Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: All Blacks, Boks and autumn internationals
Last Updated: 08/10/18 2:44pm
Stuart Barnes gives his take on a cracking end to the Rugby Championship, autumn internationals and the start of the Champions Cup...
1. It was a privilege to be in Pretoria on Saturday evening. The Rugby Championship may already have been decided but there was a crackling intensity in Loftus Versfeld. South Africa and New Zealand are the two traditional powers. The 20th century was largely dominated by these rugby nations while five of the eight World Cups have been claimed by the old guard.
But in recent years New Zealand have dominated the world and South Africa. Although the Kiwis won away from home, the signs suggested that this monopoly could be coming to an end. A win in Wellington - albeit with the help of the All Blacks - and the narrowest and bravest of defeats will give the Springboks belief to take their old adversary on with the conviction that hasn't always been present this decade.
2. The match was important because a walloping great win for the All Blacks could have consigned the South African win on Kiwi soil to the realm of 'fluke victory'. They got the win - against the odds - but South Africa, while another victory would have been perfect, - got the performance they required to travel to the Northern Hemisphere in the best nick we have seen them for some time.
England's first match of the autumn series is against the Springboks. Their record against England is excellent and on the evidence of the weekend, Eddie Jones will need to send out a superb team to stop the momentum gathering behind the Boks.
3. However, that match is outside the international weekend. Faf de Klerk will be unavailable, even though there is no Premiership rugby that weekend. The blonde dynamo deserves and probably needs a break. He was subbed for the last eight minutes on Saturday which is the longest spell he has been off the field throughout the Rugby Championship.
Rassie Erasmus's deal to bring him and the superb Willie le Roux back into the fray worked wonders, with the scrum-half giving bite to the team in general and shape to the power of the pack. On Saturday, Bath's Francois Louw was another outstanding performer in defeat. He too is ineligible. Suddenly - with injuries at eight and inexperience at nine - the Springboks look weak where they have been so strong. It wouldn't surprise me to see Duane Vermeulen taking time out from Japanese club commitments next month...the rumour was doing the rounds in Pretoria.
4. Did the substitutions of De Klerk and the magnificent turnover man, Malcolm Marx, cost the South Africans the game? An argument can be made that the game management of the one and the contact skills of the other would have combined to keep New Zealand out of range to pick and drive their way to this amazing win. Rassie Erasmus will surely have learned lessons in defeat just as Steve Hanson and the All Blacks claim to have done after Wellington.
5. As for the All Blacks, the power of the Springbok game blunted the brilliance of their fast tempo game. Going backwards for much of the match, Aaron Smith looked far from the outstanding scrum-half in world rugby he is when New Zealand are dictating the pace. The half-back partnership with Beauden Barrett has crumbled under pressure on a few occasions. It didn't get into gear before Hansen brought TJ Perenara and Richie Mo'unga on with Barrett switching to full-back. Interesting that Barrett, despite two superb penalties in the first half gave up the kicking duties to the more reliable Mo'unga.
6. The Northern Hemisphere will have looked at the problems caused by the South African line speed and prepare to blast the Blacks out of their stride. A couple of days before the game Sonny Bill Williams was talking of the extra defensive line speed of the European teams. The world champions will be working on some variations to counter this aspect of the European game.
7. All this talk of the Springboks but what a win. The hosts were the better team on the field but an unwavering commitment saw Hansen's team surge back into the game and past South Africa in a manner no other nation could have managed. Their fitness, organisation and determination to win for each other was exceptional.
8. The margin of the Australian comeback in Argentina was even greater, the intensity markedly less. In the first half I was marking Wales down for that long-awaited win against their nemesis on November 10. The Pumas tore Australia to pieces with their speedy attacking game, But the second half saw a stunning fightback with the Wallabies now scoring just about every time they had possession.
It was exciting but a lesser league to the game earlier in the day. Israel Folau, picking angles from the wing, is working well. Folau or not though, if Wales are as well positioned as Warren Gatland believes, they have to end the Aussie run in November before they meet in the pool in next year's World Cup.
9. It is Europe next week. The game that most catches my eye is the one between Exeter and Munster down in Devon. Munster may have lost in Dublin but they are playing some half decent stuff and have that European experience. Exeter look ready to step up a level and be seriously competitive this season. Elsewhere Bath versus Toulouse appeals. Neither team is likely to be there at the death but still, Toulouse at the Recreation Ground remains a tempting prospect.
10. Racing 92 are the best (in my mind) and only bet of the French contenders in this year's competition. Clermont are in the Challenge Cup, so too Stade Francais while Toulon are all over the place. It's worth noting that the former Toulon star, Chris Ashton, might be getting ever nearer to an England recall with Johnny May joining Anthony Watson on the injury list.
Finally, a thought for Steve Ojomoh. The former Bath and England international suffered a stroke last week. A lovely man with a lovely family, I hope I am not taking liberties wishing my friend and team-mate all the best from all of you, thinking of you, Steve.