Argentina face a new raft of challenges to their faltering Rugby Championship campaign while Australia look to finish theirs on a high note!

Last weekend saw Argentina lose their fifth match in a row in this year’s Rugby Championship, against a team that they probably fancied their chances against earlier this summer. Such hopes seem to have been well and truly dashed, as their campaign seems destined to stagger to a miserable end on Saturday against the Wallabies. It’s very hard to recognize the Pumas side that stunned the world last year by beating the All Blacks in their first match out of their year long Covid isolation. There are glimmers of hope and we’d argue that this isn’t a bad Argentinian side, but for reasons best known to perhaps only themselves they are simply failing to fire a shot so far this tournament.

Australia on the other hand seem to be going from strength to strength, something that their long suffering supporters are clearly rejoicing at. Although the All Blacks are still out of reach, it’s hard to argue against this Australian side not being a match for the rest of Test rugby’s giants. In short, they must be feeling more than just a little excited about their journey to Europe next month and the prospect of duels with Japan, Scotland, England and Wales.

This weekend’s final Rugby Championship match for both Argentina and Australia, sees Australia trying to cement a strong second place finish, while Argentina will no doubt try to salvage some pride and register their first win. This week has seen the Pumas snubbed out of an official photo shoot, and then to add insult to injury some of the players went and shot themselves in the foot by breaking Covid protocols. In short this is a tournament that Argentina will most likely seek to forget in a hurry and instead focus on preparations for a challenging European tour.

For Australia though the party is just getting started. They are favourites to get their fourth consecutive victory in this tournament on Saturday, and with good reason. The side that looked so out of its depth against New Zealand this year, has fine tuned the systems and plans that worked so well in the summer series against France, and now Australia are looking very much like potential World Cup contenders if they can stay on this trajectory. The big litmus Test will be how they perform on the road, traditionally an Achilles Heel for them in recent years, but right now all the indications are pointing to a Wallaby machine in rather rude health and clearly enjoying themselves.

Where has it all gone so wrong?

Pumas Coach Mario Ledesma seems at a loss to understand how an Argentinian side that looked so impressive last year, has simply failed to deliver this year

It certainly must be a lonely year at the top for Pumas Coach Mario Ledesma. Contrast his rather glum face these days with the euphoria last year as his charges claimed their first ever win over the All Blacks. It’s hard to fathom why things have gone so awry this year. They have the talent and players, but somehow none of it is clicking right now. There have been some impressive individual performances and at times their defense as a unit has been heroic, but on attack they look to be at sixes and sevens and their discipline is shaky at best.

There is no denying that perhaps more than any other international team, Argentina have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. First there was the year long isolation post the World Cup, and then for many of the senior players a year on the road spent bouncing from one Covid bubble to the next. Time with family and friends has been a luxury and a life on the road has had to supplant the comforts of home for over a year now. In short, are they just tired of the circus?

We sincerely hope not, as International Rugby is a poorer playing field without a competitive Pumas side. Their forthcoming tour to Europe next month, will be a challenging affair as they take on France and Ireland. With the prospect of very little if any time at home between the end of the Rugby Championship and the start of the November Tests, your heart has to go out to players and staff as a seemingly interminable life out of a suitcase continues to hang over them. That being said, never count them out. There has been no shortage of passion and emotion and the pride in the jersey is as strong as ever. This may be the toughest year the Pumas will face in this World Cup cycle, but we’re confident they’ll be back when it matters most.

The law of diminishing returns

Folau Faingaa’s accuracy at the lineout has been waning steadily since he took over from Paenga-Amosa

Since taking over from Brandon Paenga-Amosa at Hooker, Folau Faingaa has seen a dip in his accuracy come lineout time and last weekend against Argentina got the alarm bells ringing. Australia had a poor day at the office last weekend in this department and only had a 77% success rate come lineout time which, had the Argentinians been able to take their chances, could have cost them dearly. Faingaa’s initial work looked promising but for reasons best known to himself and Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie it definitely looks to be the one weak link in an otherwise rather shiny suit of Wallaby armor. Argentina will know this and with individuals like Tomas Lavanini and Guido Petti all looking to cause havoc come lineout time and exploit such weaknesses, Australia will be really hoping that Faingaa has been getting some serious dart throwing practice in this week.

