Don’t cry for me Argentina as the All Blacks look to put a Pumas side that seems to have lost its way to the sword again

We have to confess to finding this a very painful post to write. As regular readers of this site know, we have been and still are huge fans of Argentinian rugby. As a result, imagine how it saddens us especially after last year, to see one of our fan favorites appear to be so adrift. Argentina’s 39-0 drubbing last Sunday at the hands of the All Blacks, had us looking away from our TV screens in horror for much of the eighty minutes. Where was the side that got their first victory over the All Blacks last year? We saw the first warnings when in their first match of 2021 against Romania, the Eastern Europeans (who themselves once had a proud tradition) almost wrote themselves into the history books at Argentina’s expense. After reflecting on their successful tour to Wales where they drew the first match and won the second, the reality of the fact that it was only against a Welsh B side is rapidly starting to sink in. Their dismal tour of South Africa where they looked a shadow of last year’s side, and then last Sunday’s nightmare have left us in little doubt that this is a Pumas team that for reasons best known to itself is struggling to fire a shot, despite being blessed with the type of talent that would make many head coaches’ eyes water.

It wasn’t all bad news last weekend, as for much of the first half the Pumas defense was outstanding and managed to keep the hordes wearing black jerseys at bay. However, too much of that defense was having to be done in their own 22. Furthermore, there was little if any attack and when they did it was so error strewn, that it had little if any effect on proceedings. Their kicking game was also off the mark, and traditional go to man, fly half Nicholas Sanchez much like his South African counterpart Handre Pollard would have struggled to hit a barn door last Sunday. This is a good team make no mistake and is blessed with some genuine world class talent, but something is clearly not clicking for them this year and we are at a loss to explain it, and it would seem so are they. We’re really hoping for some redemption this weekend, but to be honest it’s hard to see it against an All Black team hurtling forwards at a rate of knots while the Pumas seem to be going backwards at a similar pace.

As for New Zealand there really isn’t much to say, apart from the fact that they look set to run away with this year’s competition. Many of the weaknesses and chinks in their armor we saw last year seem to have been addressed. They may not yet be the finished product but they are certainly not looking too far off it, and the new talent in their ranks seems to be settling in very effectively. We may still be two years away from the next global showdown in France, but New Zealand are already looking like they will be the team that everybody needs to get the measure of if they are to get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup.

A welcome return of one of the All Blacks best

New Zealand will be delighted to have the services of veteran prop Joe Moody once more at the coalface

New Zealand will be expecting big things from Joe Moody as he makes his first appearance back from injury this year. We saw his hulking menace on the field last week as a water carrier, but he will be relishing the opportunity to carry a ball as opposed to a bottle this Saturday. A big bruising ball carrier who is a master of the dark arts of the scrum, Moody will bring a great deal of experienced grunt to New Zealand’s efforts at the coal face. In a front row already brimming with capable talent expect to see Moody add another edge to it, that should make the Pumas efforts to contain it even more difficult.

Just another Kiwi danger man

The conveyor belt of New Zealand back row talent has produced a real gem with Hoskins Sototu who will shore up the All Black forward pack on Saturday

Hoskins Sototu is a name we expect to hear a lot of in New Zealand’s buildup to the next World Cup. He’ll have his hands full with the equally capable Pablo Matera for the Pumas, but Sototu’s star is rising rapidly. He is particularly lethal in the loose, but equally capable of putting in the big hits when needed. Alongside Ethan Blackadder and the irrepressible Ardie Savea who returns as Captain, Sototu will make this All Black back row a force to be reckoned with. The Pumas Marcos Kremer was one of the few standout players last weekend for Argentina and his tussle with Ethan Blackadder will really see how well the new All Black flanker can handle the intensity of Test Rugby. In short, if you’re looking for the most action on the park on Saturday expect to find it here.

Pumas Coach Ledesma decides to take a Kiwi approach to filling the 10/15 jersey

New Zealand are able to effortlessly swap their fly halves and fullbacks and Argentina appears to want to try a similar experiment with fullback Santiago Carreras

New Zealand have been able to interchange Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett between the fly half and fullback roles, and it would appear that Pumas Coach Mario Ledesma is attempting a similar experiment. Carreras is by trade a fullback at senior level, but at junior level was more often than not seen sporting the ten jersey. Indeed much of his rugby education as a youth was as a pivot. However, it’s a bit of a gamble asking him to do it at Test level against a side who are rapidly establishing themselves as the standard bearer of international rugby once more. In addition, Damian McKenzie is a regular fly half for the Chiefs and has donned the 10 jersey for the All Blacks on numerous occasions. If Carreras who we regard as a highly talented fullback, passes the test, then Argentina will have a key resource in their own buildup to France 2023, as they desperately need to find a reliable understudy for Nicolas Sanchez who is out with injury this week.

New Zealand’s surplus of riches

Three world class fly halves, Richie Mo’unga, Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett with some long range kicking support from fullback Jordi Barrett

New Zealand truly is spoilt for choice at 10 unlike any other country in Test Rugby with the possible exception of France. Both countries have three world class fly halves at their disposal and all of them have unique play styles that compliment their sides attack and defense abilities in different ways. Richie Mo’unga may be the first choice so far this year but Beauden Barrett consistently demonstrates why he was World Player of the Year, twice in a row. Meanwhile New Zealand’s favorite maverick Damian McKenzie has the kind of impish freestyle game in the vein of Scotland’s Finn Russell. McKenzie gets to start New Zealand’s efforts against the Pumas this Saturday, while Barrett keeps the bench warm till needed. With these two gentlemen pulling the strings for New Zealand, our heart really does go out to Carreras and his replacement Domingo Miotti who have yet to really shine under this kind of examination.

Argentina need more than just his giant boot

Pumas winger/fullback Emiliano Boffelli has a boot that can rival if not outdo New Zealand’s Jordi Barrett, but it’s that attacking prowess that so impressed on his debut back in 2015 that Argentina really need again

The Pumas utility back who normally plies his trade at fullback, made us consistently sit up and take notice when he made his debut for Argentina in 2015. However, we have to say that since then we’ve struggled to really notice him in the blue and white stripes. He’s still a great player make no mistake, but somehow we just haven’t seen as much of him and his abilities as we would have liked. If ever Argentina needed what he can bring to a match, then Saturday is the day. His monster boot is consistently useful to the Pumas for getting them out of jail as well as long range kicks at goal, but it’s his attacking abilities with ball in hand that we really need to see more of on Saturday. He’ll be up against one of New Zealand’s finest new talents Will Jordan, and Argentina will be relying on Boffelli to get the ball behind the Kiwi youngster and provide some powerful kick and chase ability. In any aerial battles providing he can cut down on his handling errors which seem to have plagued him lately, our money is on the 6’2” Argentinian.

Like we said in the previous post, we’re hoping for a miracle tomorrow for a Pumas side that is struggling so far to make sense of 2021. The talent, passion and commitment is there 110% but the execution is sadly lagging well behind. New Zealand meanwhile just keep notching it up another gear with every game. Although this is perhaps the most experimental New Zealand side we’ve seen so far this year for a Test match of this intensity, it’s hard to see the All Blacks coming unstuck against an equally experimental Argentinian side, especially in key positions.

So on a wing and a prayer we wish the Pumas all the luck in the world tomorrow, and know they’ll give it their all and, as a result make it a Test match worth watching whatever the final outcome. As for New Zealand we’ll sit back and take notes on further developments within a team that we have a hunch we may well be seeing in the final of the next World Cup.

Enjoy the rugby everyone and stay safe!

The best game of the weekend looms as Australia seek to prove they’ve turned a corner while South Africa look to resume business as normal

First up apologies for not covering any of last weekend’s games. As we mentioned on the TV Page, pressures of work completely sidelined us as did the distraction of kids returning to school, leaving essentially no time for rugby. We did get to watch all three games but didn’t really get an opportunity to unpack them. We will, later in October, be looking at Canada’s failed bid at securing the Americas 1 berth in the 2023 World Cup, leaving them with a much harder route for the second berth. This weekend however, provides us with an exceptionally tasty encounter between Australia and South Africa. In addition, although the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion as Argentina and New Zealand renew their acquaintance, there is always the faint possibility of an upset as the Rugby Championship’s Round 4 unfolds.

First up Australia take on South Africa in the second Rugby Championship match between the two sides. Australia managed to reverse their slide of misery against the All Blacks and pull off a much needed win last Sunday. How convincing a win it was is up for debate as the Springboks put in a very poor effort. Nevertheless a win is a win and, over the reigning World Champions, was very much a shot in the arm for a wounded Wallaby side. South Africa had they been more accurate and less sloppy with certain aspects of their game could have easily won that match. If fly half Handre Pollard hadn’t missed four of his attempts at goal, and South Africa had shown more enterprise on attack and resisted the temptation to continuously kick away perfectly good possession, we probably would be writing a different tagline.

However, South Africa definitely did not bring their A game to Australia last weekend. As a result, Australia and fly half Quade Cooper, who made a notable return to the Wallaby fold, took full advantage of the Springboks shortcomings. We very much doubt they will be as poor this weekend, and are not sure how much extra the Wallabies have in their arsenal to overcome what should be an improved Springbok performance.

As for the Wallabies they will want to tighten up their discipline which at times was a bit of a bad joke and would have caused them to be well behind on the score board had Pollard brought his kicking boots. They’ll also need to find a way to break down a rather resolute South African defence and cross the whitewash. They only managed one try to the Springboks three, admittedly all the South African tries coming from that seemingly unstoppable rolling maul which has drawn so much ire in the media. However, if South Africa do decide to go wide on Saturday, then that rather suspect Australian defence will once again be put to the test. As a result a truly fascinating contest lies in store.

Two impact players get the starting nod and should make for one of the best contests on the park

Known more for their impact off the bench, Australia’s Taniela Tupou and South Africa’s Trevor Nyakane will go head to head from the start on Saturday

We’ve always scratched our heads over the decision to consistently start Wallaby prop Taniela Tupou on the bench. While we don’t deny his influence as an impact player in the latter stages of a match just when Australia need it most, he is such a capable operator with a wide range of skills that it seems a waste to not get full value out of him for longer. On Saturday, he gets his chance and will face off against Trevor Nyakane who often plays the same role off the bench. While Nyakane may not have the same range of skills as his Australian counterpart, his effectiveness at the coalface is without question. This week he replaces Steven Kitshoff who, although he had a good game last weekend, is the kind of player that can operate as a lone wolf in the loose. Nyakane however, lends his bulk to that rather ominous rolling maul that proved so effective last week, as well as being rather handy in the rucks and a ferocious scrummager. Tupou is Australia’s wild card – remember that outrageous pass he threw during the French series when he decided to act as scrum half? In short, there is very little the Australian prop can’t do, and Nyakane is going to have his hands full keeping the feisty Wallaby maverick in check.

Hooper breaks some more records

Michael Hooper becomes the Wallabies most capped leader on Saturday and as a man who leads from the front Australia would be hard pressed to find a more committed individual

Saturday, is a special day for Wallaby Captain and flanker Michael Hooper as he becomes Australia’s most capped skipper, a title he has earned 60 times over. Whatever, Australia’s faults might have been over the years, one can never doubt Hooper’s value to the team. A man who consistently leads by example and whose work rate is simply legendary. While his decision making may sometimes not quite make the mark, his commitment to his teammates and the jersey has never been in doubt. Often playing with little or no regard to his own personal safety, Hooper just never seems to tire and, no matter what the scoreboard says, is still the ultimate optimist right up until the final whistle. He’s a quality captain and inspirational leader and we always enjoy watching him no matter what Australia’s fortunes may be on the day. He got the better of his opposite number Siya Kolisi last weekend, who was very lucky in our opinion not to see red after a spear tackle on Wallaby fullback Tom Banks.

Thor returns and it’s just like he never left

Springbok number 8 Duane Vermeulen’s return to the Springbok fold was a turbocharged affair that saw the old master hardly miss a beat

Duane Vermeulen blasted back onto the World Stage last weekend and was one of the Springboks most assured performers in an otherwise troubled outing for South Africa against Australia. He may have a few more grey hairs than the last time he donned a Springbok jersey in 2019, but one of South Africa’s most reliable old warhorses, put in a huge shift last Sunday. While we’ve been impressed by the energy of his replacement Jaspar Wiese, we had to admire Vermeulen’s calm but ruthless efficiency in South Africa’s back row play. He was one of the most accomplished Springbok players last Sunday, and we can’t help get the feeling that he is just warming up. Australia’s Rob Valetini made a respectable show of doing his best to keep the Springbok wrecking ball in check, but while he could match the South African’s physicality he was hard pressed to counter his creativity. Another fascinating battle between the two awaits Saturday, but we expect to see Vermeulen notch it up another few gears, possibly at Valetini’s expense.

Quade Cooper’s controversial return to the Wallaby fold has perhaps silenced his critics once and for all

Australian fly half Quade Cooper’s return to Wallaby service after four years of being given the cold shoulder by the selectors, saw a player who has clearly matured during his absence Test rugby

We will be the first to put our hands up and state that watching Australian fly half Quade Cooper in the past was an exercise in frustration. Sure there was some mercurial talent there but it was often mired in poor decision making, stubbornness and a sense of showmanship that often cost his team dearly. What we saw last Sunday was a very different Quade Cooper. He looked calm and assured and there was a sense of maturity to his performance that was long overdue. He had a good game and was superbly accurate with his kicks, unlike his Springbok counterpart Handre Pollard. He nailed all eight of his shots at goal and had a composed effort at play making without taking any of the kind of unnecessary and poorly thought out risks that were a trademark of his performances in the past. As a result he is being hailed as Australian rugby’s new savior in from the cold.

However, as much as we were impressed by Cooper, we can’t help feeling that his performance is being blown slightly out of proportion. He looked good mainly because Pollard looked so poor and ineffectual by comparison. Yes, he nailed all his shots at goal and set up one or two nice plays, but other than off the kicking tee, it wasn’t a performance that blew us away. Furthermore, the fact remains that Australia only crossed the Springbok whitewash once in 80 minutes. Cooper was unable to pick the locks holding up the Springbok defense. He did allow his team to put pressure on it, but it rarely cracked points wise other than from disciplinary infractions. Consequently, tomorrow’s match in our opinion will be the real litmus test of how far Cooper has come. If he can be even better than he was last Sunday against what should be a vastly improved Springbok performance, then yes Australia have found reasons to be cheerful at long last.

Give this man the ball – please!!!!

Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture? That’s right Springbok winger Makazole Mapimpi has no ball in his hands!

Sure South Africa outscored Australia in the try department three to one, but Mapimpi had absolutely no say in any of them. While South Africa’s rolling maul was brutally effective at crossing the whitewash, let Mapimpi and his fellow winger Sibu Nkosi have some say out wide and suddenly South Africa become the complete package on attack. We got the sense that Mapimpi was becoming frustrated with how his colleagues seemed to forget that he existed last Sunday. In the entire match he only got to run once with ball in hand but when he did, he certainly made it count. In his one run in the match he beat two defenders and made 9 metres. In short, South Africa need to get him a bit more involved this Saturday, and we’re not sure that his opposite number Andrew Kellaway has developed the defensive skills yet to cope with it.

So a titanic struggle awaits us tomorrow morning. If Australia were to get back to back victories over the World Champions, the boost to their confidence would be absolutely massive, and leave the Springboks in a very vulnerable position going into the two match duel with the seemingly invincible All Blacks. South Africa know they have to be significantly more inventive, creative, positive and accurate this weekend. As much as Australia deserved their win last weekend, it was mainly due to South Africa simply not bringing those four qualities to the pitch.

South Africa know they need to step it up several gears this weekend as well as think a bit more outside the box. While their brand of rugby may be effective it is rapidly getting found out by their opponents, and if they want to stand any chance against tournament favorites New Zealand, then more of the same simply won’t be good enough. For Australia, it will definitely be a case of more of the same please, just tighten up the accuracy and keep South Africa guessing. It should be a cracker of a Test match, and definitely one you won’t want to miss.

Once again sorry for the silence, but a look at New Zealand and Argentina is up next, and a podcast will also be going out on both of tomorrow’s matches. So take care everyone and enjoy what should be a great weekend for rugby!

Australia seek to get a foothold on the Rugby Championship and more importantly salvage some pride against their old enemy from across the Tasman Strait

It’s Round 2 of the Rugby Championship for Australia and New Zealand this Sunday, after much last minute shuffling on both sides of the Tasman. The match which was supposed to be played last weekend had to be postponed due to the two countries recent difficulties with the Delta variant of the pandemic which continues to put the world on hold. The rest of the Rugby Championship is now being played in Australia with all four competing teams, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa taking up residence in Queensland until the beginning of October. It’s also for New Zealand and Australia the final round of the three match annual Bledisloe Cup series, however, with the Cup securely locked away in New Zealand for yet another year, that aspect of Sunday’s competition is simply a dead rubber.

However, Australia’s fortunes in the Rugby Championship are still a long way from being determined with only one round of six played so far. While it is hard to see them springing a surprise on the All Black juggernaut this Sunday in Perth, a credible performance will be high on the agenda and perhaps even better denying New Zealand any bonus points, while gaining a losing bonus point of their own.

For New Zealand, it’s simply a case of business as usual and picking up where they left off. They will want to make a clean sweep of the Bledisloe and get past South Africa who currently sit atop the Rugby Championship standings.

So with everything to play for with albeit different agendas for both sides, here’s what got us talking about Sunday’s dust up in Western Australia.

Australia vs New Zealand – Sunday, September 5th – Perth

An opportunity long overdue but justly earned

We are absolutely delighted to see Ardie Savea being given the Captain’s armband for the All Blacks, and a just reward for one of the best players to don the black jersey in the last five years

Like we say we are absolutely thrilled for All Black No 8 Ardie Savea getting the Captain’s armband for this match and probably more during the course of the Rugby Championship. He has consistently been one of the Lineout’s fan favorites of the last five years. An absolutely rock solid player whose energy level is simply off the charts, he’s also just a really decent lad, and it was clear how much this recognition meant to him when speaking to the press about his recent appointment. Heartfelt congratulations to one of Test Rugby’s most capable, likeable and entertaining players from all of us. Expect Savea to turn up his already turbocharged performances another notch on Sunday as a result and we fear that his opposite number Rob Valetini will struggle to contain the rampaging All Black loose forward. Valetini is no slouch himself and can put in some massive hits, but he is nowhere near the writhing ball of controlled fury that Savea is. Given the fact that Savea can often suck in three or four defenders as they struggle in vain to contain New Zealand’s version of a 100 kg version of a whirling dervish, it could well be a long day at the office for the Australian back row on Sunday.

The brash upstart meets a seriously underrated veteran

Wallaby scrum half Tate McDermott certainly hasn’t minced his words in talking about the Wallabies lack of defense, while New Zealand’s Brad Weber is a smoking gun the All Blacks simply haven’t used enough

Given this is only his 8th cap for his country, Wallaby scrum half Tate McDermott has some very strong opinions on his side’s defensive abilities or lack thereof. While it may appear brash, it’s refreshing to have at least one Wallaby recognize why they are so up the proverbial creek without a paddle at the moment. Given the fact that McDermott is one of the few Wallabies who has impressed so far this year on a consistent basis, then we feel he is justified in airing his frustrations. He no doubt will have been working hard at finding means and ways of addressing such concerns after New Zealand took the Wallabies to the cleaners in the opening match of the Rugby Championship running in eight tries to the Wallabies paltry 3.

The Wallaby scrum half is busy and so much more dynamic than Jake Gordon who till recently has been favored by Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie in finding some new talent for the nine jersey. Australia’s attacks have looked a lot more energetic with McDermott at the helm, though despite his protestations regarding defence, he too has been guilty of the malaise currently affecting Australian rugby. If he can put his money where his mouth is and tighten that up and continue to deliver quick and efficient service to his forwards, he will definitely be a problem for New Zealand on Sunday.

As for his opposite number Brad Weber, we must confess to being surprised that we haven’t seen more of him in the black jersey since he made his debut in 2015. It’s remarkable to think he’s already 31 but only has a mere 10 caps to his name. He has been outstanding for New Zealand side the Chiefs this year and has a wise and capable head on his shoulders, coupled to a blinding turn of pace similar to Wales’ Gareth Davies and Scotland’s Ali Price. Australia will have their hands full keeping him in check and he could well have his opposite number McDermott expressing further frustration regarding Australia’s defensive frailties come the final whistle.

The battle for the All Black 10 jersey continues

Beauden Barrett tends to wear the 15 jersey more these days but there is no denying the value he brings at 10

It would seem that Richie Mo’unga has made the All Black 10 jersey his, but it’s a role that 2 times World Player of the year Beauden Barrett also clearly relishes. We still can’t determine which is Barrett’s more effective role, fullback or fly half, but there is no denying he is at home in both. It’s his goalkicking that seems to let him down and relegate him to the fullback berth. He is a brilliant playmaker and his kicking game is outstanding, but when it comes to the accuracy needed to slot it between the posts Mo’unga seems to be clearly winning the race. Given the fact that Mo’unga seems able to do everything Barrett can do at 10, Sunday’s match is an important opportunity for Barrett to prove that he is still a key playmaker in the fly half position as New Zealand starts to draw up their World Cup plans.

When you’re big in Japan

The Wallabies have missed Samu Kerevi since he’s taken up residence in the land of the rising sun for the last two years

Centre Samu Kerevi has been sorely missed by the Wallabies since the lure of top dollar in Japan’s premier league drew him to the land of the rising sun after the 2019 World Cup. His bruising runs and dancing feet have left the Wallabies without a key attacking weapon up the centre channels. Hard to stop and painful to run into at speed, Kerevi will bring a solidity to the Wallabies mid field efforts that has been sorely lacking. The contest between him and New Zealand’s Anton Lienert-Brown will be one of the highlights of the afternoon.

Another one of the Wallabies brash youngsters is quickly making a name for himself for all the right reasons

While he may not have mastered the art of press conferences or defense, Wallaby rookie winger Andrew Kellaway seems to have figured out what the Wallabies need out wide

Although his comments leading up to the last time Australia and New Zealand met were taken slightly out of context, the Wallaby winger let his actions do the talking in the match and in the process was able to silence most of his critics. Like the rest of the team although his defensive skills are relatively ineffectual, there is no denying his ability to cross the whitewash and put big points on the board for Australia. The Wallabies only scored 3 tries to the All Blacks 8 the last time they met, but Kellaway bagged two of them, and in rather spectacular style to boot. He has a keen eye for opportunity and is a slippery runner able to wrong foot defenses with an ease that would indicate more experience than the meager 5 caps he has amassed to date for his country. He may have a lot to say but for the most part seems to have earned the right to make it public. Rieko Ioane returns to the wing for the All Blacks and Kellaway’s defensive skills will be put to the ultimate test. If he can keep the All Black powerhouse in check, then in a ridiculously short space of time he will have delivered a complete game for the Wallabies and surely made the 14 jersey his own.

Few are predicting the Wallabies to win on Sunday, including it would seem the Coaching staff themselves. However, keeping the All Blacks in check and denying them bonus points, while bagging one of their own for a losing bonus point, is clearly something this Wallaby side on home soil should be capable of. It’s a pretty slick All Black side they are up against, but much of what you’re looking at for Australia on Sunday is the future. While it may be rather raw around the edges and battling with the concept of defense, there is no denying its talent. A good performance that sees them be at least competitive, will set them up for the stern test that will be provided by South Africa next weekend.

We doubt that Australia will be the pushover they’ve been to date, and on home soil a bit of that grit and never say die attitude that served them so well this summer against France should see an improvement in overall performance. However, the All Blacks roll into Perth looking to make a whitewash of the Bledisloe as a powerful motivator as well as claim the top of the Rugby Championship as their own and bump their nearest rivals, South Africa down a notch. It should be entertaining whatever happens, and hopefully Australia have stuck more than just band aids on the holes in their defenses since the last time the two met.

It’s time for the excuses to end and progress to be shown as Canada starts out on the road to World Cup qualification

This weekend sees Canada take on the USA in St. John’s for the first of two critical World Cup qualifiers against the Americans. Saturday’s proceedings and the follow up in Denver a week later will determine whether Canada will be competing for the Americas 1 berth in Pool A. If Canada do not win the two game series on aggregate then they still have a chance at qualifying for the Americas 2 berth in Pool D. Whichever way you cut it it’s a difficult route for a team that simply hasn’t fired a genuine shot in anger for several years now and sits 22nd on the World Rankings Table.

Here’s what Canada’s route to the World Cup looks like in a nutshell. If they win the series against the US over the next two weekends, then they will play Uruguay twice next month. If they win that series on aggregrate then that Americas 1 berth in Pool A is theirs. If they lose this series against the USA then they will play Chile next month in a two match series. If they win that then they will play the runner up between the USA and Uruguay which would have decided who got the Americas 1 berth. If they beat either the US or Uruguay then the Americas 2 berth in Pool D is theirs. If they win neither series then next November, similar to their qualification process for the last World Cup, they will compete with three other countries in a repechage tournament for the last spot in Pool C. Considering that to qualify for the first two berths up for grabs they would have to beat the US and Uruguay at least twice, teams they haven’t had a good track record against in recent years, then the magnitude of the task in front them becomes rather clear.

There is sadly no denying that Canada has deteriorated dramatically since the 2015 World Cup, and their win rate under Coach Kingsley Jones who has held the reigns since 2017 has been poor to say the least. In short they are a poorly coached and managed team. Patience and excuses are running out at a rate of knots, and Canada and Jones simply have to put the past behind them and show on Saturday that there finally is the glimmer of a new dawn for Canada in International Test rugby.

We find it really painful to appear so disparaging of our national team. At the heart of it all is a squad of talented and highly motivated players whose commitment has never been in doubt. However, we feel they are constantly being asked to play with one hand tied behind their backs. So with bated breath and fingers crossed here’s what got us talking about Saturday’s proceedings.

Canada vs USA – Saturday, September 4th – St. John’s, Newfoundland

If you ever want a place where a crowd will get behind you, we could think of few better places in this land of ours than Newfoundland. Newfoundland hospitality and generosity is the stuff of legends, and as a result the team will have felt very much at home this past week. Hopefully that atmosphere will provide the perfect setting for the kind of performance and results that have sadly been lacking for the last few years. Canada has the squad to do it against the US, but focus and execution will be key and all too often the absence of these two essential qualities have let the side down.

Sure there have been plenty of excuses, but they are sounding increasingly hollow. The vast majority of these players have just completed a full season of Major League rugby with the various participating franchises. While Canada has only played two Tests since the last World Cup, the same can be said of the US. In short, in terms of difficulties faced, primarily as a result of COVID-19 it’s a level playing field for both sides. Most of these players know each other well through the MLR, and Canadians are well represented across the league. Enough said, it’s time for the rugby to do the talking.

One player who has proved his mettle and another who needs to

America’s Nate Brakeley was part of the USA’s second half revival against England and Canada’s Conor Keys needs a similar moment on Saturday

One of the most fascinating and potentially entertaining struggles on Saturday will be in the second row. We felt the USA’s Nate Brakeley made a real impact when he came off the bench against England this summer, even if he fell dramatically short of the mark a week later against Ireland. However, Keys is a player of similar stature and ability and in the regular MLR season was one of the standout players for Rugby Atlanta who finished second in the league. A highly capable player at club level, Keys really needs to make his mark on the International scene and the next two Saturdays will provide him with golden opportunities. The talent is there and he definitely has age on his side compared to Brakeley.

A player who demands and earns respect no matter what jersey he wears

Toronto Arrows and Canada Captain Lucas Rumball’s work ethic and commitment are second to none

Captain and powerful back rower Lucas Rumball, will be one of Canada’s greatest assets on Saturday. His quiet but forceful leadership has served him well both in the MLR and at Test level. At only 26 years of age he is such a vital cog in the spine of this Canadian team, that he is well on his way to live amongst Canadian legends such as Al Charron. He has impressed us from day one in a Canadian jersey since he first burst onto the scene in 2016. A player who wears his heart on his sleeve, never says die and is clearly such a talisman for his fellow teammates, Saturday’s match is a golden opportunity for the Ontario native to really lay down a marker that Canada’s recent woes are behind them.

All he needs is consistency

American number 8 Cameron Dolan is outstanding when he’s on song, but his form is far too mercurial for the USA to make him their go to man

Cam Dolan was a key component of the USA’s second half revival against England this summer, and scored a fine try of his own. However, a week later against Ireland he was nowhere to be seen. It’s that lack of consistency in his performances that Coach Gary Gold and the Eagles management need to address. Dolan is a quality player through and through and his ability is not in question, but sadly his consistency is. The USA will need a big game from him on Saturday. He is up against Canada’s Siaki Vikilani, who although impressive for the Toronto Arrows in his rookie season was seen to be be completely out of his depth against England and Wales. So if ever there was a chance for Dolan to lay down a marker that he is the premier number 8 this side of the Atlantic, then Saturday’s the day.

The duelling Irish

Canada’s Peter Nelson and the USA’s AJ MacGinty are both Irish imports, but so far it’s the Eagle who has shown his pedigree

Although AJ MacGinty starts on the bench for the Eagles, expect to see him sooner rather than later. This will only be the American fly half’s first match since injuring his knee with English premiership side Sale Sharks in June. However, his rehabilitation post surgery has gone well and there is no denying the pedigree he brings to the side. He has been a key part of Sale Sharks’ success in the Premiership, and brings a formidable talent with the boot and his game management to the Eagles efforts.

Sadly we just can’t seem to say the same of his fellow countryman Peter Nelson who plies his trade as Canada’s fly half on International duty and with French second division outfit Aurillac at club level. Although impressing with Ulster in his early career, there has been little evidence of that early promise since coming to Canada. The only thing that Nelson can perhaps bank on is that as much of a shocker as he had against Wales and England this summer, his opposite starter Will Magie for the Americans has had very little game time at International level in the last two years, having only played for 11 minutes in the USA’s horror show against Ireland.

Don’t leave your Coats at the door!

Canadian fullback Cooper Coats is perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to Canadian rugby in years

In short we want to see lots of Cooper Coats on Saturday. His American counterpart Luke Carty had an absolute shocker against Ireland, admittedly in the fly half berth which is his more usual position. However, despite Canada’s thumping defeats to Wales and England, Coats needed to make no apologies for his performances in both matches. His defence may need a little work, but as an attacking player who is exceptionally solid and courageous under the high ball, Canada has been given an early Christmas present. Coats is the real deal and has made a seamless transition from sevens to the fifteen a side game. Like we say his defence needs a bit of work given his sevens background, but expect to see him carving up large chunks of the pitch on Saturday, while the Americans will not want any kind of kicking game that allows Coats to use his abilities in the air.

It should be a fascinating encounter. Despite our frustration that it is being put behind a paywall through Premier Sports instead of through TSN, causing us to fork out yet more money to watch our beloved sport in this country and to add insult to injury cheer on our own national team – we’ll be making plenty of noise on Saturday afternoon. We’ve felt for the players at how badly the game is being managed at an International level in this country for the last 6 years, but are really hoping that Saturday will finally allow us to move on from the past and look towards the future. The Americans may perhaps be the more confident of the two sides, but on paper it’s still an even contest. Canada simply has to play for a full eighty minutes against a quality opponent and not, as they so often do, switch off for a crucial 15 minutes around the 60 minute mark.

This is Canada’s game to win and while it won’t be easy, we’re really hoping a little bit of that Newfoundland magic and can do attitude will rub off on them. So with bated breath and every finger and toe crossed – Go Canada Go!!!

South Africa bring out the big guns, while Argentina decide to play some wild cards in the final meeting of the two sides in this year’s Rugby Championship

South Africa decided to take a chance last weekend with some of their younger up and coming players, and were rewarded handsomely with a comprehensive victory over a full strength Argentinian side. This weekend it’s Argentina’s turn to roll the dice, as their youngsters are given a shot at the World Champions and all their big guns. There are still plenty of wise and experienced heads in the forwards, but in the backs Pumas Coach Mario Ledesma has decided to throw caution to the wind and see how his newer charges face up to an increasingly impressive looking Springbok outfit.

It was an uncharacteristically poor performance from the Pumas All Stars last weekend, juxtaposed against a clinical and for the most part ruthlessly efficient and physical challenge from the Springboks. Furthermore, while the Pumas struggled to string any attacking plays together, South Africa’s three tries were a joy to behold and which made a mockery of the recent allegation that the Springboks brand of rugby is boring. If that’s boring then I guess you could start using espresso coffee as a sedative. In short we thoroughly enjoyed it! More of the same please gentlemen.

Argentina weren’t necessarily all that bad, but appeared to be trying things that were simply far too complicated at times. Rugby is a very simple game in reality, and Argentina would do well to go back to the basics this weekend. Some of the passing moves if they had worked would have been spectacular, but the problem was they weren’t working and as the game wore on they just became desperate. With it the Pumas frustration levels mounted, their discipline went out the window and South Africa was able to deny Argentina any kind of momentum. South Africa weren’t perfect, but they got so many of the basics right compared to Argentina’s efforts at trying to reinvent the wheel, that it ultimately ended up being a very one sided contest.

Argentina should be better this week, but South Africa are building up an impressive head of steam after their Lions series win and last weekend’s dismantling of a quality Pumas outfit (at least on paper). So here’s what got us talking about this weekend’s second round of action in Port Elizabeth.

A long awaited start and time to make his mark again

South African Hooker Malcolm Marx has spent much off his time coming off the bench of late, and he will be keen to reestablish himself as a starter

Springbok Hooker Malcolm Marx gets the nod as the starting 2 for the first time since South Africa’s opening match of the World Cup against New Zealand, if you can believe it. Since then Bongi Mbonambi has been the preferred starting option with Marx coming on as part of the now famous “Bomb Squad”. This Saturday the roles are reversed and Mbonambi leads the high explosive charge off the bench. Marx’s performances haven’t quite hit the highs he established leading up to the World Cup, so Saturday’s dustup with Argentina will be a golden opportunity to reestablish his dominance of the jersey for South Africa. He’ll be up against an able opponent in the shape of Argentina’s Julian Montoya, but accuracy at lineout time has been problematic for both sides of late. When Marx is on song he is arguably one of the best in the world, but he needs to find the form that made him such a force leading up to the World Cup. We saw glimmers of it during the Lions Tour and last weekend, but this weekend the Springboks will be hoping for some vintage Marx.

Just don’t make him angry!

Pumas second rower Tomas Lavanini seems to have got his temper under control, but he’s still a player that can be costly to Argentina if a good natured discussion about gardening techniques gets out of hand

Once Argentina’s poster boy for red cards, giant second rower Tomas Lavanini is not someone it’s wise to mess with. He does seem to have got his temper slightly under control, and there is no denying the kind of physicality he brings to Argentina’s forward pack. He is the Pumas enforcer provided he can stay on the right side of the referee. Fortunately for him, he won’t have South Africa’s master mood rattler Eben Etzebeth to contend with and trying to wind him up this Saturday. Instead it’s Marvin Orie who will have to try and keep him in check, and despite Lavanini’s temperament and card history, he may be just the player Argentina need to unsettle what was last week one of South Africa’s most effective units. He will be ably assisted by Matias Alemanno, and provided that they stay the right side of the referee’s whistle they could make life very difficult for Orie who has yet to impress in the green jersey for South Africa.

Do NOT kick the ball to this man!!!

South African number 8 Jaspar Wiese hit all the high notes last weekend

Seriously don’t – just don’t! Springbok number 8 Jaspar Wiese was Man of the Match last weekend and deservedly so. In only his third start for South Africa he made life an absolute misery for Argentina last Saturday in Port Elizabeth. Admittedly the Pumas struggled to learn from their mistakes and insisted on constantly kicking the ball to him, but he was simply imperious under the high ball. He carried, he tackled, he made turnovers and as already mentioned caught every ball that came his way and made decent meters with every catch. Unfortunately, Argentina’s Rodrigo Bruni despite his superb sprint to try and prevent the Cobus Reinach try, simply couldn’t match Wiese in his effectiveness.

Remember when Malcolm Marx burst onto the scene and we all sat around asking “who is this guy”? Well we had a similar sense of deja vu last Saturday. It was an outstanding performance from start to finish from the Springbok rookie and it looks like there is lots more to come. If he keeps this up, expect him to get the nod to start against the All Blacks next month even if the legendary Duane Vermeulen is fit by then.

A different kind of Faf

Scrum half Cobus Reinach has shown in his last two outings for South Africa that losing Faf de Klerk to injury hasn’t quite been the end of the world

Reinach’s brilliant solo try last weekend which saw him sprint almost the entire length of the pitch, was a sight to behold. When it comes to entertainment value it doesn’t get much better than that. However, there was far more to Reinach’s performance in last Saturday’s match than simply that spectacular piece of razzle dazzle. His kicking was almost perfect and caused all kinds of problems for Argentina particularly if it had Jaspar Wiese’s name on it. He effected a superb turnover and provided crisp service to his forwards. Occasionally he missed the odd tackle, but overall that was a pretty solid performance and made Argentina’s pair of Felipe Ezcurra and Gonzalo Bertranou seem inconsequential by comparison. He’ll face up to Bertranou for much of Saturday’s match and as a result may not have such an easy ride of it, but we’d still argue that he is the class offering at nine in Port Elizabeth this weekend.

Who is Ignacio Mendy?

You may not know him now, but if he get to do this sort of thing on Saturday you soon will

A fair question as Argentina’s Coach Mario Ledesma rolls the dice and let’s the world have a look at under 20s sensation and more recently Tokyo Olympics Sevens bronze medallist, Ignacio Mendy. It’s a tall order to earn your first Test cap against the World Champions on their own turf. Furthermore, your opposite number, South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi seems to be in a class of his own right now. Still what an opportunity for the 21 year old fullback, who for this match will ply his trade on the right wing even if it could well be a baptism of fire. It’s a leap of faith by Ledesma, but Bautista Delguy failed to deliver last weekend as part of a back line that seemed to want to play a rather elaborate and complicated passing game without the core skills to pull it off. Consequently, maybe it is the right call to give a younger player known more for what he can do by simply running the ball a chance.

We got it rather wrong last weekend and perhaps talked up Argentina’s chances a bit too much, especially as the hype didn’t live up to the actual performance. On paper it’s theoretically a weaker side that Argentina are trotting out this weekend, but therein lies the possible twist in the tail as it’s a side that the Springboks will not be so familiar with, especially in the backs. Nevertheless given South Africa’s dominance with a supposed B team over Argentina’s A team last weekend, it’s hard to see anything other than another convincing win for the Springboks. However, write any Pumas side off at your peril and South Africa will know that. What Mario Ledesma’s charges may lack in terms of experience they will certainly make up for in pride and passion, and few can doubt their skill levels.

In short, we certainly don’t want to miss this one, and think that you won’t either. We very much doubt it will be boring and our only regret is that we don’t get another chance to see Springbok utility back Aphelele Fassi in action again – the contest between him and Mendy could have been riveting. With Covid getting it’s claws into International Rugby arrangements once again, enjoy this match as it could possibly be our last blast of Rugby Championship action till next month, as the authorities in charge try and figure out where the remainder of the tournament will be held.

Till then take care everyone and enjoy the rugby! We’ve gone through the team sheets in more detail over on the podcast if you’re interested.

With the Lions Tour behind them the Springboks look to resume service as normal in their Rugby Championship opener against an ominous looking Pumas side

So the Lions Tour is done and dusted, and with it hopefully all the acrimony and off-field antics that detracted from a Series that really failed to deliver until that final third and deciding game. South Africa emerged victorious in their first proper outing since lifting the World Cup almost two years ago. It wasn’t a pretty performance from them at times, but when it mattered most they got the job done, and for most of the Series looked like rather formidable and immovable objects. Riding the momentum of the Lions series, which always seems slightly removed from the day to realities of regular International Test Rugby, the big question is can the Springboks reproduce those successes in regular competition both at home and on the road? They opted to not participate in last year’s tournament which, Lions successes aside, we still feel was a mistake, and it remains to be seen if they are as good as their recent victory over the Lions would make them out to be.

