This was a tournament that ultimately saw New Zealand emerge as the true powerhouse of International Rugby with few if any likely to be able to challenge them. Australia were lucky to carve out a second place finish which still left them light years behind their rivals across the Tasman Straits and with a mountain of work to get through if they are to have a successful end of year tour in Europe. Argentina meanwhile continued to provide plenty of excitement but when it was all said and done they had little to show for their efforts as they emerged as holders of the wooden spoon. South Africa can count themselves lucky not to finish in last place, but that is about as far as it goes as we were forced to bear witness to the sad decline of this once proud rugby nation during the course of the tournament and it was painful viewing at times.
Instead of our usual match commentary we’ll just highlight what struck us about the four participants in the tournament in the final weekend’s action and what it means going forward.
South Africa vs New Zealand
Final Score – South Africa 15/New Zealand 57
There is no denying that from a South African perspective this was an exceptionally painful game to witness. A team which has been in decline since the World Cup finally imploded against the world’s best in front of a stunned home crowd. As South Africa now face a challenging European end of year tour in a few weeks time the sense of despondency and concerns that yet more humiliation is in the making are palpable. South African rugby has struggled in the last two years but is now in crisis and appears in a state of free fall. For New Zealand their complete annihilation of the Springboks in two Tests means that a once now proud and competitive rivalry is now well and truly dead. While it is likely that the All Blacks will always respect their South African counterparts out of a reverence to history, there is now little if anything to fear for New Zealand from a Springbok challenge.
The All Blacks by comparison have shown that they are without equal in the rugby world and their end of year tour to Europe is unlikely to change that. While they won’t get to play the Northern Hemisphere’s strongest side and Six Nations Champions England next month – Ireland and Italy will stand little chance of denying New Zealand their longest consecutive winning streak in history.
While New Zealand may not necessarily have started this match in top form, and at times in the first 20 minutes seemed far more error-prone than we are used to seeing, once they scored their opening try the floodgates simply opened. In the second half there was no lack of composure or execution as the All Blacks ran in an unanswered seven tries, dominated possession and were quite simply the only team on the pitch. South Africa were nowhere to be seen.
As mentioned above this was exceptionally painful viewing from a South African perspective. Sure New Zealand are the best team in the world right now by a country mile but we have always expected to see Springbok sides be at least competitive in meetings between the two sides. No such luck last Saturday in Durban. The second half in particular was a horror show for South Africa. They have run out of excuses and the next few months, after what is surely going to be a very painful and at times humiliating trip to Europe, are going to be uncomfortable for players and management. Missed tackles, a consistent lack of any kind of attacking game, poor execution and a general lack of cohesion and structure to what was essentially a makeshift side meant that the Springboks never stood a chance. In the second half it was clear from the players’ facial expressions that they had lost the plot and were simply longing for the referee’s final whistle to put them out of their misery. There is nothing to say about this performance from one of the giants of the game in days gone by, other than that it was an abject failure from a player and coaches point of view for South Africa.
New Zealand will move on from this match with the kind of confidence that a 10 game winning streak produces and as they prepare to put Australia to the sword once more on home soil on the hallowed ground of Eden Park in Auckland, it is going to take a remarkable and superhuman Irish effort to derail the All Black express in Chicago on November 5th.
For South Africa a long period of reflection and soul-searching lies ahead as they desperately seek to put a stop to the rot that is sapping the Springboks of their once proud legacy. While we would like to have a sense of optimism we can’t help feeling it is only going to get much worse before it gets better and don’t expect any immediate improvements for a while. This is a team of professionals being managed and coached by amateurs with an unhealthy dose of political interference. Until this gets addressed which is unlikely to be any time soon, the Springboks misery looks set to continue. Our heart goes out to South Africa and Springbok supporters everywhere and we can only hope that by the time the next World Cup comes around South Africa will start to rise once more from the ashes!
