Refereeing consistency please!

With not much to report on the home front in Canada we skip our usual wrap up of the game in Canada and use this opportunity to take a look at an issue that sadly is in danger of detracting from the enjoyment of our great game – refereeing.

Last weekend’s potential spectacles were marred by poor refereeing which in some people’s view directly influenced the outcome of a pair of critical games for the four competing sides. I for one tend to disagree that the refereeing albeit sloppy determined the outcome of the games. As mentioned earlier it is inevitable that in the frenetic pace of International Test Rugby one or two decisions will rightly or wrongly go against you and teams must learn to adapt to this. Blaming the referee for bad calls is no panacea for a teams’ weak performance. South Africa lost last week because ultimately they played poorly and when it mattered most did not rise to the challenge. The Pumas lost not because they were denied a try and had their superior scrum subjected to some bizarre interpretations. At least Argentina were humble enough to admit that it was their concentration that let them down and the fact that they were playing a superior side.

Nevertheless there is no question that poor refereeing can influence a team’s morale on the field especially if they are being penalised for incorrect calls or subjective interpretations of the rules. In both games George Clancy and Pascal Gauzere were guilty of this. Pascal Gauzere called Leonardo Senatore’s charge down a knock-on and thus disallowed a brilliant and perfectly legitimate try by the Pumas. This coupled with him constantly penalizing Argentina at the breakdown and letting New Zealand completely off the hook, especially in the scrum where Argentina were clearly and legally superior, it is not surprising that a certain weariness and frustration set in amongst the Pumas leading to the critical lapses in concentration that ultimately lost them the game. If it is perceived by a team that there is a certain bias against them by the referee, it is inevitable that confusion and a lack of coherence in gameplay sets in. This is inexcusable in International Test Rugby where the margins for error are so small.

As for George Clancy and his controversial yellow card given to Bryan Habana the same applies. There is no question that South Africa played poorly based on a totally ineffective game plan given the conditions. However, given the fact that they are a big and physical side the contact nature of their game will always be rather intense. In this area they were much more noticeable and effective than Australia. However, despite completely legal albeit powerful tackling this style was perceived as foul play on several occasions by George Clancy. Teams should adopt their game plan to the conditions on the pitch not the style and perceptions of the referee. If this happens then sadly the team in question is playing at referee psychology and not focusing on the game at hand and the strategy required to win. It was obvious that this was affecting the Springboks on Saturday in Perth and in this area they deserve our empathy. Like I say it doesn’t detract from the fact that they ultimately threw a game they should have won, but having to deal with the constant discrepancies in George Clancy’s refereeing did not help their cause.

The International Rugby Board has to take a much more proactive role in training and disciplining referees. Rugby teams should be playing each other not the referee as well. Furthermore if we are to generate greater interest in our glorious game, newcomers will be put off by rules that seem to change from game to game. Consistency is the key here. One possible solution I saw put forward that I think has a great deal of merit is a challenge system like there is in professional tennis. Each team would be allowed to challenge a set number of referee calls per match. There would be a limit placed on these challenges, I would argue that no more than 1 per team per half, so a total of two per game per team. However if the crowd sees it on the replay on the big screen and the players know that it is a questionable call it would seem fair that a review much like the television match official ruling on tries would be appropriate. If we are to generate a level playing field for players and referees and the enjoyment of rugby’s devoted fans then surely something along these lines must be incorporated into the modern game.

The IRB says it is committed to simplifying the game and promoting fair and free running rugby – well then put your money where your mouth is gentlemen!


Rugby Championship 2014 – Excuse me, ref!

New Zealand vs Argentina
Final score – NZ 28/Arg 9

We will leave out the fact that the refereeing of this game was poor and discuss that later. It detracted from what was a solid contest and one in which the Pumas made the All Blacks work hard for 80 minutes. The only thing I will say on the refereeing is that the score was actually 28-14 (16 if the Pumas would have converted the try they were denied by the referee). In this day and age with the technology we have at our disposal, to disallow Leonardo Senatore’s try from a perfectly legitimate charge down of an All Black kick was scandalous and no doubt seriously affected the Pumas morale as they could legitimately feel that the referee was biased against them no matter how well they played.

However, as impressive as Argentina was they nevertheless were, as was expected, ultimately taught a lesson by the clinically superior All Blacks. As a spectator this was perhaps most evident when New Zealand scored their second try through Liam Messam. It was Argentina’s put in at the scrum and they, as for most of the game, comfortably won the scrum challenge and then for some reason lost concentration. The ball popped forward off an Argentine foot back into the hands of New Zealand, and into the lightning quick hands of scrum half Aaron Smith who demonstrated his awareness of how to create quick space and the end result was Liam Messam crashing across the white line. For me this sums up Argentina’s quintessential problem, it is a game of 80 minutes gentlemen at this level, and up against a side like New Zealand you can NEVER relax for a second. Nobody expected Argentina to win this game, including Argentina themselves; however you could see that they were shocked that they threw away a very credible performance against the world’s best side on such temporary lapses of concentration.

Nevertheless, despite this it was a good game in tough conditions. Once again though New Zealand demonstrated to the world what extraordinary depth they have in their team. Beauden Barrett was outstanding at 10, even though he struggled to convert New Zealand’s tries. This was resolved as New Zealand pulled another star fly half off the bench in the form of Colin Slade who promptly proceeded to make all his goal kicks. It is official, somewhere deep in the Southern Alps is a secret factory that produces world class number tens – look at the list for the current All Black selectors – Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade. The rest of the world doesn’t stand a chance.

Argentina are still to be credited however with putting in a big performance. They matched New Zealand up front in the scrums and in the lineouts. Their running game although not as visionary as New Zealand’s was still commendable and they never gave up. In weather that was less than ideal, Argentina continued to show that against the world’s best team they have come a VERY long way. Had they not been disallowed a perfectly acceptable try by the bizarre interpretation of the game’s rules by the referee then the actual score line would have been much closer. As New Zealand’s Richie McCaw pointed out after the match, New Zealand were made to work hard by a team that is on the cusp of something great – Australia take note!


Australia vs South Africa
Final score – Aus 24/SA 23

How best to describe this game? In my humble opinion a truly mediocre performance from the 2nd and 3rd best ranked teams in the world, which left many including yours truly wondering how they even hold these rankings in the first place. It was windy and wet in Perth and neither team played with any great degree of understanding of the conditions they were faced with, and quite frankly either team would have been lucky to get a result based on their style of play. There has been much discussion of the appalling refereeing provided by Irish referee George Clancy but as mentioned above this will be discussed later. Nevertheless it is inevitable that refereeing decisions are going to go against you from time to time but this is no excuse to throw games, and that is quite frankly what South Africa did against a poor Australian side that then proceeded to capitalise on a demoralised and weak South African team.

In short we did not witness a rugby spectacle from two of the world’s best sides. Instead we saw a collection of schoolboy rugby errors made all the more comical by weak refereeing. South Africa started strongly, with once again the undisputed star of the Springbok side at the moment, Cornal Hendricks on the wing scoring another superlative try out wide. Coach Heineke Meyer’s decision to start the experienced Morne Steyn at fly half seemed to pay dividends as he effortlessly slotted his kicks on goal and for the most part made sensible place kicking decisions. Australia looked competent but not overly exciting and Israel Folau’s defensive kicking at fullback into a swirling wind left much to be desired.

However at halftime, the scores were relatively even with it being 14-11 in the Springboks’ favour. Watching the dressing rooms at halftime for me was the key as to who was going to win this game. The Wallaby dressing room looked pensive and calm, whereas I was appalled to see South African coach Heineke Meyer gesticulating wildly like some demented Jack in the Box to his charges urging them to lob the ball high for the team to chase. Given the wild, swirling and unpredictable windy conditions in Perth, this was pure madness! Sure enough rather than use their common sense, the Springboks decided to take their coach’s advice and seemed surprised that kick after kick either went out on the full, or didn’t make touch and landed comfortably in the arms of a rushing Wallaby pack, causing endless knock-ons and scenes reminiscent of a volleyball match rather than a rugby game.

Add to this the fact that Morne Steyn’s game deteriorated dramatically in the second half, and the writing was on the wall for the Springboks. Although they initially pulled ahead – the last twenty minutes saw the Springboks make some staggeringly basic errors. The Wallabies didn’t play well they -just simply capitalised on mistake after mistake made by the Springboks, namely through a reliance on a kicking game in conditions that were completely unsuitable for such an approach. There has been regular criticism in the South African press of the Springboks kicking away perfectly good possession and this was to be seen to the full in Perth. Australia did have moments of brilliance, especially once Israel Folau got to link up with his Waratahs’ teammate Kurtley Beale who for this game was sensibly called off the bench to play in the position that best suits him of centre.

There is no question that the sin binning of Bryan Habana for an alleged high tackle by referee George Clancy with just over ten minutes left in the game, had a huge impact. This was made worse by the fact that the assistant referee urged Clancy to not give Habana a yellow card as it was only a penalty and not a card offence. However Clancy decided to ignore the view of his assistant referee who had been right on the spot when the offence occurred. The replay clearly showed there had been no intent in the tackle and it was an unfortunate accident in the run of play. As unfortunate as this was and given the inconsistency in refereeing as the exact same tackle had been made on Jean de Villiers ten minutes earlier by a Wallaby player with no mention, South Africa still had no reason to cite this as the reason they lost the game. They have beaten better sides with close score lines and ten minutes to go with 14 men in the past. Instead, they played poorly made terrible decisions and ultimately paid the price of seeing Australia cross the white line at the last gasp and Bernard Foley get the conversion to ensure that Australia took the spoils.

In the end Australia squeaked home the victors but it wasn’t convincing. South Africa did take some positives from the game, their scrum and lineouts finally seemed to repair themselves though I can’t help feeling that this was only due to the fact that they were up against inferior opposition, but to be honest that’s about it. Even star fullback Willie le Roux couldn’t seem to make head nor tail of the wind and as a result spent much of the game making wild kicks and positioning himself poorly in relation to the ball. As for Australia, they made much of their victory but I for one am not convinced. Both teams head into this weekend with serious concerns. If the Springboks play like they have in these first three outings I fear they will be slaughtered by a rampant All Black side brimming with confidence and talent. Australia have too many question marks to be able to face up to a Pumas side that is on the brink of greatness. Both Ewen McKenzie and Heineke Meyer as coaches of the two most lacklustre sides in the competition have an enormous amount of work to do in the coming week.


Fixtures this weekend

New Zealand vs South Africa – Wellington

Based on South Africa’s performance to date, one can’t help get the feeling that this will be an unpleasant outing for the Springboks. Rain and wind are predicted and if Heineke Meyer fails to learn the error of his game plan from similar conditions last week in Perth and once more insists on kicking away good possession, then the All Blacks will run rings around the Springboks.

However, here is the conundrum – as awful as South Africa are at the moment this is one fixture which they somehow manage to always rise to. The fact that it is one of International Rugby’s great rivalries seems to somehow cause the Springboks to find that something extra in their game. Therefore I doubt it will be the rout that many are predicting.

Nevertheless there are concerns. Given the magnitude of the task facing them and the sheer quality of the opposition, I was once again amazed to see that Meyer has selected Handre Pollard as the starting fly-half. The youngster somehow seems to have a special place in Heineke Meyer’s heart, but as I questioned Meyer’s game plan last week, once again I question his wisdom this week. Morne Steyn is not even on the bench and while I agree he had a shocker of a game last weekend in Perth, he is still a proven quantity. All good players have off days, and I would put last weekend’s performance by Steyn as a case in point. A Springbok/All Black clash is about as intense as International rugby gets and is not the place for an inexperienced fly half such as Pollard to cut his teeth, especially when he has failed to impress in his previous two Test outings in the competition. Furthermore, in place of Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie has his first go on the bench as the replacement fly half. Lambie is a quality fly half but as witnessed in the Super Rugby quarter final in New Zealand this year, still lacks big match temperament and calmness and therefore I would argue is a liability.

New Zealand is having no such problems as they see the return of the spectacular Aaron Cruden at Number 10. They are fielding a completely proven side against South Africa, including the bench, and there is no doubt that on paper and at home they will unequivocally be the favourites for this fixture. Like South Africa they will be fired up and passions will run high for this one, but in addition to the passion unlike South Africa they have the skill level to match up to it.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised, and have the chance to watch a thrilling and tight encounter between the two best sides in the world but I am not betting on it. I sadly fear that the match will very much show us how far ahead New Zealand is and how quickly South Africa is starting to slide down the global rugby order. Let’s hope that South Africa finally use this fixture to show the world that they are still a rugby force to be reckoned with and contenders for the Webb Ellis Trophy next year.

Australia vs Argentina – Brisbane

As a closet Pumas supporter I like many people am really looking forward to this game and ultimately think it is the most exciting prospect of the weekend. Australia have so far failed to impress whilst Argentina are building momentum with every match in this tournament. Most people are convinced that their first ever win in this Championship is on the cards this year and Australia are unquestionably the target. The key question is can Argentina remain completely focused for the full 80 minutes and not let up in their concentration and intensity?

