Loose Pass: Boks, USA, Wales, France and Pumas

Date published: June 19 2018

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with South Africa’s rise, America’s sensation, Wales’ position of strength, France’s future and Argentina’s structural issue…

They’re back!

Leaving aside England’s continued and unchanging problems, it’s probably time eyes were cast elsewhere than Eddie Jones’ furrowed brow, for South Africa look to be settling into a late charge towards the Rugby World Cup.

Aside from those slow starts, South Africa’s ability to take a chokehold on wild games is standing them in good stead under pressure, while Siya Kolisi’s leadership looks to be a tonic. The scrum is once again a weapon, the forwards are making metres at will, kickers can land goals from anywhere and the backs need only to master their scramble/shift defence to be a complete project.

The overseas recalls have worked. Even the bench is becoming a place to reach to for strength rather than just reserve – how good was Steven Kitshoff? This year’s Rugby Championship just got a lot more interesting…

And he’s back too!

They’re organised, disciplined, fit and tactically astute. And they’re not even tier one…

The USA have been on the cusp of better things for some time now, but the last four years always seem to have found some internal problem holding them back. Unexpected coaching changes, failed professional league projects and administrative squabbles have all left the Eagles struggling to take wing.

And yes, it was not exactly Scotland’s top team. But it wasn’t far from it either, and fighting back from 21-6 down is no mean achievement for this American team which is also looking to be timing a charge towards the World Cup just right.

It’s been nearly a decade since Gary Gold was an integral part of the South African setup that enjoyed such a good year in 2009, whereafter he’s enjoyed a very mixed run of results as coach. But the work done on the Eagles has been superb; it’s good to see him enjoying some success again.

The depth of the valleys

You’d have got good odds this June on Wales whitewashing an Argentina team that was starting to move through the gears in Super Rugby.

Missing an entire front five and heading to Argentina is rarely a recipe for success, but from one to fifteen this series, players hitherto considered reserves have, to a man, put their hand up and delivered against quality opposition – Argentina’s problems will be discussed below.

Warren Gatland has much to ponder in the most positive sense as he looks towards November, while next year’s Six Nations showdown against Ireland could be a classic if the Welsh squad continues to develop at this speed.

Vive les jeunes!

It’s been a long, long, long time since a French crowd was as joyous as that at the Stade de la Mediteranee in Beziers on Sunday.

It was not, perhaps, just the win though. This is as French-looking a team as has been seen coming out of France for some time – dodgy surnames/accents aside.

A ferocious pack, buteur with cold blood and a backline with plenty of skill and flair, an entire XV playing with smiles and enthusiasm. It’s been a long time since you could say that about a French international team. Is this the generation to breathe back the life into Les Bleus?

Pumas or Jaguares?

A coincidental reading of Brian Moore’s excellent autobiography over the past week was notable for one chapter which explained, in Pitbull’s no-nonsense tones, why building an international team almost exclusively out of a highly-successful club team doesn’t work – referring to the Welsh team in 1990 that had been almost entirely based on the Neath team of the time.

(The following excerpt is abridged)

“…players and units that appear all-conquering at club level benefit from the fact that their rivals usually have specific areas of weakness,” he said.

“Moreover, even if opponents have better players, this is overcome by the overall effect of a cohesive team. Against good international teams there are no weaknesses. There may be areas of lesser strength, but this is not the same.

“Player for player, the advantages enjoyed by the Neath players did not exist at international level. Wales became Neath, expecting to play the same way and with similar results…(but) the better, bigger defences in the Five Nations easily absorbed (their) thrusts.”

So while Daniel Hourcade shuffles off to leave – presumably – Mario Ledesma to take over on the back of the latter’s exceptional work with the Jaguares in Super Rugby, Argentina’s rugby suits might do well to ponder Pitbull’s wise words and commence some way of forming a second Argentinean franchise to compete with the Jaguares.

In the meantime, do not be surprised if Ledesma comes up against the same trouble of transitioning a Super Rugby team to the Test arena: well though the Jaguares are playing in Super Rugby, it may be precisely the Pumas´ familiarity with each other at the lower level that is holding them back in the Test arena.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens