South Africa ramped up their preparations for the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship by routing a World XV, whose star-studded side were expected to give the ‘Boks more of a game.
Despite the impressive 46-10 scoreline, South Africa were far from perfect with certain players who have been out of international rugby looking every inch of it.
Of particular concern to coach Heyneke Meyer will be Jannie du Plessis’ struggles at the scrum with Carl Hayman and the anonymity of JP Pietersen on the wing.
Plus points came in the form of a powerful new combination of Damien de Allende and Jesse Kriel, who look to have solved the Springboks’ headache in the centres. Despite playing together for the first time, the ‘Stormer’ and the ‘Bull’ combined power with pace and must now be considered the leading candidates for the 12 and 13 jerseys at the World Cup.
— Sky Sports Rugby (@SkySportsRugby) July 11, 2015
The return of captain Jean de Villiers will also have put a smile on South Africans faces to cap what has been a miraculous recovery from a dislocated his kneecap in November.
ALL BLACKS OFF THE PACE IN SAMOA WIN
This one-off Test match in the Samoan capital Apia was always going to be a hard game considering the amount of national pride at stake for the home team and New Zealand’s penchant for a shaky start to the international season.
Roared on by a partisan crowd, Samoa played with discipline and passion with home flanker Alafoti Faosiliva capping a fine display with a try that sent the stands into raptures.
Bulldozing Newcastle Falcons wing Alesana Tuilagi administered some bone-shuddering hits on All Black rookie George Moala, which also went down a treat.
Dan Carter looked razor sharp with the boot, however, and spared New Zealand’s blushes with 20 points from the tee but it was only until the final 10 minutes of the game that the visitors looked assured of victory.
New Zealand’s first match in the Rugby Championship is against ever-improving Argentina and they will need to improve their match intensity dramatically if they are to avoid an embarrassing opening loss at home.
STILL NO ROOM FOR FIJI ON LIONS TOUR
It is a shame that no more than a week after Samoa’s historic first Test match against New Zealand that the British & Irish Lions have turned down an invitation to play a warm-up fixture for their 2017 tour against Fiji.
Given that the tour is against the All Blacks, not only does a Fijian match make geographic sense but it would also help generate much-needed revenue for the Pacific Island team who, like Samoa, also lose young talent to richer rugby nations.
The reason for the snub can be traced to two sources. Firstly, a game against Fiji would not provide much of a commercial windfall to the governing powers of British Rugby. Secondly, a look at the history books will show that the Lions actually lost on their last visit to Fiji on their 1997 tour.
New Zealand have made the first move in bringing regular Test rugby to the Pacific Islands. It is now up to the rest of the rugby world (in particular Australia and England) to put their money where their mouths are and follow suit.
WALLABIES AXE EXPERIENCED HEADS
Preparations for a World Cup usually bring about a high turnover of players as the head coach searches for his perfect XV.
Perhaps the most interesting squad selection saga to follow has been that of Australia. With a new coach and a team desperately lacking in consistency and form, some big decisions have needed to be made, and boy has Michael Cheika made them.
The most notable omission from Australia’s Rugby Championship squad is that of Christian Lealiifano. Not only does the versatile fly-half-come-centre provide an extra goal-kicking option, but his international experience and impressive Super Rugby form are exactly what a team needs to win a World Cup.
Ultimately the Brumbies star has most likely lost a two-horse race with his club team-mate Matt Toomua, who plays a similar role, but with more emphasis on defence compared to Lealiifano’s more attacking tendencies. This selection may be very telling of Australia’s tactics at this World Cup and I expect to see the Wallabies’ game plan based around a water-tight defence.
FRANCE JOIN RIO OLYMPIC PARTY
France have qualified for rugby’s return to the Olympics in 2016 – after nearly a century’s absence – by sealing their European crown when beating Wales to reach the tournament semi-finals.
While always providing a competitive challenge on the World Sevens Series circuit, France have never been known as a top side in the format.
However a Dhs19 million (€4.7m) investment from the FFR, coupled with the release of several outstanding Top 14 players including France international forward Fulgence Ouedraogo, seems to have changed Les Bleus’ fortunes.
Indeed such has been their dominance of late they have not lost a match in the past three tournaments.
This French splurge on sevens is representative of a much wider trend of countries placing increased importance on the game.
Much in the same way that T20 was once considered a feeder sport for Test cricket, we could be seeing the start of a rugby revolution that will see sevens displace 15s as the sport of choice.
If this is the case, the change will take place over several years but given its Olympic status, more exciting tendencies and greater global participation, sevens is laying the foundations to become the world’s second sport.
Many of South Africa’s pack looked sluggish and off the pace against the World XV but one player who bucked that trend was abrasive flanker Marcell Coetzee. The Sharks flanker smashed Jordan Taufua so hard his skeleton was almost left behind!
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Skipper Jean de Villiers has been left out of a 31-man South Africa squad for a 2015 Rugby Championship match in Australia.
The 34-year-old centre will continue his remarkable recovery from a career-threatening knee injury by turning out for Western Province instead in Currie Cup warm-up games.
Who would have thought Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers, would be back so soon https://t.co/leraIK9BKt
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) July 12, 2015
De Villiers played this weekend for the first time since being injured against Wales last November, coming off the bench for the final 20 minutes of a 46-10 Springboks’ triumph over a World XV.
The decision to keep De Villiers at home was planned and he will likely return to the Test arena when South Africa host Argentina on August 8 in Durban.
More to follow…
Semesa Rokoduguni is set for the second phase of an eventful pre-World Cup journey this weekend after being given a chance to relaunch his England career.
The Fiji-born Bath wing initially missed out on a place in England’s 50-man World Cup training squad, but David Strettle’s decision to take up early residency in France with new club Clermont Auvergne created an opportunity for Rokoduguni.
He was back in Fiji on holiday when the call came, and after an initial training camp at England’s Surrey base, he will now jet off to Colorado with a 45-player England group and hope to earn a place in Stuart Lancaster’s final 31-man World Cup party.
Rokoduguni, who is currently on a sabbatical from the British Army, made a high-profile Test debut against world champions New Zealand at Twickenham last November. Injury then contributed to him drifting out of contention, and he presently remains a member of international rugby’s one-cap club.
Rokoduguni has revealed that his military experience helped him after he fell out of contention following the thrill of a debut against Richie McCaw’s All Blacks.
He said: “It has been one of those journeys. Everything was happening, and then suddenly there was a pause. It has been really frustrating, but coming back into the squad has been exciting.
“It is similar to what we do in military training – the mental side to deal with setbacks. We are taught to be flexible at all times, and this was useful for this situation.”
With England opening their World Cup campaign against Fiji at Twickenham on September 18, Rokoduguni could find himself in the frame to face the land of his birth.