Rassie should be kicking himself
After losing to Ireland, the South African boss, Rassie Erasmus, let his Twitter feed do the talking, subtly suggesting that the match officials were not up to scratch in Dublin. However, the match officials didn’t pick the World Champions’ starting XV without a recognised kicker.
Their go-to stand-off Handre Pollard is nursing an injured knee while his habitual back-up Elton Jantjies has been sidelined by the Springboks following “a scandalous affair with the team dietician” that took place during the Rugby Championship. No one doubts the rugby abilities of 24-year-old stand-in stand-off Damian Willemse but he can’t hit a barn door with a beach ball off the tee.
He was so poor in Dublin that winger Cheslin Kolbe took over the kicking duties but fared little better. The Bokke left seven points on the table in a match they lost by three, so being a little more accurate in front of goal gives them the win and a powerful psychological edge against one of their main World Cup competitors.
If you still doubted the importance of a good kicker, Emiliano Boffelli scored 25 of Argentina’s 30 points against England on Sunday, including six penalties and on conversion. The Edinburgh winger kept Los Pumas in the game during a first 40 that was bossed by their hosts.
Less obviously, Gareth Anscombe’s three penalties kept Wales in touch with the All Blacks longer than they deserved to be.
I read somewhere that Finn Russell is kicking 91% for Racing so far this season. Just saying.
Eddie and Gregor are in a similar place
Eddie Jones is England’s most successful ever coach, believe it or not, at least if you look at his winning percentage which is 76% (if my maths is correct). Although Jones can boast three Six Nations titles, in 2016, 2017 and 2020, England finished the last two seasons (2021 and 2022) with just two wins from five in each campaign.
In similar fashion, Gregor Townsend is also Scotland’s most successful coach although his numbers are obviously a little lower. After 59 games in charge the Scot sits on 54% win rate (again, with the maths).
The odd thing about Scotland and England’s most successful coaches is that very few fans seem happy with their performances. Given the resources available to him it is astonishing that the RFU has stuck with Jones in recent years; so many excuses, so few solutions. His recent England teams all share one trait, they appear to have learned the game from a book, “How to Play Rugby Union … a Beginners Guide”, possibly published by Penguin.
Scotland too have underwhelmed in recent games. Townsend himself conceded that he had the strongest squad of the professional era but he has precious little to show for it and Ireland’s ascent to the number one spot remains a painful reminder of what is possible for a small nation that makes the most of its resources.
Perhaps the two coaches can compare notes after the Calcutta Cup.
Physicality counts and Richie knows it
Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie is small for a modern six and he was almost always stopped in his tracks when asked to carry the ball against Fiji. Ritchie could yet play seven if Townsend feels the need to add some ball carrying bulk to the back-row, especially since Hamish Watson has yet to hit his straps. You understand why Townsend wants to pair the two together but they will need to up their game for Sunday’s clash.
And with Scotland struggling to deal with the physicality of the Fijians the question remains: how on earth are they going to contain the likes of All Black breakaways Ardie Savea and Dalton Papali’i?
The sad truth is that they probably won’t have to because the Kiwi coach Ian Foster will likely mix things up quite a bit for the Scotland game on Sunday. The visitors won’t put out a second XV, which would invite an angry Scottish backlash, but nor will the NZ management field a full strength side with a game against England six days later.
Italy up, Samoa (further) down
Back in 2013, Italy played against Manu Samoa in a tournament in South Africa that, incidentally, included Scotland. Samoa ran out easy winners by five tries to one, 39-10 the final score.
Nine years on, at the weekend, the two teams met once again only this time the roles were reversed. Italy scored six tries to Samoa’s three and even those scores only came in the last half an hour when the match was long gone.
It bodes well for Italy’s Six Nations campaign, which is good news for everyone else in that competition, but the 49-17 final-score on Saturday says everything you need to know about the sad demise of a once proud rugby nation; one that gave Scotland a fright in Newcastle at RWC’15.
Les Bleus off colour
Special players, such as Damian Penaud, produce special moments when it really matters. France were nowhere near their best against the Wallabies on Saturday but they found a way to win a game they could, and perhaps should, have lost. Compare and contrast with how Scotland’s match against the same opposition panned out seven days earlier.
A win is a win is a win, and Les Bleus are now on an 11 match streak, a national record stretching back to the 1930s. South Africa in Marseille next weekend presents a huge challenge, and they’ll have to be much sharper than they were this weekend. The smart money says they will be. DB