If they can do this then I am sure this game is theirs. They have run South Africa close and could have won both games as well as making the world’s best team the All Blacks work extremely hard for 80 minutes. The Pumas are motivated, focused and hungry for a win. Australia know this and will bring their A game to Brisbane on Saturday. The Wallabies will not want to go down in history as the side that gave Argentina their first win in the competition especially as they will then have to face Argentina again at home.

However, with the exception of the backline, Argentina on paper outclasses Australia in all areas of the game. It is how Australia uses its devastating backline and the phenomenal Israel Folau that will determine who walks away with the prize on Saturday in Brisbane. Argentina will dominate them in the scrums and at the breakdown and Nicolas Sanchez at fly half is easily the equal of Bernard Foley and many would argue a much more enterprising player. Argentina’s centres are quality and their wings and fullback are a force to be reckoned with. They may not have quite the pace of Australia’s backline but if they get good quick ball from the forwards and good service from Argentina’s halfbacks then they can contain the danger posed by Israel Folau. The difference for me is that Argentina is a complete team, whereas Australia has brilliant superstars but who lack the ability to play well as a team. This I think will be the key that separates the two on Saturday.

In that regard I think that Argentina may just have the edge if they last the full 80 minutes and as a result I am putting my bet on the Pumas, not by much but a narrow win by one or two points. For this match at least we are fortunate in having one of the better referees available at the moment and this should prove to be a cracker!

Rugby Championship 2014 – Round 3 preview

Fixtures this weekend

New Zealand vs Argentina – Napier

While, there is little doubt that New Zealand are the favourites to walk away with a win from this match and easily take first place in the competition standings, it won’t be done without considerable effort and Argentina will cause problems for the All Blacks especially through their outstanding forward pack. The days where the All Blacks could write off a match against the Pumas as a training match are long gone. Furthermore, despite the anomaly of the Pumas being winless so far in the competition, this Pumas side and Daniel Hourcade’s coaching style have seriously impressed their opposition. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have all remarked on the talent in the Pumas current lineup and Argentina has earned some serious respect from the “Big Three”.

So what’s likely to happen in Napier on Saturday? Firstly the weather does not look to be too kind and although not on the biblical proportions of Pretoria, will nevertheless slow down the ball and make running it less of an option. This provides Argentina an excellent opportunity to take on the All Blacks up front. If they can maintain constant pressure on the All Blacks at the breakdown which they have shown they are more than capable of doing, shut down the opportunities for New Zealand out wide and generally keep the ball in tight with their forwards given the potentially slippery ground – they will find gaps in the All Blacks’ defence. This will both rattle and irritate New Zealand to the point where they will start giving away penalties, as we have seen so many times before, especially now as referees have key All Black players like Richie McCaw on their radar.

While I cannot see Argentina winning the game, a strong showing by them against the best team in the world will be a massive confidence booster going into the next round against a questionable Australian outfit, especially up front. Therefore, I think Argentina’s expectations of this game are not necessarily to win but to really make the All Blacks uncomfortable and run them close, gaining the Pumas even more respect.

New Zealand are unlikely to underestimate the quality of this Pumas side, as they have tended to do in the past. In the last three years, there have been periods of serious discomfort for the All Blacks during this fixture in the Championship. Ironically Argentina seems to play better against the All Blacks in New Zealand than they do at home. New Zealand will also not be fielding the same team that annihilated Australia two weeks ago. Aaron Cruden will not participate in this game due to injury and is ably replaced by Beauden Barrett at fly half.   However as impressive as Barrett can be, he certainly has an equal in Nicolas Sanchez of Argentina. It will be the battle of the fly halves and the forwards that will determine this game, especially given the forecast wet weather. New Zealand’s experience ultimately will still probably win the day, but they are definitely going to have to work for it. In short a fascinating fixture awaits us.

Australia vs South Africa – Perth

It’s interesting that in many ways this is the game that will really determine where everyone stands in the Rugby Championship at the halfway point in the tournament.   Unless Argentina pulls off a miracle in Napier then sadly despite being one of the most impressive teams, they sadly do not have the results that reflect their performance on the field. Of the four teams, the only two that have put in impressive performances have been Argentina and New Zealand – in the case of New Zealand this was only in the second game and both of Argentina’s games were outstanding but without the sought after result. So at this stage the question is whose scalp is Argentina going to take on their first ever win? Meanwhile New Zealand seems to be settling into invincible mode.

That leaves us with the two contenders in this fixture who so far have singularly failed to impress their fans and critics. South Africa have been for the most part woeful, despite clawing out two lacklustre victories at the last minute, while Australia benefitted from an off-form New Zealand in their first game, only to be subsequently made a laughing stock by the All Blacks the following week.

There has been much talk in the South African and Australian press in the last two weeks about lessons learned and how both sides are brimming with potential that is just not being fully utilised. The coaching staff have been well and truly put under the microscope in both countries, especially in South Africa where many are questioning Heineke Meyer’s so called game plan or as many believe lack of one.

As a result in many ways this weekend’s game between South Africa and Australia is of enormous importance to both sides’ morale and confidence, as well as showing the world where these two teams stand in the global pecking order.

Australia know if they falter then the Pumas will arrive next weekend smelling victory and opportunities to be had, while South Africa know that if they don’t put a decent score line between them and the Wallabies they too will suffer horrifically at the hands of the All Blacks in New Zealand a week later. Therefore for both sides a simple win by a few points will simply not be good enough – an all-out barnstorming victory with a 15 to 20 point difference in the score line is the only option, and one which their fans will expect.

The changes to the Springbok side, and Heineke Meyer realising the futility of recent experimentation, sees a more settled Springbok side with considerably more experience running onto the field in Perth. Most Springbok supporters are breathing a great sigh of relief to see Morne Steyn starting at 10. The forward pack looks more settled as well, with a good balance of youth and experience, though like most people I am surprised at the willingness to try and reinvent Victor Matfield’s career. As great a player as he was I am not really sure he has another World Cup in him at his age. South Africa need to get their younger players the game time and experience they need for next year’s rugby showpiece. Although Meyer has tried to do this in the past two games, his choices were inappropriate given the intensity of this tournament. It would have made more sense to blood some of these younger and less experienced players on the European tour in November, where the intensity of matches is there but not the level of competition coupled with the public’s expectations of the Rugby Championship.

