Faf de Klerk is Springboks danger man
In the ‘PowerPoint’ age of rugby, where systems and charts take precedence over individual ability, it is wonderful to watch a player like Faf de Klerk. Once deemed perhaps too unorthodox for the Boks, his performance against England proved that box-kicking isn’t all that modern scrum-halves do.
The ability to cause chaos at the base of a ruck is still vital. His approach is unique in Test rugby. Whereas most modern nines have an almost military approach at the base of scrums and rucks, de Klerk looks like he’s casually walking his dogs in the park – occasionally delivering a command to his hounds when required. There’s no arm-waving, no pointing, and with that comes less structure – which is hard to defend.
Whilst most test scrumhalf’s approach the ruck early, set their feet and direct the pods, de Klerk arrives later and passes immediately. He rarely passes from a standing start, and the forward momentum means that his narrow channel snipes are harder to predict and therefore defend. Critics may argue that de Klerk’s approach leads to the odd messy pass and inaccurate clearance, but he keeps back-row forwards guessing like few others. Well played Faf.
England concede a 21-point lead
Many of the issues keeping Eddie Jones awake at night are largely cosmetic. The selection of a genuine openside, and the inclusion of Brad Shields are easily rectified/ absorbed over the next 12 months. However, one aspect of England’s play isn’t so easy to ignore.
England’s 67% tackle completion against the Barbarians has now been followed by the concession of a 24-3 lead against South Africa. That mant points in Test rugby is massive. With the majority of Tier One Test matches decided by 7-10 points, to lose a 21-point advantage is a major problem and points to a system failure, not merely individual tackle counts.
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England have allowed in 14 tries in two games of Test standard rugby, with six of those tries being scored by the opposition’s wings. At first glance one would assume that Jonny May would be responsible for the defensive lapse on the wing, but that was not the case. May was fantastic with and without the ball against the Boks. He completed all seven of his tackles, scored an immaculate individual try and threw some wonderful inside passes.
Mike Brown missed three from nine, the most missed tackles in the back-line. Much was made pre-game about Brown’s move to the wing. Many were concerned about his pace and ability to finish. But pace isn’t just required for wings to finish tries, it’s also vital in stopping them.
Ireland missed Ringrose
It has been a long time since Ireland attracted criticism of any note. With the perfect blend of heavy, direct carries in the forwards, the best kicking game in world rugby and creativity in the midfield, their performances over the past 18 months have only been bested by the All Blacks. But that was not the case against the Wallabies.
Pre-match, the attention focused on Jonathan Sexton and Tadgh Furlong starting on the bench, but it was the absence of Garry Ringrose that was most evident. Without a genuine 13, Ireland’s back-line wit was reduced to that of a Mrs Browns’ Boys script. With Bundee Aki and Rob Henshaw in midfield, Ireland struggled to get outside the Wallabies’ blitz defence.
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Neither would list passing as their primary skill, especially the ability to flick passes from the 13 channel out to the wing or full-back – a skill that separates proper outside-centres from the rest. With the Wallabies certain that Ireland couldn’t pass over the blitz, or step around it, they flooded the midfield and reduced Ireland’s ability to use either wings – despite this, Jacob Stockdale still had a fine game. Ringrose would solve all the problems above, hopefully he will start next week.
Kurtley Beale – the shapeshifter
Even amongst ‘ultra-utility’ players, such as Isa Nacewa, Matt Giteau, James Hook etc, Kurtley Beale is the pinnacle. He has long been test-level at 10, 12, 13 and 15, but against Ireland he played all four at the same time. It was a remarkable performance.
It was quantum rugby, where he was seemingly everywhere at once. On occasions he seemed to be the first, second and third receiver in the same phase. Whilst Ireland struggled to get outside the Wallaby blitz, Beale unlocked Ireland with ease. He didn’t merely accomplish this with passing or kick-passes either, on occasions he ran around the blitz.
Being arguably the fastest 12 in Test rugby, Beale is comfortable going sideways, even backwards, before going forwards. During the second half he essentially ran a one-man ‘Leinster loop’, without the pass – he turned a two-man ‘underlap’ into a one man overlap on his own. Ireland need a plan for Beale next time out.
Wales have genuine depth
Wales have always struggled with squad depth. As a small nation and with only four professional teams, the nation’s player pool has been more hot-tub, than Olympic. But the result against Argentina suggests that this is changing.
Whilst England and Ireland have taken very strong squads on tour, barring some senior players in key positions, Wales have taken what must be considered a development squad. And develop they have.
Against a strong Puma’s pack, Dillon Lewis looked every inch a modern tighthead in the making – where his carrying was the equal of his scrummaging. Hallam Amos played like a first choice 15, regularly cutting into the 13 channel and offering Wales an attacking option at full-back, not merely a defensive safety net. Adam Beard impressed at lock and Cory Hill continued his rags to Euro Millions progress with yet another exemplary performance.
Whilst the focus obviously remains on the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Wales now have a squad profile that looks primed for 2023 – a luxury of forward planning and player development that Wales has never had in the professional era.