#360view: Coetzee needs time to rebuild Springboks

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Allister Coetzee.

If you’re looking for symbolism from the All Blacks’ crushing 41-13 win over South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday, then witness Ardie Savea’s try on 55 minutes.

The 22-year-old flanker, making his first international start, collects Aaron Smith’s off-loan and powers over for a debut score with two Springboks – Eben Etzebeth and Faf de Klerk hanging onto his back.

All three represent the present and future of their respective countries but the end result perfectly illustrated the gulf that exists.

Whereas the world champions have seamlessly filled the void of losing iconic figures Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, the Boks are still working out how to compensate for the loss of leaders Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Jean de Villiers.

As coach Allister Coetzee bluntly concluded, New Zealand’s transition “has been very, very good, unlike in our case”.  Those assigned with forming the bedrock of the side – fly-half Elton Jantjies, scrum-half De Klerk, full-back Johan Goosen and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit hold just 41 caps between them. And it’s shown, with Coetzee adding, “maybe some players are not ready for this level yet.”

When Coetzee took over in April, he had a number of challenges to deal with in order to bring back the culture of how rugby is perceived in South Africa; focusing on restoring Springbok traditions such as the set piece and a granite-like defence to give the team an identity.

He hasn’t enjoyed much of a honeymoon period, though, as criticism has already centered around his defensive strategy similar, which eerily similar to the one he deployed with the Stormers for five seasons. If teams kick over the top, for example, then the defensive line can be easily breached.

A recurring problem against Argentina and Australia in their previous games was the habit of spreading the ball wide without creating any space. With 10 minutes to go against Australia in Brisbane last week, they were in sight of victory at 17-23, but a lack of experience and confidence saw them cough up possession when a try seemed inevitable.

Captain Adriaan Strauss should be telling his team-mates to hold on to the ball, play through the phases and do the simple things right under pressure. This all comes with experience as a collective unit, and game time against strong opposition is the only way to learn and rectify such mistakes.

The drop in performance over the last 12 months shouldn’t call for alarm bells just yet. Against the All Blacks they showed encouraging signs of improvement, but their overall decision-making, coupled with some inexcusable individual mistakes are restricting their position on the scoreboard.

When they move the ball through the middle of the field they looked dangerous with Etzebeth and Du Toit fending off opponents and making valuable yards. In attack, Bryan Habana and Goosen produce flashes of excellence but a team cannot capitalise on individual magic and need strong support runners outside the ball to threaten the opposition line.

From a leadership point of view, when Strauss were replaced after 45 minutes, they lost experience in the pack, and this led to the All Blacks scoring four tries in the last 30 minutes. In a situation like this, Etzebeth needs to prove why he is the best No4 in the world. He has 51 caps and has developed into an established figure after four years in a Boks jersey.

As the saying goes, “true leaders aren’t born, they’re grown over time” and the Rugby Championship is a platform for Coetzee’s inexperienced figureheads to improve. If they can focus on the traditional strengths and make their gameplan clearer, they can start to compete and evolve their attacking and defensive structures.

Eventually, they’ll close the gap on New Zealand, but for now they must build a combative gameplan and allow players to develop.

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NZ surge past Pumas, Australia beat SA

Sport360 staff 17:13 10/09/2016

New Zealand overcame a spirited challenge from revitalised Argentina to win 57-22 in Hamilton.

Santiago Cordero’s second-minute opener and a slew of points from Nicolas Sanchez stunned the All Blacks but they rallied to turn the tables.

Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty grabbed two tries apiece at the Waikato Stadium while a touchdown and six conversions from Beauden Barrett boosted New Zealand towards their 14th-straight win.

Argentina, buoyed by their recent victory over South Africa, took an early lead which they would not surrender until late in the half.

Martin Landajo’s break in the second minute enabled Cordero to give the Pumas a dream start, with Sanchez converting.

Julian Savea and Barrett soon dragged New Zealand level with a converted try, but Sanchez’s boot remained hot and two penalties boosted Argentina 13-7 ahead before Ben Smith dotted down thanks to Aaron Smith’s skip pass in the 23rd minute.