Argentina vs Australia
Final Score – Argentina 21/Australia 33
The stats for this match once more provide a glaring insight into the Pumas continuing difficulties. Argentina dominated the second half with over 80% of the territory and possession and yet somehow were outscored by Australia, albeit by a narrow margin. Argentina’s undoing was once again a lack of concentration coupled to poor execution at critical times which allowed Australia to turn Argentinian mistakes into Australian opportunities which they, unlike the Pumas, were able to turn into points on the board. If you are a Pumas supporter by the end of this tournament you must have been tearing your hair out with frustration as once again Argentina let a match slip away from them, despite at times showcasing some outstanding skills, passion and committment. The Pumas have entertained us all tournament but sadly failed to deliver the knockout blows and consistency they so desperately need to master. Their skill level is not in question but, as it has been since their first foray in the Rugby Championship back in 2012, their finishing and ability to close out big games still is!
For Australia another opportunistic win will do their confidence no harm, but many of the problems we have seen all year continue to plague the Wallabies. They may have developed a solid attacking game and some very gifted backs in the shape of centre Samu Kerevi and wingers Reece Hodge and Dane Haylett-Petty but apart from that there has not been too much to get excited about in Australia’s overall performance in the tournament, despite against all odds coming a distant second behind New Zealand. Bernard Foley has adapted well to playing in the centre outside Quade Cooper at fly half and has often been there to save Australia’s bacon on more than one occasion. Scrum half Will Genia has made a welcome and rather spectacular return to the Wallaby fold, though we can’t really say the same of his half back partner Quade Cooper at fly half. While we can’t really fault Cooper as in days gone by, he also never really did anything that stood out in terms of a significant contribution to Australia’s campaign. Meanwhile the Wallabies’ forward play is still woefully inaccurate and poorly disciplined and up against powerful forward units like England, Wales and Ireland next month Australia could be in for a torrid time of it. Furthermore their discipline especially in the forwards is an ongoing bad joke.
Australia got themselves into this match from the outset by once more capitalizing on a lack of concentration by Argentina. Argentina would get themselves back into the game but throughout the match a lack of execution and concentration would continue to cost them dearly and we had to admit that Pumas scrum half Martin Landajo was having an uncharacteristically poor opening twenty minutes and struggled to put together quality passes as well as battling to hold onto the ball under pressure. Fortunately he recovered as the match wore on but this relatively poor opening meant that just like previous matches Argentina were constantly having to play catch up rugby. This was not helped by the Pumas not having standout flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez available as he was sidelined with injury. Although his replacement Santiago González Iglesias improved as the match wore on, his woeful kicking attempts in the first half meant that Argentina left at least 15 points behind. We can only wonder how the tables could have been different if Argentina had started the match with a dominant lead.
In the end it wasn’t to be, and the match inexorably slipped away from a spirited Argentinian side to the advantage of a slightly more structured Wallaby team. Despite Australia’s rather woeful forward performance we must say we like the looks of newcomer lock Adam Coleman who has got consistently better with each outing for the Wallabies and would definitely appear to be a bright star in the making for Australia. Still Australia really need to get a handle on their poor discipline if they are really going to be able to challenge England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and France next month. As for the shenanigans involving Wallaby scrum half Nick Phipps and the Argentine medic, enough has been said already, though we can’t help feeling that despite the fact that the medic had no business being there in the first place, Phipps emotional immaturity is a huge liability for the Wallabies and one they could well do without in November.
For the Pumas we feel that they have a potentially rewarding November tour ahead of them, and while England may be a bridge too far, the match ups with Scotland and Wales are surely ones where Argentina has a shot at taking the honors. Still we have been promising big things in terms of results from Argentina all year, so we are reluctant to talk them up anymore at this stage. They surely know what they have to do to fix their problems despite their considerable talent and promise, so to quote an old saying ‘the proof of the pudding will be in the eating’ and we will say nothing more on that front for now!
The good people at Rugby Montages hadn’t done a video wrap up of the final round of the Rugby Championship at the time we put this out, so we left you with their effort at showcasing one of the players of the tournament – All Black Ben Smith as an example of just how good the player base is in New Zealand and why a certain group of gentlemen in black jerseys are so unstoppable right now! However since going to press Rugby Montages have produced another of their superb video summaries of the final round of the Championship so we’ve updated this post accordingly – enjoy!