The return of a genuine Wallaby danger man

It’s hard to believe that we haven’t seen Wallaby utility forward Sean McMahon in Australian colors since 2017

After a long stint in Japan which he may have thought had put an end to his Wallaby career forever, impressive back rower Sean McMahon makes a return to international duty for Australia. We were convinced he was the next big thing in the land down under and were rather surprised to see him disappear completely off the radar four years ago. A big bruising ball carrier who excels in the physical battles and has a handy turn of pace to go with it, he is exactly the kind of player that would fit into Australia’s expansive but powerful new game plan. While his comeback sees him starting on the bench for this match, we have a strong hunch we’ll be seeing him sooner rather than later as the match unfolds. Quade Cooper’s fairytale return to Australian rugby has caught all the media headlines so far, but this is one fascinating sub plot in the Wallabies rebirth you won’t want to miss.

The whizz kid is back

James O’Connor like Quade Cooper seems to have matured and shed his bad boy image for a more composed and measured approach to the game

It’s definitely been a year of comebacks for Australian players left out in the wilderness. Quade Cooper, Sean McMahon and now James O’Connor who finds himself on the bench for Saturday’s final Rugby Championship match against Argentina. He made an impressive return to form with the Queensland Reds, and although they didn’t exactly shine against their Kiwi opponents in Super Rugby, O’Connor’s natural talents at fly half were readily apparent. He definitely needs to cut his teeth again at the International level, and Saturday’s fixture is a golden opportunity to do so. With Quade Cooper on song, Noah Lolesio a work in progress and now James O’Connor warming up, Australia’s game management could be the complete package come their November tour.

Argentina desperately need a bit of Moroni magic on Saturday!

Pumas winger Matias Moroni is a prodigious try scorer for Argentina and they will need him to spark their back line into life on Saturday

Reliable and solid are the two words that come to mind when speaking of Pumas winger Matias Moroni. He will be a superb test of new Wallaby sensation Andrew Kellaway’s defensive abilities. If Moroni can feed off some of the breaks and space that Pumas novice fly half Santiago Carreras found last Saturday, then the Wallabies could find themselves scrambling in defense. Moroni combines the power and pace that is synomyous with the Argentinian game, but which sadly has so far failed to express itself on the pitch this year. His colleague out wide Emiliano Boffelli brings many of the same qualities combined with a lethal boot. We’d argue that the contest between these two and Australia’s Jordan Petaia and Andrew Kellaway could be one of the most entertaining of the afternoon, provided the South American duo get the ball they need.

It’s hard to predict an Argentine renaissance on Saturday, as they just haven’t shown much evidence of it so far. Last Saturday’s game against Australia was probably the best of their campaign despite the loss. Nevertheless, it’s the end of one hard road and the start of another for Argentina. Whether or not it will be enough motivation to lay down a statement of intent for what is to come remains to be seen. For their sake we hope so, as this is a side that should be doing better than their current form would have us believe.

Australia meanwhile, are unlikely to get too carried away till the final whistle. The Pumas are always a challenge no matter what the form books say, and one that will leave the Wallabies nursing more than just a few bruises and bumps on Sunday. However, despite the pride, passion and legendary physicality that the Pumas will bring to the pitch on Saturday, it’s hard to see them getting past this shiny and rather skillful Wallaby outfit that is brimming with confidence and enthusiasm for the task at hand!

Argentina will need to show the same kind of mettle they showed last weekend as Australia seek to prove that their upwards trajectory is no flash in the pan!

We always look forward to the two fixtures between Australia and Argentina in the Rugby Championship. Invariably the teams are evenly matched and have everything to play for, especially pride as they seek to avoid a bottom spot on the standings table. Consequently, they are invariably tight tense affairs. Last year neither side could get the better of each other and both matches ended in a draw. Sadly this year Argentina are yet to fire a shot in the Championship. However having said that we got a glimmer last weekend against New Zealand that the Pumas are finally starting to click once more. Australia meanwhile, are brimming with confidence after they taught South Africa some valuable lessons, not just once but twice. Pride, passion and plenty of points to prove for both sides, mean that these two games between Australia and Argentina should make for a heady cocktail of Test Rugby.