On paper these are essentially two completely equal sides, and as a result it will be almost impossible to call. Australia still have issues in the forward department, but then so do South Africa and this weekend will show which of the two has done their homework better. Like Meyer, Australian coach Ewen Mckenzie has realized the error of his ways in trying unproven halfback combinations and this match sees the out of place Kurtley Beale sitting on the bench as opposed to starting at number 10. As for the backs, once again Australia’s back three are the equal of their South African counterparts – it will just come down to which team plays a complete 15 man game on Saturday and does so for the full 80 minutes.

Canadian Rugby Roundup

This week we take a quick look at Canada’s fixtures in Europe this autumn. I was surprised to see many citing these fixtures as excellent preparation for Canada’s campaign in next year’s Rugby World Cup. I for one, although not denying the value of the games, can’t help being disappointed at the quality of the opposition we are up against.

So who do we have to test our spurs against over a four week period? Samoa, Namibia and Romania. Of these three I would argue the only real test will be Samoa as a judge of where we stand in our preparation for next year’s World Cup. This is not to devalue the importance of the games against Namibia and Romania or to show any disrespect to the rugby played by these two countries, especially as Romania will be in our pool at next year’s World Cup. However, if Canada is to compete and hold its head high amongst the world’s best next year then we need some more quality opposition. I was very disheartened to see that we are not playing any of the Six Nations or Rugby Championship countries. The fact that we are not playing any of our major pool opponents, France, Italy or Ireland is inexcusable. Although I am sure the considerable financial opportunities available to the US Rugby Union helped to facilitate the All Blacks playing the USA in Chicago as the All Blacks make their way to Europe in October – could we not have had a similar match up against Australia in Vancouver as they make their way to Europe? I still hold to my point last week that Canada should be striving to play a country like Argentina once a year. I am still convinced that the story of Argentina has many lessons for Canada. Argentina ten years ago is where Canada is now and look how far the Pumas have come in ten years and the respect they are given by the big rugby nations of Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

I am sure that in the professional era, it is all sponsors and bums on seats that decides who gets to play who, but surely Canada is enough of a pull to get at least one game against one of the Six Nations countries. It is my hope that Rugby Canada takes this on board and somehow ensures that at least in June next year, Canada gets to play one of the top ten nations both at home and away. Without this kind of exposure it is unlikely that we will cause any big upsets next year at the World Cup which is sad given the talent we have, and the recent spectacular Canadian performance and success at the Women’s World Cup. Rugby Canada has some serious homework to do between now and September 2015.

A Role Model for Canadian Rugby

After the excitement of the Womens’ World Cup and Canada’s outstanding effort, it has been a quiet week and not much to report. However after watching the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship, it left me with food for thought on how we might find a role model for Canada’s own development of its national side.

So let me throw this out there if Rugby Canada might read this. On watching Argentina’s performance in the Rugby Championship I would dare to suggest that this is a country that Canada could use as a role model in how to develop the national team into a top quality side capable of holding their own against the world’s best.

You may be surprised at this but let’s look at the similarities between the game in Argentina and Canada of which there are many.

In both countries rugby is a minority sport, which cannot hope to compete with the primary national sporting passions – in Argentina it is football and in Canada it is hockey. However, both countries are hugely patriotic and any sporting spectacle on the international stage which allows a Canadian or Argentinian jersey to be shown to the world automatically generates fierce and passionate interest across the country. In the case of rugby this is arguably stronger in Argentina but this is more due to the growing successes of the national team. Recall the giant screens in Buenos Aires that aired the Pumas semi-final match in the 2007 World Cup which saw them finish third in the tournament, and the resulting celebrations throughout the country on Argentina’s victory in the bronze medal match. I for one believe that if Canada ever reached a similar position at the World Cup the same interest and enthusiasm would be seen. Let’s face it, we are a nation of big people who love fast contact sports – we were custom built for rugby. There is no doubt that when played well at the International level rugby is a sport well suited to igniting national passions and huge interest. It is worth noting that the third most watched sporting event on television throughout the world, after the Olympics and the Football World Cup, is the Rugby World Cup – and the 2015 Championship looks set to continue this trend.

In both Argentina and Canada there is a very small domestic playing base and competition structure, centred on one or two key geographic areas. In Argentina it is the winelands and Buenos Aires whereas in Canada, British Columbia is undoubtedly the heartland of the sport. In Canada, the sport is an amateur code, which for the most part is also true in Argentina at the domestic level. The essential difference is that the Argentinian union has been highly effective in getting its players exposure to European top level clubs and helping them secure lucrative professional contracts overseas. In the last ten years all the top European professional clubs have at least two or three Argentinian players in their squads, often in their starting XVs on any match day. In the case of French rugby these percentages are even higher. The benefit of this regular exposure to top level rugby week in week out throughout the European season has been instrumental in contributing to Argentina’s continuous improvements as a national side. Argentina’s inclusion since 2012 in the Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere’s premier annual international tournament has been a further boost to developing a national side that can compete with the world’s best.

The Argentinian Rugby Union has recognised that in order to capture the imagination of the public at home and generate a greater interest in the sport, developing a national squad that can gain international recognition and success is key. Although, national unions should always strive to develop the game domestically, you still need an attractive product and something that players can aspire to. As Argentina’s stature at the international level continues to increase so too will interest by professional European clubs in Argentinian players. This in turn will expand the domestic playing base and number of players available for local and club teams in Argentina as these players are attracted to the game and the possibility of gaining valuable and lucrative experience in Europe and the ultimate prize of representing Argentina at the international level.

Canada could do the same, as well as learning from Argentina’s experience and approach to the development of their national team. To further this process if time and funding permitted a regular annual international fixture between Argentina and Canada could be held. Although Canada participates in the annual Pacific Rim Competition the countries it plays against in this tournament are not quite of the same calibre as Argentina.

The fact that Argentina has managed to become such a success in international rugby is no small feat given its relative geographic isolation from the rest of the rugby world, its small domestic playing base and national obsession almost to the point of religious devotion with football. Canada is in a very similar position and could learn a great deal from the Argentinian experience, and ultimately replicate its success. It will take time and Argentina’s success has been 20 years in the making but the rewards and results are there for all of us to see. So from the Pampas to the Prairies let’s get to know our rugby that much better!

Rugby Championship 2014 – Round two

New Zealand vs Australia
Final score – NZ 51/Aus 20

By now most of us will have recovered our breath from what was an absolutely stunning All Black performance at the expense of the Wallabies. As I mentioned in last week’s edition, I felt that the All Blacks would be the more effective team in learning the lessons that needed to be learnt from the previous encounter in Sydney. I was not proved wrong. Whatever failings New Zealand may have had in Sydney, they were completely absent from the team’s display in Auckland. Australia on the other hand were poor and if anything regressed from their efforts in Sydney. In short they were annihilated by a dynamic All Black team who demonstrated their mastery of every aspect of the game.

