
Israel Dagg’s try, after a superb decoy run by the back line, and Cory Jane’s five-pointer, were examples of how New Zealand can attack space at pace.
They make it look so simple, but their flair and their number of game breakers in the back line, make them the early favourites to win the Castle Rugby Championship.
Kurtley Beale would love to forget this game in a hurry, as New Zealand defended their proud Bedisloe Cup record successfully.
On Saturday, the two teams will meet at Eden Park in Auckland (starting time at 09h30), while the Boks will travel to Mendoza (starting time at 21h10) for a contest against Argentina.
Are there a number of Springboks whose position in the starting line up is in jeopardy?
Certainly the selectors might have a look at Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and even Heinrich Brussöw when he returns from injury.
Keegan Daniel has had a superb Super Rugby season, but there is no reason why Willem Alberts cannot move to eighth man so that the Boks can accommodate a fetcher like Brussöw or a ball carrier of the highest class like Kolisi.
Zane Kirchner certainly played well enough to be retained in the number 15 position, but the Boks still lack an all-rounder who can create more space for express wingers like Lwazi Mvovo, Habana and JP Pietersen (when he returns from injury).
Andries Bekker certainly made a satisfying return after a long international injury lay-off, but his is an international career in progress, and he will feel Juandré Kruger breathing down his neck.
The Boks would feel that although New Zealand showed their class against Australia on Saturday, they are not unbeatable.
But for that to happen, the Boks need to use their world-class three quarters like Jean de Villiers, Francois Steyn and Habana just much better.
De Villiers cut a frustrating figure on Saturday. He made quite a number of"Droid Sans, sans-serif"
Steyn or Hougaard should not carry the blame for this. It’s more a case of the loose trio not being fast and accurate enough on the ground to protect the ball carrier and to set up more attacking phases.
The Boks will have to address this in a hurry. David Pocock and Richie McCaw will punish them if they continue their mediocre performance on the ground and at the breakdowns.
Argentina was below par at times, especially with their place kicking and their lack of clinical execution or poor defensive work at times.
The Boks were solid at Newlands, but they will have to push their 70% performance to 90% if they want to edge the defending champions, the Wallabies, or the All Blacks, for the title.
Judging by the scrum performance by New Zealand during the weekend, South Africa’s props will be challenged in this area and will have to be at their bullish best to conquer Ben and Owen Franks to give South Africa good front foot possession.