What is Italy still doing in the Six Nations?

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CAPE TOWN – Mark Keohane shares his weekly rants and raves following the weekend’s rugby action. 

Raves

1. Handre Pollard remains South Africa’s most complete flyhalf.

This is the best form I’ve seen from Pollard since he made his Super Rugby debut in 2014.

He was in such control against the Sharks and influential in the emphatic 37-14 win at Loftus on Saturday. Pollard, if fit, will be the Springboks’ first choice at the World Cup.

What is comforting for Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is that Elton Jantjies is showing a mental toughness that didn’t look possible after the horror show against England at Newlands last year. Jantjies was outstanding for the Lions in kicking six from seven and scoring a try.

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Handre Pollard Handre Pollard remains South Africa’s most complete flyhalf. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

2. Don’t discount former Springbok Sevens specialist Rosko Specman as a bolter for the World Cup squad. Specman, a sensation in the shortened version of the game, turned his attention to XVs and has had an immediate impact.

He has such acceleration and he has X-factor. Don’t let anyone try and tell you he isn’t big enough for Test rugby because the reality is that he is good enough.

3. Talking of pace, the Blitzboks have a gem in JC Pretorius.

He comfortably got up to sprint speeds of 35kms, which is up there with the fastest of them all in the USA’s Carlin Isles.

Pretorius sizzled in the win against the USA in Vancouver yesterday and showed he has strength to match his pace when he still scored, despite Isles catching him from behind.

Rants

1. I can’t stand the comparisons to late All Black legend Jonah Lomu every time a big bloke plays one Test and breaks a few tackles.

Sir Clive Woodward has anointed English wing Joe Cokanasiga as having all the Lomu-like qualities.

The fact that the 21-year-old Bath wing weighs 118 kilograms and is 1.93m tall doesn’t mean he is going to be another Jonah. There was – and only ever will be – one Jonah.

2. My rants this week focus on the Six Nations. What the hell is Italy still doing in the tournament?

They went to Twickenham and took a beating against England on Saturday. Italy were hopeless in losing for a 21st successive time in the competition.

They simply don’t belong there, yet the investment and applause given to Italian rugby borders on the ridiculous. Compare what Italy have done to the likes of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, yet there is no investment in the Pacific Islands.

World Rugby can’t forever be allowed to ignore the plight of the island players and allow other countries to poach these players; alternatively strip these respective countries of their best players because they opt for a lucrative financial club career.

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Italy’s Angelo Esposito (left) watches as England’s Brad Shields (right) scores a try during the Six Nations match on Saturday. Photo: EPA/Neil Hall

3. It irked me to see Brad Shields score two tries and tug at the English rose on his jersey. Shields, a year ago, had never ever been to the United Kingdom.

He was all Kiwi – born, bred and with ambitions to wear the black of New Zealand.

He was a former Baby Black, but because of ancestry got picked for England before ever setting foot in the place. It’s a disgrace. Similarly, New Zealand born and bred flyhalf/fullback Gareth Anscombe.

He kicked the winning penalty against Scotland to keep alive Wales’ title aspirations.

Two Kiwis doing it in the Six Nations makes a mockery of the international game.

I have no issue with a player raised in a country that he wasn’t born in playing for that country.

But these Rent-a-Test mercenaries should be made extinct in the modern game.

@mark_keohane

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