There were some positives for Australia but they were few and far between. Michael Hooper’s individual try was inspirational even though it was more of a consolation than the impetus needed to spark Australia into life. Matt Toomua at 12 was also exciting to watch and could have done so much more had he had the support he needed from the rest of his teammates. Australia’s scrum also held up relatively well, though watching the Pumas’ utter dominance of the Springboks’ forward pack, Coach Ewen McKenzie must be feeling quite terrified at the prospect of his two encounters with the Pumas. It appears that McKenzie has perhaps realized the error of his ways by substituting Bernard Foley in for Kurtley Beale at fly half during the second half – a decision that should never have had to been made in the first place.

So where to begin with New Zealand and the master class display of the tournament so far? New Zealand answered every single question put to them by their critics last weekend and showed the world once again that they are still the benchmark team to beat. Although it was a complete team performance, there were so many players who had individual performances that deserve special mention. For me there were four displays that really stood out. Brodie Retallick at number 4 was the stuff of legends. The gigantic lock was utterly devastating and despite his size showed the pace and speed of a winger at times as he smashed through the Australian defences creating huge gaps and spaces for New Zealand’s backs. Aaron Smith the feisty scrum half was always right behind him making sure that the opportunities Retallick kept creating provided quick ball for New Zealand’s backline, causing Australia to look disorganised and frayed in their defence and constantly having to play catch up. In the lineout Retallick and Whitelock denied their Australian counterparts any decent ball, and these two skyscrapers made the lineout a weak option for Australia. Australia’s shouted lineout commands looked more like calls to avoid throwing the ball to Retallick or Whitelock rather than calls for plays from the coaching playbook.

At fly half, Aaron Cruden was probably the player of the weekend. With the exception of Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez, Cruden showed the other teams what they are lacking in this position. Going into this tournament there was much talk of New Zealand not having the legendary Dan Carter at Number 10 at least for the initial games. Aaron Cruden has proved that he is more than capable of stepping into Carter’s shoes and in many ways with each game is proving himself to be Carter’s equal. Cruden is intelligent enough to know that he perhaps does not have Carter’s kicking game, and also knows his opposition well enough to realize when to use the boot and when not to. Cruden plays his position differently to Dan Carter and relies more on his blistering pace and skill with ball in hand. Cruden consistently saw holes in Australia’s defence and was into them like a shot, which then released the rest of New Zealand’s backline who thrived on running the ball out wide. Indeed New Zealand’s ball handling and passing skills in Auckland this weekend were mesmerising to watch. Cruden’s kicking for goal was faultless and in that area he is comfortably Dan Carter’s equal if not better.

Julian Savea on the wing provided us with thrilling displays of his running skills and made several long deep cuts down the outside into Australian territory, ultimately resulting in one of the best tries of the game. Also impressive in defence, Savea showed his pace and why he is regarded as such a threat by opposition defences.

Lastly, although substituted midway through the second half, for the impressive Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett showed once more what depth New Zealand have especially at Number 10. Barrett, just like Cruden, covered huge areas of the park and was everywhere, and his try saving tackle on Israel Folau was undoubtedly one of the best plays of the match.

In short New Zealand were breathtaking. They are on a roll now and having put their opening jitters well and truly to rest, will only get better with each successive game. As a result I can’t help feeling that the tournament is already decided. New Zealand will take the spoils, and the Rugby Championship in terms of a competition will revert to its old Tri Nations format – the Tri this time being Argentina, Australia and South Africa with New Zealand simply using their games against these three countries as warmup matches for the World Cup next year.

As an aside to this match, French referee Romain Poite’s handling of the game should also be mentioned in honorable dispatches. There had been much controversy surrounding South African referee Jaco Peyper’s officiating of this fixture the week before. Romain Poite however was consistent and solid in his management of the game, allowing for a fast flowing and open game with minimal delays particularly around the scrums. He was fair and showed no favouritism and the yellow card that New Zealand’s Richie McCaw received was totally justifiable with even the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen supporting Poite’s decision in the post-game commentary. Poite was superb in explaining his calls to the players and this was reflected in a notable absence of backchat to the referee which we see sadly all too often after the referee’s whistle has blown.


Argentina vs South Africa
Final score – Arg 31/SA 33

The press correctly predicted an epic struggle and that is precisely what we got in this “scorcher in Salta”. This game was equally as exciting as the one in Auckland and I like many was gutted that Argentina could not ultimately walk away with the spoils. The Pumas’ bugbear of not being able to close out big games like this came back to haunt them in the last 15 minutes of a game that on paper they should have won.

Argentina for the first three quarters of the game completely outclassed the Springboks and provided us with an exciting, disciplined and highly focused demonstration of how to play rugby. The Pumas front three obliterated their South African counterparts at scrum time – South Africa simply had no answers. Nicolas Sanchez at fly half and the two scrum halves, Landajo and Cubelli were far superior to Ruan Pienaar and the woeful Handre Pollard and it was only with the long overdue calling up from the bench of Morne Steyn to the Number 10 position that South Africa finally started to front up to Argentina in this area. At centre Juan Hernandez once more showed his world class pedigree along with the always reliable Marcelo Bosch at the expense of South Africa’s Jean De Villiers and De Allende (De Allende was more like the invisible man for much of the match – Mr. Meyer please take note in future selections). Lastly although Habana and Hendricks did impress for South Africa and it was Hendricks try which ultimately swung the match back in the Springboks favour; Argentina’s back three were a revelation. Pablo Matero was fast and strong on the wing along with Amorosino and Tuculet at fullback was the player of the weekend in this position. South Africa’s fullback, the very impressive Willie le Roux had a good game but without the support of the rest of his pack, which Tuculet had in bucket loads he was just not as electric as his Argentinian counterpart and was left to scramble back in defence more than he obviously would have liked.