As for Argentina, despite facing exactly the same issues as South Africa last year, they did choose to participate, and surprised the rugby world by claiming an historic first ever victory over the All Blacks in their opening game. The Pumas have not played in Argentina since the last World Cup and have simply gone from one bubble to the next, so life on the road as challenging as it may be, is now the norm for this group of players. Consequently, their cohesion as a unit is rather unique, and will be just one extra level of complexity for South Africa to deal with on Saturday. Squad unity and familiarity for the Pumas is probably the best in the world right now, and adversity is something the South Americans seem exceptionally well equipped to deal with. They bring a fearsome side to Port Elizabeth on Saturday, and the Springboks will be in for a serious challenge that could well make the Lions tour seem almost tame by comparison. Argentine Coach Mario Ledesma has assembled a match day 23 that can absorb as much punishment as the Boks can dish out but also return it in equal measure, as well as run the ball from all over the park.

In short, we can’t wait for this one as business returns to normal for two quality sides. So here’s what got us thinking about tomorrow’s dustup between two big and bruising outfits.

Probably not the two most popular tourists in South Africa right now

Former Pumas Captain Pablo Matera and Guido Petti’s negative comments about a visit to South Africa when they were in their teens may cause the Springboks to have an extra score to settle with them

If the social media antics of the recent Lions Tour to South Africa weren’t enough, then there is the potential hangover of some rather inappropriate comments made on social media by former Pumas Captain Pablo Matera and second rower Guido Petti about their hosts when they visited South Africa as teenagers. Matera has had to bear the full responsibility of his comments, having been stripped of the Captaincy and undergoing some personal training to ensure that his behavior reflects the values of the modern game and upholds respect for your opponents regardless of origin or race. He has shown genuine remorse for his actions, and it would appear that Petti has also made amends for the consequences of being a brash, irresponsible and insensitive youth. Nevertheless, it will add an extra edge to the match with both players needing to be emotionally mature both on and off the pitch.

Putting their teenage indiscretions aside, Argentina can’t do without the pair as they are arguably two of the most potent weapons in a formidable Pumas forward pack. They’ll need Petti’s poaching skills in the lineout and turn of speed in the loose, whilst Matera’s one man wrecking ball skills and abilities in securing turnover ball and getting his colleagues on the front foot proved absolutely devastating in that first Test against New Zealand last year. Their opposite numbers in green, Lood de Jager and Kwagga Smith will need to be at their very best to keep the Pumas pair in check.

Not a contest for the faint hearted!

A tussle of giants – Argentina’s Marcos Kremer and South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth look set to create the most physical contest on the park in the second row

Bred in top secret labs deep in the Andes and a remote corner of the highveld, well not really but you can be excused for thinking so, Argentina’s Marcos Kremer and South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth are the epitome of the kind of massive and bruising physicality that these two sides can bring to Test Rugby. Kremer has the added advantage that he is equally comfortable in the back row. These are very, very tough men and the contest between the two of them in the second row should be of epic proportions. Both seem unbreakable, but you have to wonder if facing the Lions in back to back Tests over the last three weeks could be a bridge too far for Etzebeth compared to the break Kremer has had since facing Wales. It’s a matchup of epic proportions and we can’t wait to see how it plays out and who comes out of it the best.

Noticeable last year – but likely to be spectacular this year

Argentinian number 8 Rodrigo Bruni really came to the fore in the first match against the All Blacks in last year’s Rugby Championship and we have a hunch he’ll be making even more headlines this year

South Africa have chosen to stick with Jasper Wiese at number eight, after the Springbok rookie acquitted himself relatively well in the final two Tests of the Lions tour, despite a worrying penalty count in the third Test. In many ways Bruni was the new boy with everything to prove for the Pumas last year, but he has settled very well into the Pumas setup since then. He is a force to be reckoned with and made life miserable for the All Blacks in their first encounter last year and was sorely missed for the second. Massively physical but with some excellent ball handling skills to go with it, Bruni will give Wiese a real baptism of fire in only his third Test as he goes up against the rapidly improving Argentinian. Bruni was very noticeable last year, but we have a hunch that he could well end up making the Rugby Championship Team of the Tournament, once proceedings draw to a close on October 2nd. His star is set to rise so watch this space!

A battle of contrasting styles but only one pedigree

Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez is a World Class Test level 10, but sadly for South Africa as gifted as he is Elton Jantjies is not

It really pains us to say this, as we don’t for a second doubt Elton Jantjies’ playing abilities in Super Rugby but at Test level sadly it seems he just cannot make the transition. We would have thought that at this stage the verdict on Jantjies as a Test 10 is well and truly established, and it is time to give some younger candidates an opportunity leading up to the World Cup. Clearly not in the eyes of Springbok management however, as the 31 year old finds himself once more being given a starting berth. Admittedly it would appear that South Africa feel their options are limited, especially with regular starter Handre Pollard being given a much needed rest after his Lions efforts. Nevertheless isn’t it time to see if Sharks fly half Curwin Bosch can break the similar curse affecting him of not being able to replicate Super Rugby success in the Test arena? In short, we remain to be convinced but once again sincerely hope that Jantjies can prove us wrong.

As for Argentina, there is no such conundrum. In Nicolas Sanchez, they have a World Class Test level 10 and have done for quite some time now. He was instrumental in engineering the Pumas shock win over New Zealand last year, and is more than a match for Jantjies. It’s a bit like having a top of the range BMW on the field up against a top of the range Toyota. Both are quality products but one just does so much more and is loaded with options. In short, we fully expect to see Sanchez dictate proceedings on Saturday and give Argentina a much needed advantage in terms of game management.

Hopefully we will be seeing plenty of this young man in the next two months

Is this the most gifted new Springbok player in years – utility back Aphelele Fassi

Fair enough, South Africa won the Lions series, but we can’t help feeling that they could have won it so much more spectacularly if this young man had been involved in any of the Three Tests. As it was he only got to star in the one off Test against Georgia. We can’t help feeling that South Africa missed a golden opportunity of blooding the youngster against the Lions, but so be it. On Saturday, he is up against Argentina’s Bautista Delguy who is one of the Pumas own wonder weapons out wide and now has the track record to back it up. Consequently, as a test of Fassi’s defensive skills, South African Coach Jacques Nienaber couldn’t ask for better. If Fassi gets a passing grade defensively and provides the kind of electrifying attacking prowess which highlights his already massive skillset, the rather tedious and pointless allegations that South Africa plays boring rugby will be exposed as the fallacies they are. Either way a bit like Etzebeth vs Kremer the contest between Fassi and Delguy will be one of the most fascinating and potentially exciting of the afternoon!

This is a Test we are really looking forward to, especially now the Lions circus is behind us and all the off field silliness and acrimony that went with it. It’s time for the Springboks to resume normal service and as a start to that they couldn’t ask for a better initial Test. However, we will stick our necks out here. This is a Pumas squad that probably knows each other and how to work together better than any other team on the planet right now, courtesy of having to jump from one COVID bubble to another around the globe in the last year. Therefore they have the potential to give the Springboks a lot more to think about than they had perhaps initially bargained on. We will probably be made to eat our words, but we think that the momentum of the Springboks Lions victory will count for very little in this match and if anything could actually work against them, as some tired bodies find this too much of an ask both physically and mentally with such a short turnaround. This Pumas team can match and return any blows the Springboks can dish out physically and on attack they can be truly lethal, especially if Sanchez is conducting the orchestra with his customary flair.

So let the rugby do the talking and here’s hoping for a contest that will cap off what should be a stellar weekend of Rugby Championship action!

The Rugby Championship gets underway and Australia attempt once more to breach the walls of the All Blacks Fortress of Eden Park

In the first of our previews of the weekend’s opening rounds of the Rugby Championship we look at the second round of the Bledisloe Cup for Australia and New Zealand which also happens to be the opening salvo for both in this year’s Rugby Championship. Last weekend’s encounter between the two in the first of three Bledisloe Cup matches (the latter two being part of the annual Rugby Championship), saw Australia struggle with execution and an inability to contain a decidedly rusty looking All Black side. Australia made an impressive late rally in the final ten minutes making the 33-25 scoreline much more respectable, but it was too little too late. New Zealand are unlikely to be as average as they were last week, and Australia it would appear still have too many fundamentals to get right, before talk of breaking the aura of invincibility that the stadium seems to give the All Blacks can be taken seriously.

In order to keep their Bledisloe Cup dreams alive, as well as make a statement of intent heading into the Rugby Championship, Saturday’s game is critical for the Wallabies and despite talk in the press to the contrary the pressure is all on them. The All Blacks simply have to step up to their customary levels of excellence, which seemed a bit lacking last weekend, to contain a Wallaby side that will ramp up in intensity and hopefully execution compared to last Saturday’s showing.

Either way it’s likely to be a belter of a match and a great start to this year’s Rugby Championship. The odds may be against Australia, but all the ingredients are there for one hell of a Test match between two sides bursting with talent and unlikely to take any prisoners.

So here’s what got us talking looking forward to Saturday’s encounter.

Time to focus

The Wallabies Hooker Brendan Paenga-Amosa needs to put last Saturday behind him and instead recall why he was so effective against France a few weeks earlier

After a pretty solid series against France it was a surprise to see the Wallabies Hooker Paenga-Amosa struggle so much with his lineout throwing last weekend. Admittedly the stiff Auckland breeze wasn’t exactly helping matters but he really failed to make an impact, and at scrum time, New Zealand veteran Codie Taylor was clearly getting the upper hand. The Wallabies need a big game from him on Saturday, and given the stakes it is perhaps surprising that Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie didn’t decide to start Jordan Uelese instead, who in his nine minutes on the pitch last weekend managed to score a try. However, we hold with the theory that Paenga-Amosa is still Australia’s number one choice based on his Super Rugby form with the Reds, and that Uelese is your impact man. Nevertheless, we reckon that Uelese is likely to see substantially more time on the pitch than he did last week, especially if Paenga-Amosa struggles once more to make his presence felt.