Just as good if not better than his illustrious predecessor

Pumas Hooker and Captain Julian Montoya has been every bit as good as his legendary predecessor Agustin Creevy and despite Argentina’s current troubles has consistently impressed

Former Pumas Captain and Hooker Agustin Creevy is a legend in his own time and his successor Julian Montoya is rapidly proving that he is of the same caliber. He has been one of the shining lights of an otherwise troubled Pumas Rugby Championship campaign. We simply cannot fault any of his performances, and as a leader Argentina could not ask for better. He seems a modest man who simply prefers to get on quietly with the job at hand. He leads quietly but forcefully from the front and every time Argentina does something well you can be pretty sure Montoya has had a hand in it. He earns and commands respect from his players, opponents and referees every game.

A powerhouse Australian second row

Australia’s Matthew Philip and Izack Rodda will provide the kind of physical grunt needed to contain Argentina on Saturday

In our opinion, Izack Rodda’s return to duty in the Wallaby second row has been a real boost after a spell in France where he had a huge impact at Lyon. We always felt he was slightly underrated, and couldn’t blame him for getting fed up with the circus that was Australian rugby until relatively recently. Paired with Matthew Philip who clearly has a very bright future ahead of him in Wallaby colors, this is precisely the kind of physical unit that Australia will need to contain the likes of Pumas bruisers Tomas Lavanini and Matias Alemanno. The lineout is going to be one of the most hotly contested parts of the park in Townsville on Saturday and most likely set some crucial platforms for both sides. With Darcy Swain and Guido Petti on the bench for Australia and Argentina respectively, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t miss a single throw in.

Like his Captain, a player who has consistently delivered whatever the scoreline

Flanker and sometimes lock, Marcos Kremer has probably been Argentina’s player of the tournament

We have to confess to being slightly in awe of Marcos Kremer. Despite Argentina’s misfortunes this year, this is one player who hasn’t had a bad game. Last weekend against New Zealand was perhaps his best effort to date. While it may seem obvious just from his sheer size alone, Kremer is a huge physical presence on the park for the Pumas. He is utterly tireless, seems impervious to injury and whereas most players tire in the final quarter he manages to find an extra burst of energy. Dominant at lineout time, a tackle count off the charts and a menace at the breakdowns and the loose, Kremer is one of the most complete Pumas players we’ve seen in the last twenty years. We tipped him to be a player likely to make a mark when he first burst onto the scene in 2016 and he hasn’t disappointed us once since then. If we or anybody else had to pick a World XV, you’d be hard pressed not to have Kremer’s name on the team sheet. Kremer’s opposite number, Australia’s Robert Leota is probably not going to remember much of Saturday’s game as he and his colleagues suffer a succession of body crunching tackles from the giant Argentinian.

A certain Mr. Ikitau has just entered the pitch – players be warned!

Wallaby centre Len Ikitau wasn’t just good against South Africa last weekend – he was downright fantastic!

Wallaby centre Len Ikitau had set the tone for South Africa’s second defeat to the Wallabies last weekend by the first quarter. Scoring two superb tries was just the start to a flawless performance that made his South African opponents appear amateurs by comparison. Pretty good for a guy with only a handful of caps to his name. Great players in the making invariably have a breakout game and last Saturday was Ikitau’s. Alongside Samu Kerevi he made Australia highly effective in the centre channels, and defensively Australia finally started to show that they had read the manual on the subject. In short, Ikitau made sure Wallaby Coach Dave Rennie will be featuring him in his World Cup preparations. If the Pumas centre Santiago Chocobares brings his A game on Saturday then this could easily be one of the most exciting contests on the park, but the talented Argentinian is going to have his hands full keeping the Wallaby center in check.