Despite Argentina’s stellar display of rugby, they once again couldn’t manage to keep it up for the full 80 minutes despite an impressive late surge in the dying minutes of the game. At the hour mark, the game looked sewn up for Argentina with a spread of more than ten points. However it was here as I have seen so often in the Pumas game, they perhaps become slightly relaxed and a five minute lapse in intensity and concentration allowed Cornal Hendricks to burst through and score out wide. There is no doubt that this was the turning point in the game. Some long overdue replacements off the bench by Meyer added new confidence and motivation to a brow beaten Springbok side. The always reliable Morne Steyn guided his troops back into finding the right spaces in a slightly tired looking Pumas defence. Argentina managed to regain their composure in the last few minutes of the game as they too were galvanised by a massive penalty kick from far out by Marcelo Bosch against the wind. The last two nail biting minutes saw Argentina once again regain momentum through their forwards but a momentary lapse in discipline close to the South African line saw the ball back in South African hands followed by the last blast of referee Steve Walsh’s whistle. The faces of the Pumas players said it all. So agonisingly close yet so painfully far. However, they can take heart in giving us a thrilling spectacle. If they can take the lessons to be learnt from these two games and hopefully not be too disheartened by the schooling they are likely to receive next from the All Blacks, I still believe that if they maintain their current momentum, a win either away or at home against Australia is still not beyond the realms of possibility.

As for South Africa, quite simply for the majority of the game they were poor, not helped by the fact that Argentina really were that good. Coach Heineke Meyer going up against Australia next has some SERIOUS work to do. This is not a world beating Springbok side and they are likely in for a massive thrashing both home and away to the All Blacks. They may fare better against the Wallabies but even there I am not holding my breath. At the moment South Africa lacks serious cohesion in their squad and are tending to look to players who I for one think are past their prime. The DuPlessis, De Villiers, Habanas, Bothas and Matfields are experienced players but far from the peak of their skill and fitness levels. The new crop of players that Meyer seems to be favouring have so far failed to impress me. Pollard at Fly Half simply is not suited to this kind of intensity of rugby. The supposed find of the year De Allende at centre was nowhere to be seen in Argentina; in total I think he carried the ball once. Even the potentially brilliant le Roux at fullback seems to be struggling to find his pace in a disjointed and at times dysfunctional side. The fact that Meyer did not start Morne Steyn at fly half in this game given what was at stake has left many South Africans scratching their heads in bewilderment. Meyer seemed to recognize the error of his ways in the last quarter of the game and his use of the bench reflected this as the substitutions he made changed the game completely. However we cannot help but wonder if these substitution players had started the game how much more different in character the game would have been.

I will grudgingly admit that the Springboks showed character in digging in and coming back from an almost hopeless position in the last quarter of the game. Ultimately they were the victors but far from convincingly. I hold to my opinion that Heineke Meyer is not the man to take them to the World Cup next year, but with a year to go it is too late to change the coach now. The Springboks and South African management as a result will have to work exceptionally hard over the next year to convince the rest of the world that this is a rugby nation that has lifted the Webb Ellis trophy twice and has the potential to do so again. Right now the jury is out.

In conclusion, South Africa bizarrely head into the next round of the competition with two wins to their belt and thus sit at the top of the table in the tournament, while Argentina sits at the bottom of the table despite having outplayed South Africa twice and having been much more impressive than third placed Australia – the vagaries of mathematics I guess. If South Africa has learned anything from the last two weeks, it is that they have found their “problem opponents”. The big three Southern Hemisphere nations each seem to have a team that they struggle with especially at the World Cup – for New Zealand it is France, for the Australians it seems to be Ireland and for South Africa we have seen in the last three years it is unquestionably Argentina, making these fixtures ones to always look forward to.

Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 – The final

Although the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup didn’t quite produce the spectacle and sense of elation from a Canadian perspective that last weekend’s game did, a huge step forward was taken by a very courageous and talented Canadian women’s team at Sunday’s final.

England emerged victorious 21-9 and lifted the trophy but Canada was by no means a pushover.  England were devastatingly effective in denying Canada quick ball, knowing that if Canada’s backline were given room to run there would be no stopping them. Ultimately it comes down to planning and knowing your opponent and denying them their strengths. In this the English women’s team gave all of us a lesson in how to prepare for a World Cup final and come out the winners.

Canada can still feel proud of their second place finish and how they lit up the tournament at times with some breathtaking displays of rugby. This was recognised by Canada’s winger Magali Harvey being voted Women’s Player of the Year by the IRB, with Canada’s Captain Kelly Russell also getting favourable mention.

As Canadians we should all feel proud of the efforts of this remarkable and inspirational group of women, and I hope that the enthusiasm for the game of rugby in general that this tournament generated as well as interest in our Women’s and Men’s teams will only continue to grow and result in more success in the future.

Rugby Championship 2014 – opening rounds

Australia vs New Zealand:  Final Score – Aus 12/NZ 12

As mentioned above the weather dominated both initial rounds of the Rugby Championship this past weekend, and although conditions in Sydney were not as horrendous as in Pretoria, they nevertheless played a significant part in reducing the spectacle that so many felt this game had the potential to offer.  That the match ended in a draw and given the fact that Australia played a good second half in which they had the majority of possession, alarm bells will be ringing for Australian management despite the weather conditions. I was surprised to see how well the Australian forward pack, which has been a serious Achilles heel for them in the last few years, held up against a tried and tested All Black forward pack. It will certainly be something to build on for this weekend’s clash in Auckland, and provided they can sort out the halfback issues could make this Australian side one to be reckoned with. They certainly have youth and talent on their side and are growing in confidence and experience with every outing.

My scepticism over choosing Kurtley Beale at number 10 was not removed during the course of the game and I was amazed to see that the Wallabies management has kept him in this crucial position in what will be much more challenging game this weekend.

New Zealand on the other hand finally had their winning streak broken, but still remain undefeated in a record 18 matches. However, they hardly looked the finished product despite the weather. South African referee Jaco Peyper was criticised for some questionable blows of the whistle and I agree that this reflects his lack of experience at this level of intensity of Test Rugby. Nevertheless he was particularly vigilant around the areas where New Zealand likes to play the game to the limits of the law. The result was New Zealand gave away far more penalties than they usually get, especially when under pressure. Richie McCaw was notable in getting extra attention from the officials at the ruck and breakdowns. Although many in New Zealand felt this was unwarranted I felt it is long overdue and also exposed several weaknesses in the New Zealand game plan. As I said in last week’s issue, New Zealand are no longer the all-conquering side of last year, and put them under sustained pressure and they start to lack discipline and their decision making starts to weaken. The All Blacks side on display in Sydney was not the composed team of 2013 who were able to stay calm and keep their patience till the right opportunities became available. New Zealand’s defence under an increasingly relentless Australian attack started to look frayed and tired in the last twenty minutes of the game.

Still at the end of the day, Australia failed to finish off New Zealand and take the win and thus the All Blacks still remain the team to beat not just in this competition but on any stage in the global game. Australia will have to work on their finishing and the All Blacks at home will have to find that missing ingredient to reward the belief that a home crowd expects them to honor.