His stocks are going up

One thing Australia never really seems to struggle with is finding quality second rowers, and Darcy Swain seems to be another in a long line of pedigree locks

Of players likely to make their mark for Australia this Rugby Championship, we feel that second rower Darcy Swain is likely to get better week by week. He was one of the few players who put in a consistent performance last weekend for the Wallabies, and overall put in 65 quality minutes for his side. If Hooker Paenga-Amosa’s throwing at lineout time had been more accurate we would probably have even more to say about the Wallaby newcomer. He put in a superb eighty minutes against France in the final test of the series last month, and didn’t seem overly intimidated by New Zealand’s legendary second row partnership of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in the Bledisloe Cup opener. In short, a player to watch.

Just needs time to breathe

Australia’s evergreen half back partnership of Tate McDermot and Noah Lolesio is a fine vintage in the making given time

It’s always a bit daunting when between the two of you, you only have eight caps but are facing an All Black pairing that has 125 to their credit. To be fair though to scrum half Tate McDermot and especially fly half Noah Lolesio, we felt they made a pretty fair fist of it. Sure Lolesio only landed 2 of his seven shots at the posts, but considering his age and experience and the howling breeze whipping around Eden Park last Saturday night you can almost forgive him. We are fairly certain that he’ll have spent plenty of time at the kicking tee this week, and with the wind not forecasted to be as strong on Saturday, expect to see a much more solid performance from the 21 year old Wallaby playmaker this weekend. Given his lack of experience and the caliber of the opposition he was up against, we thought he was remarkably composed last weekend. He definitely seems more comfortable with Matt Toomua in the center channels, as there was a marked improvement in his execution and decision making when the veteran Wallaby center came off the bench in the final quarter.

As for scrum half Tate McDermott, he also seemed to improve as the game wore on. It’s always going to be hard to live up to the lofty benchmark set by your opposite number when it’s no less than All Black centurion Aaron Smith. However, McDermott is a talent in the making in a position that up till now the Wallabies seemed to be lacking options. He still has a lot to learn but this is definitely a player who could aspire to the standards set by Will Genia or more recently Nic White, with the latter warming the bench for this match. For both rookies, give them time to mature but with the World Cup only two years away now is the time to let them breathe.

Mirror, Mirror who is the fastest of them all?

Potentially the most exciting contest of the day in Auckland – as New Zealand’s Will Jordan and Marika Koroibete pack some pretty impressive stats

The statistics on these two make for exciting reading this year across Super Rugby and Tests played so far. New Zealand’s Will Jordan may be dominating the tries department at 18 to 4, but when it comes to defenders beaten Koroibete is just as good at 62 compared to 61 for the All Black. In metres and passes made both players are outstanding examples of contestants who love to run and chuck the ball around and their statistics are pretty even. However, it’s Koroibete’s defence which is a larger image of serious Australian issues with the whole basic concept of how to defend, where there is a sudden mismatch between the two. New Zealand’s Will Jordan has made 56 tackles and only missed 14, whereas Koroibete has had to make 83 and missed 45. In short an 80% tackle success rate for New Zealand meets 65% for Australia. It’s hard to see how Australia and Koroibete are going to be able to keep Jordan who has been a try scoring machine for the Crusaders in check. With Koroibete on the field and on song, Australia are a different beast and he was sadly missed last week. However, Jordan looks the complete package for New Zealand, and expect to see plenty of him as the Championship unfolds. It’s going to be a fast paced battle of wits out wide between these two quality wingers and definitely one of the highlights of the Eden Park dustup.

Mighty Mouse

New Zealand’s pocket rocket fullback Damian McKenzie may be small but he more than makes up for it in effort, ability and a pair of feet that are impossible to read

Much like South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe, All Black fullback Damian McKenzie puts paid to the argument that you have to be big to play this game of ours. The fleet footed fullback, despite looking like he needs to spend a week on a pure steak diet, manages to play with an ability that is more akin to fearlessness than recklessness. His ability to turn on a dime and leave defenders clutching at thin air is quite remarkable. A highly adventurous player with an eye for the gap, and ability to wriggle free of tacklers twice his size, McKenzie is New Zealand’s wildly unpredictable maverick. When he is having an off day it’s not pretty to watch, but increasingly those are becoming the exception to the norm. Normal service from the impish last line of defence is a joy to watch, and whenever he has the ball expect the unexpected. Add to that a fairly handy boot if needed at goal kicking time, and McKenzie just gets better every year – a fact clearly not lost on the All Black coaching staff. He’s a player who really fits none of the traditional molds but is such an asset to his team and as a result we can expect to see him featuring heavily in the highlights reels in the next few months.

It should be a cracking Test match between two quality sides on Saturday. The Wallabies know that even though the odds are against them, losing is simply not an option this weekend. Furthermore the added motivation of getting one over your old rival on a ground that is one of Test Rugby’s most sacred, is likely to put an extra spring in Australia’s step. They will bring an added level of intensity to their game which will hopefully be allied to a more clinical approach to their execution of the basics. Get that right, shore up their defenses and they will be competitive make no mistake. However, to pull a fast one on an All Black side holding all the cards at the moment and at Eden Park to boot, is probably a bridge too far for this group of talented but rather green Wallabies.

We’ll be having a look at the Springbok/Puma match by tomorrow at the latest, and we’re also putting out a podcast looking at the lineups for tomorrow’s Eden park clash as well as some of the relevant statistics pertaining to last weekend’s encounter between Australia and New Zealand.

Till then, stay safe everyone!

As a foretaste to the Rugby Championship, the first Bledisloe Cup match is always one of the most anticipated fixtures of the year

As we move away from the controversy ridden Lions tour to South Africa, it’s hopefully time to get back to the good old fashioned basics of International Test Rugby. The first game of the annual Bledisloe Cup three match series between Australia and New Zealand is one that their supporters and neutrals alike eagerly look forward to. It sets the tone for the upcoming Rugby Championship as well as renewing one of International Rugby’s oldest and most fiercely contested rivalries.

Like everything this year, the global pandemic has managed to get its sticky fingers into proceedings, but fortunately some fast thinking was the order of the day and barring a few adjustments the Tournament looks set to proceed for the most part as planned, with the added benefit of crowds in attendance. New Zealand head into this match as favorites on paper, but after a thrilling three Test series with France in which Australia emerged triumphant, albeit only just, the Wallabies are perhaps more match hardened against tougher opposition. New Zealand’s summer series saw them annihilate Tonga, and ultimately put Fiji away twice, admittedly after a stern challenge from the Flying Fijians.

So as International Test Rugby gets back to business as usual, here’s what got us talking about a potentially fascinating Bledisloe Cup opener.

Fortress Eden Park – the All Blacks sacred ground!

Visiting teams can always be sure of a hearty but daunting welcome at a ground the All Blacks never seem to lose on

The signs may say “Welcome to Eden Park”, but they probably should also add the qualifier “but it’s all going to end in tears”. In almost a hundred Test matches at the ground since 1921 the All Blacks have only lost ten. To say that the ground would appear to be cursed for opposition sides, may not be that far from the truth. Imagine then the sense of achievement for sides who have managed to topple the mighty All Black juggernaut. Australia haven’t done it since 1986, so it would seem that the odds are stacked against them. However, it can be done even if the last side to do it was France in 1994 – let’s just ignore the rather inconvenient fact that this last parting of the Red Sea happened a mere 27 years ago. Australia though may be feeling more confident than perhaps they should, coming off the back of an epic series win against France – the most recent team to successfully assault and breach the walls of Fortress Eden. It will be no easy task, and New Zealand know they simply have to notch up the gears slightly to build on their complete dominance of Australian teams in the recently concluded Super Rugby Trans Tasman competition.

Things go better with a dash of Retallick and Whitelock

Brodie Retallick’s eagerly awaited return from Japan sees him paired up with All Black centurion Sam Whitelock

New Zealand’s second row partnership of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock is one of the best in the business – end of argument. Fresh from a stint in Japan with the Kobe Steelers, Retallick brings an edge to the All Blacks that they are never quite the same without. His partner Sam Whitelock is a Test veteran and between the two of them it’s hard to see Australian newcomers Darcy Swain and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto gain any kind of traction in the set pieces or the loose. Retallick at speed and with ball in hand is a rather frightening prospect, and for some reason we always seemed to be reminded of what Bond villain Jaws would have looked like if he’d played rugby. Whitelock meanwhile is just one of those exceptionally solid players, and his leadership on the field as he takes the Captaincy provides his charges with a sense of assurance and confidence in the task at hand. Expect to see these two dominate proceedings come lineout time, as well as make life hell for Australian defenses (which aren’t their strong point to begin with) in the loose.

Time for Valetini to bring his barn door Super Rugby physicality to the Test arena

Australia need a bit more of this when it comes to defence

Australia seem to have a fairly porous defence, especially in the midfield so all the more reason to have someone like Valetini stopping New Zealand’s army of gain line breakers dead in their tracks. We felt given his stellar performances in Super Rugby, Valetini had a relatively quiet series against France by comparison. We’re fairly confident that the back rower is going to be one of Australia’s next big things, provided his work rate stays consistent, which in the French matches it was not. New Zealand and Blues player Dalton Papalii will be a handful to contain along with Ardie Savea and Akira Ioane, so the above kind of show stopping tackles which seem to be Valetini’s trademark will be the order of the day.

Aaron Smith makes it a century

New Zealand scrum half Aaron Smith marks his 100th Test Cap this Saturday

On the occassion of his 100th Test Cap and in front of the All Black faithful at Eden Park, expect to see the All Black scrum half at his very best. Arguably the best nine for quite some time now in Test Rugby, albeit with France’s Antoine Dupont increasingly snapping at his heels, Smith is a vital, tried and trusted commodity for the All Blacks. Able to adapt his game at the drop of a hat Smith is always a pleasure to watch. His ability to set New Zealand’s tempo off the set pieces is legendary and Australian rookie Tate McDermot will be hard pressed to match let alone better the All Black maestro.

