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
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
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
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
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!!!!
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!