South Africa vs Argentina: Final score – SA 13/Arg 6

In a game marred by apocalyptic weather of biblical proportions which in turn made the pitch almost reminiscent of a water polo field than a rugby ground, South Africa received yet another wakeup call from a very impressive Argentinian side.  As mentioned above the weather was truly atrocious featuring hail and a downpour that forced many of the determined spectators looking for the nearest ark and all but the most hardy to eventually leave the stands and seek shelter. Despite this we witnessed a thrilling encounter at times and one which although the Springboks won, I would argue showcased the talent and skills of the Pumas much more.

South Africa struggled at times and I for one do not accept that it was down to the weather messing up their plans. If that is the case then they might as well not bother showing up for games this November in Europe and ultimately the World Cup in England next year. Argentina created far more opportunities than the Springboks and if it were not for conditions making for near impossible ball handling at times, the score line would very much have been in the Pumas favour. Nicolas Sanchez at Number 10 was simply outstanding and showed the other three teams what they were lacking in this crucial halfback position – the man was quite simply everywhere on the pitch and making excellent decisions to boot.  The Argentinian forward pack completely outplayed their South African counterparts and despite the conditions managed unlike the Springboks to consistently maintain their footing and overpower the vaunted front row of the Boks. Sorry Heineke Meyer there is no excuse for that especially given the depth of experience in South Africa’s front three. Argentina showed their ability to adapt to the atrocious conditions whereas South Africa looked frustrated throughout the entire 80 minutes and looked surprised every time they kicked away possession to the hungry Argentinian backs who consistently punched huge holes in the South African defence despite the slippery surface.

South Africa have huge experience in their squad and should have been able to mold their game plan to the situation they were faced with. Yes there were brief flashes of brilliance, the one try that was scored through the increasingly impressive Cornal Hendricks linking up with Ruan Pienaar, showed their pedigree and ultimately clinched the game, but for the rest of the game it was sadly absent.

In contrast it was the Pumas who were the exciting and inspirational team to watch – which to be honest they so often are even if this is not translated into a winning record.

In short, an uninspiring South African victory set against an impressive Argentinian display which will only add enormous confidence and motivation to the Pumas when they take on the Springboks in much more favourable conditions in Argentina in front of a passionate and vocal home crowd.

Fixtures this weekend

New Zealand vs Australia – Auckland

This hopefully will be the cracker everyone predicted last weekend, provided the weather holds which in New Zealand at this time of the year is never a certainty. However if we do get a dry ground, then this will probably be one of if not THE game of the tournament.

After last weekend both teams have everything to prove. For the All Blacks in front of a home crowd it is proof that last weekend was a mere hiccough, while for Australia it is that the All Blacks are vulnerable and Australia is on the rise at the expense of their Tasman Strait rivals.

As mentioned in the analysis of the game, I am amazed that the Wallaby coaching staff have chosen to stick with Kurtley Beale at Number 10, instead of the much more reliable Bernard Foley. The All Blacks will be missing Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu and no doubt this will have an influence, however there is still so much depth in New Zealand’s reserves, Australia are unlikely to take comfort from this. Although many are predicting a narrow Australian win for the first time at Eden Park for a very long time, I still think at home the All Blacks will ultimately come out on top and be slightly better and more clinical in learning the lessons both teams needed to learn after this weekend.

Argentina vs South Africa – Salta

I can’t help feeling that this fixture is of equal stature and significance to the one taking place in Auckland this weekend and also offers potential excitement by the bucket load.  We have a Springbok team that has everything to prove to their critics and a Pumas side that is brimming with confidence and the motivation to give their passionate supporters something to cheer

With a dry and fast ground for running rugby and two teams with strong running backlines this could be a potentially thrilling encounter. South Africa will have to find a way of countering last weekend’s dominance of forward play by the Argentinians as well as being much quicker at the breakdown. These were two areas that Argentina were exemplary in last weekend and even with the inclusion of Juan Smith in the Springbok forward pack this weekend, I still see Argentina overpowering South Africa in this area. In addition I think Argentina still boasts on the basis of form a stronger halfback pairing than South Africa, especially given Nicolas Sanchez’s current form. The one area where South Africa can outpace the Pumas is in the backs. Although I was not overly impressed with newcomer De Allende for South Africa, De Villiers, Habana, Hendricks and Le Roux are electric. Argentina has fast and talented backs but overall they lack the experience and game vision of South Africa’s backs. They will be competitive no doubt about it, but given the right ball South Africa’s backline should have the edge. That however all depends on South Africa’s forwards and halfbacks being able to deliver it and you can be sure that Argentina will be very effective in denying them this.

Therefore I think, although both of this weekend’s games will be hard to call, this one in particular is a conundrum. I am going to stick my neck out and say that Argentina might just take this one. If South African coach Heineke Meyer loses his cool under the significant pressure the Pumas are going to put on his charges, then it is possible that we will start to see panic in the Boks decision making. Once that happens they are ripe for the taking and this Pumas side are beyond eager to prove to the world that they deserve their place in rugby’s top echelons.

Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014

A HUGE congratulations to Canada’s Women’s Rugby team on beating the French in Paris in front of a very vocal French crowd and qualifying for the final against England on Saturday. The Men’s team should take note. Canada were electric against the French and this is one very talented, highly disciplined and motivated group.

England however will be hard to beat, but Canada have the advantage of already having played them and holding them to an impressive draw in the pool stages. If Canada stay focused and keep their discipline and grind England down at the breakdown then it is highly probable that they could walk away with the spoils, especially if the ball lands in the hands of their turbocharged back three.

Having watched some of Canada’s games in the Women’s World Cup, I would like to salute the Women’s team on being a great advertisement for the game in this country. Canada plays a very fast and expansive game and some of their performances in the tournament have been quite breathtaking.

This is exciting rugby to watch and one can only hope it serves to showpiece the exciting potential of the game in Canada. I am also delighted to see that the final is getting full prime time coverage on television on TSN2. So make sure you take time to cheer on our ladies on Sunday!

Rugby Championship 2014 – let the games begin!

Australia vs New Zealand – Sydney

There is no doubt that this is the game of the weekend. After a dismal season last year that only got better at the last gasp on their European tour, Australia are finally, under coach Ewen McKenzie, starting to look like a serious contender for the Webb Ellis trophy next year in England. There is often talk of a side starting to click at just the right time leading into the World Cup. In Australia’s case this definitely seems to be true. With Australian sides doing exceptionally well in this year’s Super Rugby competition, and a clinical demolition of a disorganised, fractious and weary French side in June, the omens look good for Australia. With Australia boasting one of the quickest and most exciting backlines out there at the moment, if New Zealand give away possession they could potentially pay dearly for it.