He may only make the bench, but if you want impact then Jordan Petaia is definitely part of Australia’s arsenal of secret weapons

Winger Jordan Petaia may not get a starting berth given Marika Koroibete and Andrew Kellaway’s current form, but in terms of impact he can offer plenty

In a way we feel a bit sorry for Wallaby winger Jordan Petaia. The powerful Queensland Reds speedster, appears to have to content himself with a place on the bench for now, such is the form of fellow wingers Marika Koroibete and Andrew Kellaway. We felt for this match that Kellaway and Petaia could have swapped roles with Kellaway warming the bench. However, Coach Dave Rennie clearly sees Petaia as one of his impact men. Petaia is, along with Kellaway, part of what looks like a rosy future for Australia out wide. However, until recently Australia’s defense on the fringes has looked suspect and Petaia in particular, with Kellaway seeming to make a better fist of it with each outing. Nevertheless in terms of breaking the gain line and making meters Australia need Petaia. He’s more powerful with ball in hand than Kellaway and it will be interesting to see how the Wallaby Coaching staff decide to use the two players in the buildup to the World Cup. Either way, once Petaia is on the field Australia will want to make sure he gets plenty of ball.

Despite Argentina’s current woes and Australia’s new found success, we feel that this match is far from being a dead rubber and could actually be the more entertaining of the two Rugby Championship games this weekend. Provided Argentina bring the same kind of grit and work rate they did to their second match with New Zealand last weekend, this could be a tight affair. Let’s face it, that Pumas defense is almost superhuman at times, and something the Wallabies could do well to learn from. In short, we don’t think you’re going to want to miss this one!

It may be the 100th Test of one of International Rugby’s greatest rivalries but is it all just myth and legend now?

This weekend sees the 100th Test between South Africa and New Zealand as one of the sports oldest rivalries once more takes centre stage. However, put aside all the history and forgive us if we have concerns that there is the danger that this match may simply not live up to the hype surrounding it. Sure the Springboks are reigning World Champions, and let’s face it few predicted them to win the World Cup based on their form heading into it – but win it they did. However, there is no denying that the back to back defeats to Australia showed some rather ominous chinks in the armor. We’ve tried to stay out of the arguments surrounding the Springboks “boring” style of rugby, but there is no denying that against Australia they looked very one-dimensional and thin on creativity with some glaring holes in their defense which looked ponderous at best.

New Zealand is a complete contrast and at the moment seem unstoppable with this year’s Championship all but done and dusted in favor of the Men in Black. They’re not perfect, but the sum of their parts is so much better than everyone else they’ve faced so far this year. Defensively they look sound, their execution is for the most part water tight and when it comes to creativity they would appear to be in a class of their own.

While New Zealand are clearly the favorites for Saturday’s clash by a comfortable margin, South Africa somehow manage to raise their game for encounters with the old enemy whatever their form leading up to the match. There will be plenty of pride at stake for a match with this kind of historical significance. Sure there have been some hidings in this fixture in the past (let’s just forget that 57-0 drubbing in 2017 – not much game raising going on that day). Yes we can all agree that so far this year the Springboks have given those who say they don’t travel well, plenty of ammunition, but this is still one of the game’s great teams with a very proud history and rather impressive track record. While their recent Lions series victory may now have lost some of its shine, along with beating Argentina twice given the sorry state of the Pumas at present, South Africa are given the talent at their disposal still a top level team. However, it would appear that there is a certain degree of conservatism and lack of creativity taking hold in how they approach the game and Jacques Nienaber is definitely no Rassie Erasmus – whether or not that’s a good thing depends on who you talk to.

South Africa face a very daunting task on Saturday, but we’re hoping despite their current difficulties that there is one big game left in them this Championship and this weekend is the time to deliver it. New Zealand meanwhile will not take the challenge lightly no matter what the bookies are saying, and as a result we’re hoping that this game lives up to its calling.

Missing his better half?

South African Coach Jacques Nienaber seems to be missing the influence of his mentor, former Springbok World Cup winning Coach Rassie Erasmus

If things don’t go well for South Africa on Saturday, then you have to feel for Springbok Coach Jacques Nienaber. His countrymen will ultimately judge him by how well he fares against South Africa’s greatest rival. Sure a Lions series is a feather in his cap, but beating New Zealand means everything to South African rugby fans – all the rest is just gravy, even to some extent winning the World Cup. If South Africa can’t compete against the All Blacks then it’s akin to a national tragedy.