New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane and Australia’s Jordan Petaia should provide one of the contests of the afternoon

Out on the wings will be one of the most intriguing and exciting matchups of this Bledisloe Cup series. New Zealand and Blues superstar Rieko Ioane meets up with Reds sensation Jordan Petaia. For us Petaia was one of the few things to get excited about in Australia’s recent dismal Super Rugby efforts. Ioane has in the last year struggled to replicate his stellar Super Rugby form at Test level, especially since the last World Cup. We all know it’s there but somehow his execution at Test Level seems a little off the pace. Petaia on the other hand seems to go from strength to strength whatever level he is playing at. Ioane’s tackle success rate can be hit and miss at times but the Australian is a ferocious and physical tackler, and can often be seen to be punching way above his weight. We can’t help feeling that in a tussle of two world class wingers, it’s the Australian who could well have the edge on Saturday, despite having considerably less Test experience than his Kiwi counterpart. Petaia just plays with a ruthlessness and confidence that Ioane doesn’t always produce week in week out. We’re fascinated to see if the Wallaby youngster can steal the headlines from the All Black veteran come Saturday.

On paper and at Eden Park, this is New Zealand’s game to lose plain and simple. They look the vastly more experienced and capable side juxtaposed against an eager and capable but relatively inexperienced Wallaby outfit. Australia could well pack a surprise, and a good showing on Saturday will dramatically boost their confidence in preparation for their final showdown with New Zealand in Perth at the end of the month. They’re slightly more battle hardened than the All Blacks after having had to use all their tricks to win the recent series with France.

Australia will improve make no mistake, but as a first outing against New Zealand this year, Eden Park simply makes them too much of a long shot. It’s likely to be a gusty and windy day in Auckland on Saturday, conditions which suit the more experienced heads in the All Black camp. Nothing is ever a given though, and Australia have often shown a healthy disregard for the form book and come up trumps. After the frustrations of the Lions/South Africa series it’s time for International Test Rugby to get down to business in a competition that often showcases its best attributes and leaves us hungry for more.

Enjoy everyone and we’ll be having a look at the lineups for this and the Lions match in our podcast tomorrow. Till then stay safe and enjoy what should be a great weekend of Test rugby!

Hopefully it’s finally time to let the rugby do the talking and give us a Lions/Springboks series decider to remember!

If you’re like us, you are perhaps close to breathing a sigh of relief once the final whistle for this emotionally fraught series gets blown on Saturday. Mired in controversy from the outset, which has only grown as the series has progressed, this Lions Tour has hardly been one for the archives. The rugby has been a fascinating slugfest, but as a spectacle it has been short on entertainment, and the empty stadiums have contributed to its rather lifeless feel. The two sides seem to have little respect for each other and in general it’s been a rather ill-tempered and nasty affair. It’s been uncomfortable to watch at times from both sides, and the quality of the rugby on display has been average at best. In short, it’s a Tour that we are likely to forget rather than remember.

All that aside though, there’s the hope that Saturday’s series decider will revert to the kind of rugby we all know and love and in the process the spirit of our great game will be restored. Ignoring all the off field shenanigans there is no denying that all the players from both sides have put their heart and soul into a Tour that for all intents and purposes seemed fated not to happen at all. South Africa will want to prove to the world ahead of a challenging Rugby Championship, that despite their two year absence from Test rugby, the reasons that they are World Champions are there for all to see. For the Lions, they will want to prove that despite the adversity, this Tour can still showcase the proud history and traditions associated with the Lions, and that wearing the treasured red jersey is still a once in a lifetime experience.

Despite all the difficulties and much of the negativity surrounding the Tour, we got what we wanted a series decider – so hopefully it’s time to shut down the media circus and let the real business begin. Here’s what got us talking about the final showdown in Cape Town.

Hardly Pitch Perfect!!!!

Cape Town Stadium’s pitch was never designed for rugby, and the first two Tests between South Africa and the Lions have made that painfully obvious

Cape Town’s Stadium was intended for fleet footed and less heavyweight competitors than rugby players. It was never designed to have 1800 kgs of human flesh trying to anchor itself to the surface in a scrum. If you watched the pitch being endlessly turned up in both Tests you have to wonder how much the pitch itself is contributing to some of the more lackluster aspects of the rugby we’ve seen so far. We lost count last weekend as to how many times scrums collapsed as players couldn’t secure their footing or players slipping just as they accelerated on breaking the gain line as another piece of turf gave way under them.

This Tour has had enough challenges to begin with but to have to contend with the pitch as a sixteenth man adds insult to injury for both sides and wreaks havoc with a team’s momentum. It would appear that the pitch will have had two full days to dry out prior to Saturday’s penultimate match, as Cape Town’s normally wet winter climate gives the ground a breather. It is a great shame that it couldn’t have been played at the legendary former home of Test Rugby in Cape Town – the hallowed grounds at Newlands. It will be fascinating to see if given the ground’s influence on the first two Tests, both sides will try and play a game that allows for its failings.

One of South Africa’s most underrated players shows us why he is such a force to be reckoned with

Lood de Jager made a truly MASSIVE impact when he came on in the second Test against the Lions

We’ve always felt the giant Springbok second rower has been under appreciated by his country. Sure he’s had his injury problems which has by necessity kept him out of the spotlight and at times made it difficult for him to have the kind of impact he is clearly so capable of. However, as he showed in the second Test against the Lions, when he is on song he truly is a force to be reckoned with. He made the departure of Pieter-Steph du Toit one of the Boks most influential forwards seem almost a non-event. He slotted into the second row as Franco Mostert moved out to the flanks to cover for du Toit. With fellow second rower Eben Etzebeth, the two giant Springbok locks dominated lineout proceedings in the second half and de Jager carried and tackled like a man possessed. Paired once again with Eben “take no prisoners” Etzebeth we fully expect to see the Lions Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones struggle to come to terms with the havoc the two South Africans are so effective at creating.

The “Beast” Mk 2?

Trevor Nyakane was a monster when he came off the bench for South Africa in the second Test and expect more of the same

In the legendary footsteps of Springbok prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane was a force to behold in the second Test against the Lions when he came off the bench. He didn’t have his best game when he started for the Boks in the opening Test, but went on to prove that a week is a very long time in Test Rugby. The Trevor Nyakane of the first Test was indistinguishable from the raging bull that went by the same name in the Second Test. After he replaced Steven Kitshoff in the last quarter the Blue Bulls tighthead prop made life an absolute misery for the Lions Kyle Sinckler and Rory Sutherland. He finds himself once more on the bench for this match, but being equally comfortable at loosehead or tighthead, the Lions are likely to remember his presence no matter how short-lived on Saturday.

Righteous Fire and Brimstone

Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi truly led from the front last Saturday and in doing so put in one of the best performances of his career

While he may have had a rather quiet first Test, Springbok Captain and flanker Siya Kolisi came out guns blazing in the second. It was an inspirational performance and one which clearly provided his charges with the motivation they needed, not that it really seemed to be lacking to begin with. His presence of mind to prevent the Lions Robbie Henshaw from scoring a potentially game changing try was outstanding, but was one of a multitude of big game moments from the Springbok Captain. Whatever confidence he seemed to lack in the first Test, is clearly behind him as he was everywhere last Saturday. He was confident, assertive and utterly tireless in his efforts while his execution was flawless. It was a master class performance and one which his opposite number Alun Wyn Jones struggled to emulate. With history on the line he’ll likely be even more fired up this weekend.

The missing link

Welshmen Josh Adams and Liam Williams’ absences from the first Two Tests, especially given their skills under the high ball left most people dumbfounded

The fact that master of the air Liam Williams has only got ten minutes off the bench in the first two Tests, and try scoring machine Josh Adams has not even made the matchday 23 for either, seems to defy all logic. Given the Boks propensity to send things skywards, the omission of two players who are perhaps your most comfortable in the aerial battles has seemed a strange choice indeed. Admittedly Liam Williams didn’t look his sharpest in the warm up games, and got rather schooled in the game against South Africa A (aka an almost full strength Springbok side), so perhaps Lions Coach Gatland’s reservations were justified. However, the time has come to throw caution to the wind a bit (pun aside) and let two players who shine in the aerial contests, as well as Adams ability to find the try line have their final say on proceedings. South Africa’s Willie le Roux can have an off day, and given the calmness under pressure that Williams is known for, this could be an area where the Lions get some much needed traction and composure. Adams meanwhile can on his day match anything South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi can throw at him and allied to the magic of the Lions Finn Russell at fly half, it could be the right counter to the enterprise shown by the Springbok winger last week. Either way we can’t wait to see if Gatland’s gamble pays off.

It should be a terrific contest, and like we say, hopefully the jibes and off field antics from both sides are done and it’s time to let the rugby do the talking. It may not have been a classic Lions series, but it still clearly means a great deal to both sides. In Saturday’s do or die, winner takes all contest we think that the Series may finally find its groove and give us all something to cheer about, whoever lifts the silverware at the end of it. It’s hard to argue against South Africa clinching the Series after their performance last week, but let’s not forget, both games were won by the team who put in the better second half. So as both sides roll the dice, we’re sure there’ll be plenty to talk about on Saturday night and hopefully for all the right reasons!

The First Test between the Springboks and the Lions brings us plenty of controversy but questionable quality from both sides – so a big step up is needed from all parties this weekend!

We like everyone else couldn’t wait for the highly anticipated start to the three Test series between South Africa’s Springboks and the British and Irish Lions to get underway. As excited as we were for Australian referee Nic Berry to blow the whistle for kickoff, like many we breathed a sigh of relief when he blew for full time. Not so much because we’d been on the edge of our seats for 80 minutes, but more due to the fact that it was an unbalanced game from both sides, with a ton of inconsistencies in how it was managed (more on that later) and didn’t really make for the spectacle we’d hoped for. It was scrappy and although the Lions were the victors, it wasn’t by much and they were only marginally the better side. This week’s contest should hopefully be an infinitely more balanced affair across the park and from all parties concerned, allowing us to focus more on the rugby on the pitch than its after effects off it!

