Craig Dowd: Impressive Lions represent promising Springboks era

New Zealand have enjoyed a great era based on talented players coming through around the same time. They were good enough to see the country claim successive Rugby World Cups.

But after two rounds of Super Rugby, I am beginning to think South Africa could be on the verge of a successful era of their own.

It's not as if they haven't been strong since winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup, but they have lacked consistency of selection and performance that could have seen them make even more of their resources than has been the case.

They may be taking their time over choosing their next coach, and that is fair enough because if they get the decision right and find the right person it could have a huge impact.

It is clear from the way the Lions have started this season that Johann Ackermann is getting things right with his side. Players in his Lions side are good enough to be pushing for the next level where they could serve South Africa well in the future.

Johann knows what it is about. If you play international rugby for South Africa as a tight forward, like he was, you have to be pretty bloody good. Playing against him; he was someone who was always a tough nut. It's not surprising he has embraced a running game, he had good skills around the ground for a tight forward.

No.8 Warren Whiteley is starting to be talked about as a prospective captain of the Springboks; but remember, he is competing with Duane Vermeulen for his place in the side.

Half-back Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies showed against the Chiefs that they would not disgrace a Springboks backline and they may have to be considered this year; Jantjies in particular due to the absence of the injujred Handre Pollard.

The game is probably changing in South Africa as they have a lot of players who want to throw the ball around and they have shown they can do it.

Blues coach Tana Umaga's selections for the clash with the Crusaders were strange. But having said that, he has probably told the squad he has not settled on his starting side, that positions are wide open and he wants players to prove to him they want the starting places.

What we saw against the Crusaders were players who failed to step up, especially at the set-piece. The Blues forwards were dominated and the territory gain was just woeful.

I put it back on the players. Everyone is going to point the finger at Tana because he's an easy target being a new coach, but I thought the players just didn't front and had no respect for who they were playing against.

I would suggest half of those Blues players did not do their homework on the Crusaders. That's because, A: the set-piece needs to be on top of its game and, B: you don't get caught up in a kicking game against the Crusaders -- the best in the business.

But the Blues did both. And they were still kicking the ball with three and a half minutes left on the clock despite trailing by 10 points. Why would you kick away possession? It was dumb.

Someone has got to think and you can't lump it all on the guy sitting in the stand with a clipboard. Players have to grow up and realise that when you are 30 metres out from the goal-line, on attack, and you opt for the scrum that has been getting pummelled the whole game, and when you have ball carriers to pick and go to create go-forward for a midfield pairing to dream for, you actually have to use those assets. The Blues didn't use any of them.

Instead the ball got turned over in the scrum - and it came to nothing. Players have just got to think. Yes, they have matured and they are getting to be better players but there's a time when your brain has to cope with the question: how do we win?

From where the Blues were a week before, it was disappointing to see them fail like that in Christchurch.

In saying that, I thought the Crusaders really stepped up. They're a side that everyone knows how they are going to play. I've said it before, they are smart. They win the set-piece, they play the territory game and dominate it like you wouldn't believe and then they've got that one go-to guy who can create something from nothing in winger Nemani Nadolo.

The try he set up after that great run reminded me of Jonah Lomu - the comparison is an easy one to make but for a big man he has got incredible power and speed.

I was most impressed with Scott Barrett at lock. He is one to watch for the future. He's got a gritty nature, and in a pack going forward and performing well, he looked good while his awareness around the field was obvious. He's a good player but has just a little more than your average tight forward. He's got a turn of pace and good ball skills.

Jordan Taufua had another good game; he's on the verge of stepping up to the next level. He could play international rugby; but it's just a case of who wants him? I'm sure there are a lot of people talking to him at the moment.

Andy Ellis has started the season with some great form; he's looking really good. Even in their loss in the first round he still looked good against Tawera Kerr-Barlow for the Chiefs.

All the talk was about the Blues midfield pair of George Moala and Rene Ranger, but I think Ryan Crotty and Kieron Fonotia came out on top in that one. Crotty is a deceptive player, a great defender, reliable under pressure; he and Fonotia just shut down their opposites.

The clear message for the Blues is go back to the drawing board and start again. Charlie Faumuina starting at prop will help that.

There's no surprise the Hurricanes lifted in Dunedin. They would have been embarrassed about their first game and they needed a better performance.

Again, it is winning rugby that builds confidence. Going 'oh-so-close' is often just as bad as losing by 30 points. You actually need to get that 'W' to feel good about what you've done and where you're heading. With that evading them at this stage of the season they'll be desperate.

It gets to the point where you are trying too hard when you are facing three losses on the trot. So the Blues v Hurricanes on Friday leaves both teams with a lot to prove. It will be one that will be a must-see.