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Ireland are the run breakers

Ever the smiling assassin, Eddie Jones was right.

To win 18 games of test rugby takes some doing…ask the Springboks who held the old mark, ask the All Blacks who stumbled several times before finally setting a new record.

And now you can ask England.

They did well to get as far as they did, winning a couple they might have lost, and putting themselves right back at the forefront of the international game after two dreadful World Cup campaigns.

But looming records can do funny things to teams, and like others before them, England might have been paying more attention to the milestone than the match.

When Ireland turned up the blow torch, England were found to be lost in focus, inaccurate and not very well disciplined.

You don’t get any trophies for it, but Ireland have become the great run breakers, having stopped an off-key All Black team at 18 games in Chicago last November, and now coming up with this inspired effort to deny England the new mark.

It was a great contest, without ever becoming a great spectacle, in that over 70 errors were committed, resulting in either loss of possession or penalty.

Magnanimous on the day, it only took one or two bad nights sleep for Jones to start sniping again, with a few barbs about the manner of the All Blacks winning the 2011 World Cup, but he’ll need to be careful about his constant referencing of everything England does to the All Blacks…I get the feeling that some of England's senior rugby scribes are tiring of it. Tick, tick, tick, tick…..

Hopefully the result might restore a bit of dignity to proposals to replace the pencilled-in All Blacks v Barbarians clash at Twickenham in November with an England test match.

That has started to get a bit nasty, and too much about England wielding its traditional power and too much about New Zealand holding out for more money, when it should just be about a game of rugby between two outstanding teams.

World Rugby made a positive move last week to better align the northern and southern hemisphere seasons.

A global season seems quite unrealistic and so this is probably the next best thing.

While there are already indignant noises coming out of the British media about moving the June test window to July, that is more because they automatically blanch at any initiative that has the stamp of the southern nations on it.

It makes a lot of sense…I mean the French are already playing their club finals in June, and it will stop that dreadful month-long hiatus in Super Rugby, just as its getting really interesting.

The only downside I can see is the delay. Why not start it next year? Why do we have to wait until 2019 for something that makes so much sense?

There is also a determination for more games between tier one and tier two nations, which sounds great, but the cynic in me suggests it won’t be long before there’s a great deal of bobbing and weaving by the big boys when it comes to these.

After the rash of in-conference games, we’re starting to get more of an international feel to Super Rugby in the coming weeks.

At last we have a South African team in New Zealand in the shape of the Bulls, who are here to play the Blues and the Chiefs, before the Chiefs head to SA for what should be a great showdown with the Stormers.

Saturday's game will be played at North Harbour Stadium, not because the Bulls aren’t worthy of Eden Park, but because the Northern Suburbs of Auckland are home to a large expatriate community, who tend to turn out to support a South African team, which is great. The Sharks have won there in the past, and the Blues overall record at NHS is a bit spotty.

The Bulls will be pleased to get a win on the board ahead of their trip, but the red card, some sloppy defence and the spirit of the Sunwolves conspired to make life difficult. It was good to see Jan Serfontein back in action,

The Bulls haven’t won in New Zealand since 2013, and that was against the Blues. They will certainly need to tighten their defence and watch their discipline and accuracy because, while the Blues are also battling, they have great strike power and will be up to any physical contest.

What’s intriguing about this game is that both sides have reached a point where they need to make a positive move before their prospects start to go south.

It’s the Africa two group that really looks strong, and it’s going to be a cut throat battle to see which of the Lions, Sharks and Jaguares make the playoff cut, because there’ll only be room for two of them at most. It is yet another failing of this current format that a team in a tougher pool is disadvantaged.

The news that Johan Ackermann is weighing up a job with Gloucester will cause great angst to Lions fans, and those who would dearly like to see the former Springbok take the reins with the national team.

I’m just going to play devils advocate here.

Having once told Graham Henry he would never be All Black coach after he took up with Wales, New Zealand Rugby has done a complete 180 and now likes its aspiring All Black coach to have had some experience offshore.

Ackermann is a humble man, and the last guy to profess to know everything about the job. As I mentioned in a column last year, he spoke wherever possible to his New Zealand counterparts while here last year and they were more than happy to share and swap ideas with him. The fact that he was prepared to initiate these conversations speaks volumes for the man. He wants to grow his knowledge of coaching.

If you are looking long term, could a couple of years coaching in the UK, where things are very structured and organised, very well resourced, and where you are exposed to different ways of thinking….could such an experience be of greater benefit than staying in South Africa surrounded by the same ways he has always known?

Loyalty is a wonderful thing, but a couple of years offshore might help Ackermann become the best coach he can be.

Finally, some bullet points from the weekend's round.

The Crusaders were 16 points down at halftime against the Blues. They were 17 and 21 points down in their previous two games. Yes, it is admirable that they can keep fighting back from some deficits, but it surely cannot continue. Still, four from four, with several front-line players out, and Kieran Read still to make his entrance, is not a bad place to be.

The Jaguares are still a bit too fast and loose, but they are definitely a better team this year, and anyone wanting to beat them, especially in Buenos Aires, will now need to take their A game and their A team.

Two weeks ago Crusaders rookie Mitchell Hunt landed a clutch penalty to win the game against the Reds. Now Curwin Bosch has done the same with an even more challenging kick to spare the Sharks blushes against the Kings. With Patrick Lambie gone, the Sharks might do well to have both Garth April and Bosch on the field, with Bosch at fullback but sharing the playmaker role.

The Hurricanes are on fire in the New Zealand conference…their backs alone have scored more tries than any other team, although it must be remembered they have played the Sunwolves and Rebels. Still, they are a treat to watch and Jordi Barrett showed some sublime skills against the Highlanders. One negative issue for the ‘Canes is goalkicking…just 63 percent success and I wonder how long before the calls start coming for Beauden Barrett to hand over the tee to his big little brother? With the Lions tour approaching, that’s not what the All Black selectors will want to see, mind.

The Chiefs and Hurricanes get a week off now, but the team who really needs it are the Highlanders who have been well and truly struck by the injury curse. They will need to dig very deep if they’re to win in Canberra this week.

The knives are being sharpened for the Waratahs Kiwi coach Daryl Gibson after another shambling effort against the Brumbies. The Brumbies are the only team in the Aussie conference to have won two games, and Australian teams have now won just one game out of ten against overseas opponents this season.

And, finally, what will Jason Jenkins be practicing this week?

Footnote: Nothing to do with rugby, but it is a great pleasure to have the Proteas in New Zealand right now. They had too much class for the Black Caps in Wellington….the New Zealand team punches well above their weight for the most part, but lack the depth of the South African side.

New Zealand's batting capitulation in Wellington aside, it has been an enjoyable series, played in an outstanding, respectful spirit…a far cry from the petulant, childish antics that have become a byword for the current India Australia series.

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