Either way, take the off field media circus away and the Springboks will be up for this one and then some. Put the mind games to one side, and South Africa will be better than they were last weekend. The rust will have been blown off, players will be fitter, the squad will have gelled and become stronger as a unit and lastly pride is likely to motivate this group of individuals to step up their game rather dramatically. In short, the Lions will need to be wary plain and simple. In many ways the First Test was more an exercise for both sides to get the measure of each other. The Lions with more game time under their belts as a unit, ultimately made the better fist of it, but not by much and as a result the gloves are clearly off this weekend so assume the brace position. It’s do or die stuff for both teams this Saturday and as a result should make for quite the Test match.

We could probably write a book on last weekend’s action and what it means for this Saturday, but instead we’ll stick to the five key points that got us thinking the most in relation to this weekend.

Don’t shoot the water boy

Director of South African Rugby Rassie Erasmus has found plenty of ways to air his opinions this week

World Cup winning Coach for the Springboks Rassie Erasmus has found many ways to get his message across this week, both to his players and the world at large. The problem is that it hasn’t really sat all that well with a lot of people, and we are no longer sure of exactly what his role is with the Team. The official Head Coach Jacques Nienaber seems to have very little say in what happens both on and off the pitch. While there were plenty of images of Erasmus pacing the pitch and giving lots of advice on rehydration (even if he wasn’t actually supplying any) to his former charges, Nienaber appeared like a caged animal pacing the Coaching box looking rather lost and ineffectual. While we have no issue with Erasmus’ water boy role (even if he could legitimize it a bit more by actually handing out the odd bottle of water just for appearances), you have to wonder whether the Lions Coaching staff would be offered the same freedoms? Will we see Gregor Townsend masquerading as a physio this Saturday on the pitch and if we did would the officials or public at large say anything about it? As long as it’s balanced and both sides are allowed to do so, even if it looks rather footballesque, then we don’t really have an issue with it.

As for the more controversial aspect of Rassie’s hour long rant about officiating standards in the first Test – well that’s a hard nut to crack. Erasmus is a charismatic figure and we don’t doubt for a moment that his commitment to the Springboks is without question, especially as the vast majority of the current Bok squad are the players he brought to World Cup glory. There is a deep bond there between the players and their former Coach that is a truly ‘special relationship’. As a result though there is a danger that the merits of his overriding plea for consistency in officiating, which he feels was so lacking last Saturday, may be tinged with a slightly less than objective bias. He made some valid points that we can all agree with, but a one hour monologue is sadly not the most effective or appropriate vehicle to state your case.

On the one hand we salute him for having the courage to stand up and put himself in the spotlight by demanding something from Rugby’s governing body that we have all complained about for at least the last ten years. The game’s rules need to be applied consistently and fairly across the board. Make your point by highlighting one or two clear cut examples and leave it at that. However, to go at length for over an hour on picking out every call you felt didn’t go your way runs the risk of making you out to be a sore loser. Some of the calls he highlights are extremely marginal and in the heat of the action on the pitch, it’s unreasonable to expect the referee to see every nuance that you see after analyzing the tapes for several hours. If you do that then sure you will always find inconsistencies but sometimes referees have to call them as they see them in the moment. If not then an eighty minute game becomes a process akin to North American football where play is stopped every few seconds, momentum is lost and we spend more time watching TMO replays than the actual game. Nic Berry and his officiating team made a few howlers make no mistake, but given the nature of the game unfortunately it is almost impossible to avoid. Teams sometimes just have to pick themselves up and move on and now sadly so do you Rassie.

Deer in the headlights?

Australia’s Nic Berry, New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe and France’s Mathieu Raynal are finding Cape Town’s winter unusually hot

Well you’ve all seen Director of South African Rugby Rassie Erasmus’ thoughts on the performance of these three individuals last Saturday. Nic Berry who oversaw the first Test found his performance put under the brightest of lights by the former Springbok Coach this week, and his associates didn’t fare much better. Consequently New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe must surely be feeling more than a little anxious about taking charge of this week’s crucial Second Test. While we don’t necessarily feel that Nic Berry’s shortcomings, of which there were a few, needed an hour long diatribe – his and his team’s skills in applying the rules of the game in a fair and consistent manner equitable to both teams definitely need some work. These are points that came out of Rassie’s video that need addressing and which in our opinion are the most important.

Player welfare and safety must be paramount and across the board. First and foremost, Scotland and the Lions Hamish Watson should have been given a yellow, possibly a red, for his spear tackle on Willie le Roux. Watson is a terrific player and fan favorite here at the Lineout. He is not a dirty or ill disciplined player who has a history of foul play. That tackle on le Roux however, was clear for all to see and sadly inexcusable. It was reckless and dangerous and players need to know that whatever their track record, that is a punishable offence. As a parent of a boy who desperately wants to play, I and many like me simply don’t want to see that. It has to be sanctioned every time – no ifs, buts or maybes. Mako Vunipola’s impatient yanking of Kolbe off the floor after a hefty tackle was also out of order and disrespectful, especially if the Springbok winger had suffered an injury. Lastly, Lions winger Duhan van der Merwe lifting Springbok winger Makazole Mapimpi’s legs off the ground in the tackle was also questionable, although the impact of South African centre Damian de Allende hitting both of them at speed caused the lift to go higher, making it seem a lot worse. Nevertheless it showed a lack of care in putting the tackled player to the ground safely.

The last point is that apparently the officiating team appeared to “brush off” Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi every time he approached them, while at the same time giving the Lions Captain Alun-Wyn Jones their full attention. Although we have a certain degree of sympathy with this argument, and both Captains should have the same amount of attention and respect from the officials, there is also a question of leadership here. Jones is a master of the Test arena and the World’s most capped player. He has a wealth of experience in addressing referees and getting them to listen. Kolisi on the other hand has not, and sadly it showed on Saturday. Jones has mastered the art of talking to referees, something which Kolisi still needs to work on. The Lions Captain is more comfortable with being assertive. He walks right up to the officials, stands his ground, makes sure they hear him, and only then retreats. All too often on Saturday Kolisi made his argument half-heartedly from a distance and rarely pressed his case or looked confident in his assertions. He’s a great and inspirational Captain but playing the referees is sadly just as important a skill as playing the game itself and one which Kolisi still has a lot to learn.

The “Ginger Ninja” meets the “Jukebox”

The South African Bomb Squad’s Stephen Kitshoff was unable to diffuse Ireland and the Lions tactical warhead Tadhg Furlong last Saturday

So enough of the circus surrounding last week’s Test and down to the business at hand this Saturday. Two great players of the modern forwards game get another chance to size up against each other. South African loosehead prop Stephen Kitshoff and Ireland and Lions tighthead Tadhg Furlong do battle once more, but this time Kitshoff starts as opposed to appearing off the bench last weekend where surprisingly he didn’t match up against the Irishman and his subsequent replacement England’s Kyle Sinckler. These are two powerful scrummagers and players who are equally feisty in the loose and renown for their bullocking runs. The contest between the Lion and what should be a much fitter Springbok is likely to be one of the highlights of the afternoon.

Jasper Wiese gets his shot on the BIG stage

The Leicester Tiger gets the biggest audition of his life as it’s do or die for the Boks on Saturday

Firstly, before we sing the praises of a Mr. Wiese, we think we need to qualify his windfall at the expense of Kwagga Smith, who wore the number eight jersey for the Boks last weekend. We had serious reservations about Smith playing as a number eight last Saturday, not because he isn’t a good player, but a number eight he most definitely is not. As the smaller of the two men, he got made mincemeat of by Ireland and the Lions Jack Conan who is and always has been a natural number eight. Smith excels as a flanker and wing forward, a role he simply wasn’t allowed to play last Saturday. This weekend sees him on the bench, and expect to see him brought in when his impact with the kind of skills he has are needed most.

Consequently Weise, who plays more of his time at number eight, and is known as a dynamic and powerful ball carrier much in the mold of the much missed Duane Vermeulen for the Springboks, deserves his shot at glory on Saturday. He’ll be hard pressed to better the Lions Jack Conan who was one of the tourists standout players last weekend. However, much like the battle between Furlong and Kitshoff – Weise vs Conan will be one of the title fights of the weekend.

Harris’ defensive skills will be needed against de Allende who has learnt the value of ball security

They are both dynamic ball carriers but de Allende, now he has mastered hanging on to a ball, will require some real stopping and the Lions Harris is the man to do it

It seems that England Coach Eddie Jones is not the only one who seems to want keep experimenting with utility back Elliot Daly. Warren Gatland continues to try and find where to put the Englishman and his monster boot. However, if you ask us Daly is simply an impact player and not a Test starter. His boot is seriously useful, but he just doesn’t seem to fit a role in any kind of consistent manner. Harris on the other hand, while not being the most flashy player on the park has been steadfastly solid in defense for both Scotland and the Lions so far on tour. He’ll need it against De Allende, who he struggled with when they met in the South Africa A match. In the past, you could almost guarantee that giving the ball to the one dimensional battering ram Springbok center would result in a knock on. Those days seem to be behind him. Not only has he mastered hanging on to the ball especially under pressure, he’s become quite adept at executing some handy offloads as well as receiving them. Big, powerful and fast he’s become a lot more imaginative in how he plays the game and partnered with live wire Lukhanyo Am, the Springboks now have a genuinely exciting center partnership. The Lions can match it both physically and creatively in Robbie Henshaw and Chris Harris and this should be one of the most exciting contests on the park this Saturday.

So put aside all the questionable media exploits this week from both sides and settle down to a match which should hopefully provide all the excitement and quality that a tour of this magnitude should give us. The sparks were there last weekend but they never really managed to keep the fire going for the full eighty minutes from both sides. In a game of two halves the Lions ended up being marginally more proficient, significantly fitter and a tad luckier with the rub of the green. This weekend expect a much more level playing field both from the teams themselves and how the calls are made by the officials. Let’s hope that this weekend the Springboks/Lions Tour really starts in earnest and lives up to its proud pedigree, while setting us up for a Series decider in the third and final Test. Enjoy everyone and stay safe!