Rugby Union: Springboks sprung by power of confidence

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The Independent Online
I HATE to pile on the agony for South Africa but they've done our rugby the world of good over the past month. I doubt whether this will be any consolation to them after their bitter failure at the last hurdle of their world record attempt but we should be genuinely grateful to them.

As the side who stopped the tourists magnificently yesterday, England will receive the biggest boost to their confidence but, if they've got any sense, they will have learned a valuable lesson for the World Cup. England have confirmed that they have a world-class pack but what was also clear at Twickenham was that they have to expand on their forward game if they are to have any chance next autumn. I'm not taking anything away from England but South Africa's jadedness showed up yesterday. When they come back for the World Cup they will be a different proposition and it will be behind the scrum that they'll get their power.

The English, in the meantime, have to build on yesterday's success by creating a style that makes more of the great mobility of their back-row and utilises the potential they have in Jeremy Guscott and Will Greenwood at centre and Matt Perry at full-back. I realise they are still uncertain at outside-half and goal-kicking but I would persevere with Mike Catt who will be suited to an attacking style and they have no option but to stick with Matt Dawson as kicker. I promise him that he'll get better if he practises. Never mind the coaching; he can do it himself if he has a mind to.

The South Africans have been very tired throughout their tour. I don't think we noticed so much during their first Test against Wales because the Welsh took them, and the rest of us, so much by surprise that they spent the match reacting to the threat of a shock defeat. And I am sure that Wales could have won had they not been completely over-awed by the prospect. Had they done so, it would have been easier for the rest of the home countries because I don't think the tourists would have got over it and would have been far less of a power.

As it was, even a narrow and in many ways lucky victory was enough to motivate the South Africans to press on towards a record sequence of victories. On the way, they brought us a lot of valuable home truths.

Scotland did very well in the first half at Murrayfield but they never looked as if winning was even a remote possibility and in the second half their lack of exposure to that level of play was too much for them to cope with.

The Scots now know that their players must feature in a much higher standard of competitive rugby at club level to prepare for the intensity of play required to succeed in internationals. Not only is the lack of meaningful rugby affecting their national team it is hitting the public interest. The latest size of the Murrayfield crowds is proof of that.

As for their players, John Leslie and Jamie Mather looked good but they still don't what to do with Gregor Townsend. Derek Lee has a lot of pace but he is not as big an influence as he should be. They've got little time to improve and their priority must be to develop the ability to sustain their effort for 80 minutes.

Ireland have much less of a problem in that area but they need some urgent work on the back play. Their pack can hold their own against anyone, as they have shown on numerous occasions, but once the ball gets back there is no thrust in the centre or any bite or finishing power from anywhere else. Their alignment is too deep and they are taking the ball standing still.

Last weekend, only the forwards asked any questions and, as South Africa have learned very successfully, this is now a 15-man game and every position has to pose a threat. Ireland must add some sparkle to this department even if they have to have a trawl around the world to check on the Irish ancestry of some good backs.

These games against the South Africans have made us aware that we need another dimension to the way we play. Thanks to Graham Henry, Wales were already thinking that way - working on their weakness in order to create a stronger team base from which decisions can be made during games. This control, knowing when to slow the game or pick up the pace for instance, is vital and the South Africans seem to do it instinctively as do the other southern hemisphere countries.

You can't coach a player how to make a split-second decisions in the heat of thee game but you can create the pattern and the atmosphere that encourages him to do so. That's what the British Isles countries have got to learn and why the Five Nations tournament is going to be so important.

What the South Africans have achieved has been to show us at first hand what can be done and pointed each country in the right direction. They have planted some valuable seeds. It is up to us to cultivate them quickly.