During the Lions series, Nienaber had the benefit of having Rassie Erasmus either in the background or more directly on the pitch ensuring that the players were adequately hydrated. However, in Australia he is without that influence and you can’t help getting the feeling that he is somewhat out of his depth without his old mentor. Saturday’s performance will likely define the rest of his Coaching tenure and how he is perceived by both the team and the rugby public at home. The pressure must be immense as a poor showing will essentially cast him out into the wilderness, as it did for his predecessors.

For us the jury is still out, but we have to confess to becoming increasingly concerned at the fact that new talent is not being blooded and a game plan that is rapidly being found out and exposed is being stuck to doggedly. There’s lots of talk about structures and working on developing the Springboks style of play but so far in 2021 we’ve seen very little if any evidence of it, leaving Nienaber with a growing number of uncomfortable questions to answer come post match press conferences. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now – but to say that he’s the man in the hotseat on Saturday is likely to be one of the biggest understatements of 2021.

Where is the fire?

Until recently second rower Eben Etzebeth has been the epitome of abrasive in your face South African rugby, but against Australia he was MIA

Until recently any team knew they were playing South Africa whenever Eben Etzebeth was on the pitch in a green jersey, but against Australia we struggled to notice the giant second rower. He was definitely off the boil against the Wallabies, and seemed almost ineffective. That quiet smoldering aggression that is his trademark just wasn’t there. In short, he just didn’t look like he was enjoying himself and when that happens South Africa tend to unravel. He’s the kind of player that is an indicator of how well the rest of the team are likely to do. If he plays well then South Africa are likely to be winning the physical battles which they tend to have a history of dominating, but if he’s having an off day as he clearly did in both matches against Australia the Springboks lose a vital edge to their character and with it their resolve. He clearly doesn’t gel with Marvin Orie, and it’s hoped that back with his more regular second row partner Lood de Jager he’ll be back to his fire and brimstone best on Saturday. Against New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett he’s going to need it.

New Zealand’s future is there for all to see

Back rowers Luke Jacobson and Akira Ioane have been a revelation this tournament

While South Africa’s offerings in the back row are impressive, we don’t feel like we’re looking at the future. However, New Zealand’s contingent at number eight and on the blindside on Saturday, speak volumes of how they want their back row play to develop, all shored up by the able figure of Captain and veteran openside flanker Ardie Savea. In number eight Luke Jacobson and flanker Akira Ioane, New Zealand are laying down markers for the next World Cup and beyond. Luke Jacobson had an absolute blinder against Argentina in their first Test against the Pumas running in two outstanding tries. Meanwhile Ioane tag teaming with Ardie Savea has been a complete wrecking ball when it comes to dealing with opposition defences. We are really struggling to see how South Africa is going to gain any kind of parity against the Kiwi trio on Saturday.

Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi has shown plenty of effort but often poorly channeled at times especially against Australia. While veteran Duane Vermeulen made an impressive return against Australia in their first Test, there was no denying that the 35 year old looked distinctly out of puff in the second Test. With only a week’s turnaround you have to wonder how much is left in the old warhorse’s tank to deal with New Zealand’s rampaging trio. Lastly as much as we admire Kwagga Smith, the form he showed in Super Rugby has really never materialized in a Springbok jersey and we’re just not sure he’s got the stature needed to contain the physical presence of New Zealand’s Akira Ioane.

Two class acts but sadly only one of them is doing the talking right now

Two World Class fly halves go head to head on Saturday in South Africa’s Handre Pollard and New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett, but so far in the Championship only the Kiwi has any bragging rights

We’ve been hard pressed to understand Springbok fly half Handre Pollard’s serious drop in form. Sure his goal kicking can be erratic but then so can Beauden Barrett’s. However, it’s his playmaking that looks so unassured at the moment, compared to Barrett who just isn’t missing a beat as usual. Pollard has always lacked consistency in his execution and decision making, traits that Barrett simply doesn’t suffer from. When Pollard is on song as in the World Cup final there are few that can touch him, the problem is that those days simply don’t happen often enough. He is not shy of the physical nature of the game and can often be seen hurling himself against defenses. Compare that to Barrett who appears to size up the field of play first and takes his chances when he sees them. As a result these are two players with very contrasting play styles. Expect to see Pollard relishing the go forward opportunities created by his forwards but rarely breaking the gain line, while Barrett’s lightning quick reflexes leave defenders guessing giving him lots of room to make plenty of unopposed meters.