However it’s not all roses for Australia, as the one problem they are faced with is the continuing lack of a dominant forward pack to liberate their backline geniuses. It seemed that this problem had been addressed through the talent available in the recent Super Rugby competition. However the brutal and gruelling nature of this competition has left too many injuries for Australia to really be able to take on New Zealand and South Africa up front, and therefore the Australian scrum goes into the competition slightly untested and looking rather vulnerable. If Australia cannot compete up front against New Zealand then their woes will only get worse when they come to face the powerhouse forward packs of South Africa and Argentina.

Lastly the decision to play Kurtley Beale at fly-half is another one of those coaching decisions that we see so often in Test Rugby that seems to defy logic. Given Australia’s weakness up front, the number Ten position will be key in covering for the lack of ability in the forwards and linking it to the obvious strengths in the backs. In watching Kurtley Beale since the last World Cup, I am sorry he is simply not consistent enough particularly in the kicking aspect of his game especially when under pressure from an aggressive forward opposition.

New Zealand are no longer the invincible juggernaut they were last year. Sure they are still holding the world record for being unbeaten, but have had far too many narrow escapes (i.e. by 2 or 3 points) in their recent outings and who can forget that epic game against Ireland last November in which the Men in Green came closest to derailing the All Black express. However, New Zealand despite some chinks in their armor are still the ultimate finishers in the world game. Richie McCaw whether you like him or not is still intensely annoying but devastatingly effective especially if the referee’s attentions are elsewhere.

However McCaw is getting towards the end of his inspirational career and it remains to be seen whether this bedrock of the All Black side can be replaced effectively before the World Cup. Rugby is a game of fifteen men and there is little room for individual superstars as there is in football but there is no doubt that some individual players provide a degree of motivation and inspiration to their teammates that is hard to replace – talk to any Irish fan on how they are going to deal without an O’Driscoll on the field and you will understand.

New Zealand unlike Australia are blessed with such depth in their talent pool that unlike Australia the loss of players like Dan Carter is really a non-event. New Zealand have an incredible backline, strong centres and a set of halfbacks the envy of the world. Link that to a forward pack boasting the likes of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino and Owen Franks, and if I was Australian I would be feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

In conclusion, if Australia can overcome their question marks up front, rely on Beale to make the right decisions and release their backline and hang on to possession, in front of a vocal home crowd this could be their game. However there are slightly too many questions to be asked of them at this stage and therefore I still can’t help feeling that New Zealand will take the spoils on Saturday albeit after one hell of a struggle. Hang on to your seats folks it’s going to be a cracker!!

South Africa vs Argentina – Pretoria

While I think that South Africa will comfortably take this game, it will not be without a struggle at times and certainly not along the runaway score lines of this fixture in last year’s competition. I also think that of the two games this weekend it is the most interesting prospect in terms of who’s who in the Rugby world order.

South Africa have a potentially brilliant squad and one that could easily bring home the Webb Ellis trophy next year. I for one don’t believe that the dismal performance of South African teams in this year’s Super Rugby competition will have much if any bearing on the Springboks performance in the Rugby Championship. The provincial and national sides are two very different beasts. I am still sceptical that Heineke Meyer despite his impressive track record with the Bulls is the right man for the coaching job at the Boks. He tends to let his emotions get away with him resulting in almost panicked decisions on the playing field which at this level of rugby can be a recipe for disaster. Note the facial expressions in the coaching boxes of New Zealand and South Africa and it is small coincidence who has the better track record. Meyer is also guilty of often sticking with what he knows and players he likes rather than players on form. Having said that, his current selection for Saturday’s game with Argentina debunks this slightly as there are several names that many outsiders will not be that familiar with.

If South Africa kick away good possession through their inexperienced fly half then Argentina will punish them, especially as the Pumas front pack is strong enough to take South Africa on at their own game of the rolling maul. I am particularly concerned that the bench fly half is Francois Hougaard, who in my mind is an exceptionally overrated player and has not shown that he can cope when fast and calm decision making is required especially in terms of to kick or not to kick. South Africa have a good blend of experience and youth in their forward pack, who given the right decisions from the scrum and fly halves will release a devastating backline. There is no question that Willie le Roux is one of if not

THE most exciting players in Test Rugby right now. I have also been seriously impressed with Cornal Hendricks and coupled with Brian Habana this is the backline of a fantasy league first XV. If the untried De Allende can live up to his potential and a brilliant but slightly war weary Jean de Villiers can remain injury free then the Springboks could tear apart the Pumas defences. The question marks for South Africa in this game will come around the 9 and 10 positions and Meyer’s use of the bench.

As for Argentina, this is very much a mystery side under new coach Daniel Hourcade. Hourcade’s work with Argentina’s junior side has been exemplary but he remains unproven at this level. Argentina are very much a side in development, but blessed with potentially enormous talent. I am always surprised at the media and public’s willingness to write off Argentina’s chances. Lest we forget that Argentina finished the 2007 World Cup in third place. Argentina’s problems centre around their inability since 2007 to finish off big games. There is no doubt they have the passion, motivation and skill to do so, it’s just can they keep it up for 80 minutes?

Argentina has some excellent young players coming through the ranks and the exposure of key players to this tournament and playing at top level clubs in Europe, is continuing to strengthen the Pumas chances at big tournaments like the Rugby Championship. With many of their top players rested for the June internationals against Ireland, a crop of exciting new players were given an ability to show off their skills, and at times an Argentinian B side gave an Irish A side some serious discomfort. Put that experience together with a group of skilled veterans and throw in a dash of heartfelt passion, motivation and hunger for Argentina’s first win in this tournament and the Pumas will be no pushover over the next two months.

As for Argentina’s chances in Pretoria at Loftus which is one of the cathedrals of the world game, I fear it will be too much for them to pull off a win. However it will give them an excellent chance to settle as a side and given a strong backline and a powerful and aggressive forward pack, the Springboks could well have their work cut out for them the following week as they face the Pumas in front of a very vocal home crowd.

So yes, South Africa will win on Saturday, but may well pick up some irreparable injuries in the process of what promises to be a bruising encounter. Argentina will learn a great deal on Saturday and I am convinced they will get stronger and stronger throughout the course of this tournament and one of the big scalps is there for the taking. While the game may ultimately end in a rather one-sided naturein favour of the Springboks, from an analytical point of view this could be a fascinating encounter and leave us all with much food for thought.