Put your hands up if this year’s Rugby Championship has caught you by surprise – we’d imagine that we’d be seeing a pretty consistent show of hands. What a glorious tournament it’s turning out to be for the traditional underdogs Australia and Argentina. If Argentina pull off the unthinkable this Saturday in Hamilton and beat the All Blacks for a second time in a row and thus place one hand firmly on the tournament’s silverware, it would perhaps be the biggest shakeup of the global game in quite some time. Meanwhile in Australia, the Springboks almost look destined to be unable to break the curse of not winning on Wallaby soil since 2013. Both the All Blacks and the Springboks seem to be suffering a deep rooted crisis of confidence. Australia despite an injury list from hell simply will not lie down and Argentina look more ominous with every outing as their preparation for the World Cup picks up pace.
Quite frankly there is everything to play for in a tournament that until this year was in danger of becoming a tad stale and inconsequential in relation to its Northern counterpart the Six Nations. Not so this year, and we have been glued to our television screens since the beginning of August and are hungry for more. So here’s what got us talking ahead of Round 4 of this roller coaster tournament.
New Zealand may be struggling but they have some key strengths which they simply have to use to their advantage on Saturday
If New Zealand are going to win on Saturday, then this man is likely to play a key part in it. Scoring one of New Zealand’s two tries in an otherwise lackluster performance for the All Blacks last weekend, Taukei’aho has proven that he is a deadly operator. Sent to the bench far too early in our opinion for the completely ineffectual Codie Taylor, we couldn’t help feeling that had he been allowed more say in proceedings last Saturday then we might be writing a different story after last weekend. New Zealand’s efficiency at lineout time dropped dramatically once Taukei’aho left, and given the fact that in the scrums New Zealand were dominating Argentina, expect to see them look to the young hooker to provide the same kind of traction again this week, but hopefully for longer.
New Zealand need more Dalton Papali’i sadly at Sam Cane’s expense
We don’t really want to revisit the debate about Sam Cane’s captaincy, but it is hard to argue against his understudy Dalton Papali’i’s value to the All Blacks as a solution to some of the back row issues they are facing. If New Zealand are to win against Argentina on Saturday, then they simply have to be more efficient and quicker at the breakdowns than the Pumas, and snuff out the opportunities for the Argentinian jackalers like Matera and Montoya. Sam Cane and Shannon Frizell were simply too far off the mark at doing this last Saturday, but Papali’i offers New Zealand some real speed and strength in getting to the breakdown and in the loose is as good as any of his Pumas counterparts. In short, expect Papali’i to see more game time than Cane, and the Captain to most likely have not much more than a starting cameo, especially if New Zealand cannot dominate the contact areas early on.
Argentina’s smiling assassins have plenty of reasons to be cheerful
Captain and Hooker Julian Montoya and back rower extraordinaire Pablo Matera have plenty to feel good about last weekend, and if the All Blacks are to reassert their traditional dominance over the Pumas, then negating the impact of these two individuals especially at the breakdown will be key. Along with the rest of their forward pack, these two stopped New Zealand dead in their tracks and were outstanding in marshalling an almost impenetrable Pumas defense. They simply stopped New Zealand getting quick phase ball – plain and simple. The All Blacks will surely have done their homework on these two and the Pumas defense as a whole, but reduce the efficiency of these two men in the contact areas and New Zealand will be well on their way to unpicking a resolute and highly organized defense.
While he may be defying age limits at club level doubts remain about him doing it at Test level
While many are questioning the Springboks fascination with old age pensioners, you can understand the eyebrows being raised over the selection of Urdapilleta as the replacement fly half for Santiago Carreras in such a crucial match for the Pumas’ title aspirations. We’ll be honest we didn’t really feel that Urdapilleta’s spectacular form with Castres in the French Top 14 translated to Test level standard during the last World Cup. Still given injuries to Nicolas Sanchez and the fact that Carreras is still learning the role, some experience is needed and in Urdapilleta they certainly have that. If he plays anything like he did this year in the Top 14, then given the missteps of late by both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, New Zealand could find themselves in a spot of bother.