Barrett converted before Sanchez’s third penalty kept the Pumas’ noses in front, however briefly.

On 32 minutes Israel Dagg edged the hosts in front with a penalty and it was not long before Ben Smith put in a grubber kick for Barrett to grab seven more points with his converted try.

Another Sanchez penalty darkened the All Blacks’ mood, but they led 24-19 at the interval.

Sanchez returned to the pitch to boot three more points – a false dawn for the tourists as New Zealand promptly ran riot with two tries from Crotty and one from Charlie Faumuina.

Beauden’s conversions took the score to 45-22 by the 63rd minute and the home advantage extended to 30 points when Ben Smith raced under the posts for a try converted by Aaron Cruden.

Argentina were not able to escape without further punishment as Luke Romano ran in the All Blacks’ eighth try, which Cruden could not convert.

Elsewhere, Australia beat South Africa 23-17 in wet Brisbane to earn their first win in this year’s Rugby Championship.

The holders had the misfortune of playing world champions New Zealand in their first two games and, having lost both heavily, had to beat the Springboks to avoid being also-rans.

The visitors led 14-3 after 18 minutes, but Australia made it 13-14 at half-time and took a decisive nine-point advantage on 61 minutes.

Michael Cheika’s men, for whom inside centre Bernard Foley scored 18 points, could have won by more had it not been for several mistakes in attacking positions.

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Do you agree with our predicted Lions XV?

Sport360 staff 17:30 07/09/2016

Debates will soon start about the formation of Warren Gatland’s first Test team to face New Zealand in Auckland next June following the Wales boss’ appointment as British and Irish Lions head coach.

Here, we select a line-up that might fit the bill if the Lions were playing New Zealand this weekend.

15: STUART HOGG (Scotland) – a brilliant counter-attacker who would light up any back division, but will Welshman Leigh Halfpenny’s prolific goalkicking edge it in selection?

14: ANTHONY WATSON (England) – a proven high-quality finisher, who has scored 12 tries in 24 Tests for England.

13: JONATHAN JOSEPH (England) – an outside centre in the classic mode, he offers pace, creativity and try-scoring prowess.

12: ROBBIE HENSHAW ( Ireland ) – has all the skills, with defensive power to match. Star quality, but could be a toss of  the coin between him and Wales’ Jamie Roberts.

11: GEORGE NORTH (Wales) – had his injury troubles, but a proven top-level performer who is capable of terrorising any defence.

10: OWEN FARRELL (England) – George Ford, Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton are all set to be in the fly-half mix, but Farrell is currently a short distance ahead of them.

9: RHYS WEBB (Wales) – Ireland’s  Conor Murray is likely to push hard for a Test spot, yet Webb’s all-round game nudges him clear.

1: MAKO VUNIPOLA (England) – arguably England’s most improved forward of the Eddie Jones coaching reign. Powerful and consistent.

2: DYLAN HARTLEY (England) – has led England superbly since being appointed captain by Eddie Jones. Also the best hooker in Britain and Ireland by a proverbial mile.

3: WP NEL (Scotland) – the South Africa -born tighthead prop is an immense scrummager, and just the set-piece cornerstone Gatland will require, as is England’s Dan Cole. Tight call.

4: ALUN WYN JONES (Wales, capt) – skippered the Lions to victory in the third Test decider against Australia three years ago, and should keep the job. World-class in every area.

5: GEORGE KRUIS (England) – has produced magnificent form in England colours. An exemplary lineout operator with a mighty work-rate.

6: MARO ITOJE (England) – might be a lock for England, but blindside flanker for the Lions? Too good to be left out of Gatland’s Test team.

7: SAM WARBURTON (Wales) – a fit and in-form Warburton is head and shoulders above anyone else as the best openside flanker available to Gatland. Class act.

8: TAULUPE FALETAU (Wales) – the battle for Test selection with England’s Billy Vunipola will be fascinating, but Faletau is a more complete footballer.

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