We’re not suggesting for a second that Pollard should attempt to beat Barrett at his own game. Barrett’s style of play would simply look out of place on Pollard. Instead the South African just needs to become more involved than he was against Australia and get the kind of confidence back that served him so well in the World Cup final. If he has a good game on Saturday then so will South Africa.

A bit like a French team – which de Klerk and le Roux will we get on Saturday?

Springbok scrum half Faf de Klerk is starting to have more off days than on, something his fullback Willie le Roux knows all about

We rate both these players very highly and both can be game changers on the day. However, fullback Willie le Roux is clearly starting to show that he is nearing the end of his time in the 15 jersey as the inconsistencies in his game that plagued his early career are starting to return with a vengeance. Meanwhile, Faf de Klerk who traditionally has been the player most likely to get South Africa out of jail, is starting to show the same tendencies when it comes to consistency. There is no denying he had a poor game in the Springboks second defeat to Australia, and more worrying for South Africa as their setbacks increase de Klerk seems to slide backwards with them. Once the feisty, impetuous imp he is starting to look more like a difficult teenager. We still rate him and let’s face it South Africa are fairly bereft of choice when it comes to a quality nine, but perhaps that has led to complacency and a slight touch of arrogance on de Klerk’s part – qualities he needs to address quickly and which his team can ill afford.

As for le Roux, New Zealand know if they can rattle him his composure goes out the window in a heartbeat and as a result he’ll have a big target on his back on Saturday. If the All Blacks can unhinge South Africa at the back, then they become vulnerable very quickly and le Roux’s nerves will be key in how the Springboks fare against an inevitable aerial assault.

Above all we really hope that this Test match, given its historical significance will be one we remember for all the right reasons and a proper contest. We don’t want to get drawn into the assumptions currently being made that this match is going to quickly turn into a one sided affair in favor of the All Blacks. Like we say South Africa always find something special in the tank for an encounter with New Zealand, and although they may be reeling from their losses to Australia, they haven’t become a bad team overnight. They may not be the form team that they were only a month or so ago, but a Springbok/All Black Test match is always something special and we are approaching it with an open mind until referee Luke Pearce blows the final whistle.

So put aside your betting algorithms, ignore all the pundits who admittedly know infinitely more than we do – get together with some mates and enjoy a round of one of Test rugby’s greatest rivalries whatever the outcome. In short may the best side win whoever that turns out to be!!!

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

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

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

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

A welcome return of one of the All Blacks best

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

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

Just another Kiwi danger man

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand’s surplus of riches

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

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

Argentina need more than just his giant boot

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the rugby everyone and stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hooper breaks some more records

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

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

Thor returns and it’s just like he never left

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give this man the ball – please!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An opportunity long overdue but justly earned

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

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

The brash upstart meets a seriously underrated veteran

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

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

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

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

The battle for the All Black 10 jersey continues

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

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

When you’re big in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All he needs is consistency

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

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

The duelling Irish

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

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

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

Don’t leave your Coats at the door!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A long awaited start and time to make his mark again

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

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

Just don’t make him angry!

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

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

Do NOT kick the ball to this man!!!

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

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

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

A different kind of Faf

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

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

Who is Ignacio Mendy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a contest for the faint hearted!

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

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

Noticeable last year – but likely to be spectacular this year

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

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

A battle of contrasting styles but only one pedigree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to focus

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

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

His stocks are going up

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

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

Just needs time to breathe

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

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

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

Mirror, Mirror who is the fastest of them all?

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

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

Mighty Mouse

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

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

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

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

Till then, stay safe everyone!