While we have nothing against the “olden but golden” principle – at least play such players in positions they have shown form in recently
We’ll be honest, South African Coach Jacques Nienaber’s selections for this tour to Australia have left us scratching our heads. In our opinion they smack of desperation and golden opportunities lost. This would have been an ideal time to really showcase the younger talent that has performed so well in the URC. Where are Johan Grobelaar, Ruan Nortje, Elrigh Louw, Salmaan Moerat and Evan Roos to name but a few outstanding next gen forwards? Instead Nienaber has decided to opt for some admirable Springbok pensioners. We don’t mean to dismiss Fourie who had an excellent season with the Stormers, but for pretty much the entirety of that season he played in the back row. Consequently, imagine our jaw dropping disbelief to see a player in the twilight of his career be suddenly parachuted into a position that he hasn’t played regularly for quite some time in a match of critical importance to South Africa, even if it is only from the bench. We’re not really sure that’s even fair to Fourie. We wish him well but feel that he is almost being set up to try and achieve the impossible.
At least one opportunity is being seized but it’s a pretty daunting debut when the man marking you is Australia’s human missile Marika Koroibete
Like we said in the podcast earlier this week, we had concerns about Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete’s tackle technique last weekend, brutally effective as it was. His Exocet missile tackle on Makazole Mapimpi was heroic and something to be seen to be believed but still borderline legal at best. The attempt at wrapping with the arms clearly appears as an afterthought when you watch the replay in slow motion. The fact that Mapimpi didn’t end up seriously injured is probably more down to luck than anything else. Moodie is fast and powerful but we fear he may simply be no match for the Wallaby Fijian powerhouse and could come off worst for wear both physically and mentally on this his Test debut. Nevertheless if he emerges from Saturday’s encounter unscathed and able to show off his abilities by getting points on the board, then expect to see the 19 year old youngster get fast tracked into the Springboks’ plans for the World Cup.
Australia will need more of Nic White’s playing skills and less of his Oscar winning acting this Saturday
We’ll be honest, after Wallaby scrum half Nic White’s Oscar winning performance last weekend, we sadly lost a lot of the respect we had had up to that point for Australia’s feisty number nine. We still think he’s a great player and a valuable servant to the Wallaby cause, but his performance in milking the mildest of penalties last weekend took the shine off a fascinating contest and was a rather poor advertisement for the game in general. Hopefully lessons have been learnt, words have been had and that’s the last we see of it. While we appreciate that to a certain degree scrum halves are always there to play the referee and carry “the chirp” to another level – there have to be limits. Sadly for White and the Wallabies, his antics last weekend will have set him and his colleagues up as enemy number one for a wounded Springbok side. Expect the Springboks to make his life a genuine misery this weekend.
In the absence of Captain Michael Hooper a star is born
Australia may be counting the days till word of Michael Hooper’s possible return to the Wallaby fold, but in the interim they have unearthed a player who is rapidly making them forget that they are without their inspirational Captain. As the tournament and Australia’s leading try scorer, in McReight Australia have unearthed a genuine weapon and he’s only going to get better. A menace at the breakdowns, packing some weight to the back of the scrums and posing a genuine threat in the loose with an eye for the narrowest of gaps close to the try line, South Africa and Siya Kolisi in particular are going to have to keep a very close eye on the Wallaby flanker if they are to keep Australia in check.
In short, what a weekend we have in store and are there further turns and twists to be had in what has so far been a thrilling tournament and glorious advert for a competition that appeared to be losing some of its luster? We can’t see South Africa stumbling a second time to Australia especially given their need to strip Nic White of his Oscar. Furthermore, we’re just not convinced that Australia are as good as that Round 1 result against the Pumas and last weekend’s at times scrappy win over the Springboks would appear to indicate. As for Argentina and New Zealand, we also find it hard to believe that the All Blacks will trip up a second time on home soil against an opponent they have tended to dominate in the past. Nevertheless this is a Pumas side on fire, which is something you simply can’t say about the stop/start nature of the All Blacks at the moment. Consistency finally seems to be a term the Pumas are comfortable with and one that New Zealand is struggling to master.
So strap yourselves in and brace for what should be two bruising and enthralling encounters. Best of all for us here in Canada they are being served up on a choice of three viewing platforms – see TV page for details. So get the braais and barbis out for one last gasp of summer before the kids go back to school and enjoy what promises to be a fascinating Saturday of Test Rugby!!!