AUCKLAND, NZ – The Rugby Championship threw up a number of talking points over the weekend, unfortunately the most pressing concern will not be Julian Savea’s two tries, Rob Horne’s late heroics or even a streaker who claimed that she ‘just wanted to get close to Richie McCaw’. No, it was the refereeing, which was as diabolical as the weather that the players and fans had to endure at both venues. A couple of insanely bad calls blighted some otherwise entertaining rugby and had even the most biased of local fans agreeing that both visiting teams were ripped off big time.
The first match kicked off under rainy skies at McLean Park in Napier, where the All Blacks registered a four-tries to none win over Los Pumas. Beauden Barrett, in his first start in the number 10 jersey, showed his intentions early by putting boot to ball often and playing a percentage game that was rewarded with a couple of early penalties. He could only convert one and this was matched by a Nicolas Sanchez effort not long after. The first try came to Julian Savea, who benefitted from some quick thinking from Conrad Smith and a kind deflection off an Argentine boot. Sanchez closed the gap to two points with another penalty and the hooter sounded for halftime as Los Pumas seemingly controlled the ball at the back of their own scrum. However, the All Blacks had other ideas and shoved over for a tight head, which opened up an acre of space for Barrett to finally show off his running game. He carved up the middle of the field and found Liam Messam on his outside, who went over for an unlikely try but injured himself in the process, meaning Sam Cane came into the loose forwards for the second half.
The All Blacks scored first after the resumption of play, with Savea strolling over after collecting a short ball from Barrett off a scrum move. Los Pumas looked to have scored when Leonardo Senatore charged down a Ma’a Nonu clearance, but referee Pascal Gauzère of France inexplicably called it a knock on. Instead of trailing 18-13 the Argentines had to settle for a penalty a short time later, making it 18-9. The All Blacks closed the game out with another try from a scrum, this time Aaron Smith benefitting from a strong platform to dart in under the posts.
In the end it was a reasonably clinical performance by the All Blacks, who won by a margin that most would have expected. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though, as well as Messam hurting himself Sam Whitelock had to leave the game after around 20 minutes after landing heavily on his back during a line out. The silver lining out of those two incidents was the performance of the men who came on the replace them, Cane doing an effective job in the loose and Jeremy Thrush taking his opportunity to impress at lock. Both will most likely be starting next weekend against the Springboks in Wellington. Los Pumas battled hard and should definitely have been awarded Senatore’s try, but ultimately it was their perceived biggest strength that ending up hurting them. The monster effort of the All Blacks at scrum time led to the crucial try before halftime and then paved the way for the next two as well. Given the conditions it was always going to be unlikely that they were going to show much enterprise with ball in hand, but their conservative tactics stopped this one from being a rout at least.
All Blacks 28 (Julian Savea 2, Liam Messam, Aaron Smith tries, Beauden Barrett pen, Colin Slade pen, con) Los Pumas 9 (Nicolas Sanchez 3 pen)
Man of the match: A few to choose from but Aaron Smith had a blinder in difficult conditions. He marshaled his forwards brilliantly and gave Beauden Barrett plenty of time to unleash his kicking game. Chiming in for a try at the end didn’t hurt either.
Meanwhile, even though Perth is many, many miles away from Napier, the Wallabies had to battle similar conditions as well as a fired-up Springbok team before eventually prevailing in the dying stages. The home side burst out of the blocks with an early try to superstar Israel Folau, who was on the end of some slick back line play from Matt Toomua, but after that it was all the visitors. Recalled first five Morne Steyn slotted a penalty soon after and then the Boks hit back with a try of their own. After some well timed passes found their way to Cornal Hendricks, the impressive winger dotted down in the corner. Steyn couldn’t add the extras but both sides collected two more penalties each to make the score 14-11 at the break. One of those penalties was an absolute travesty against the Boks, number eight Duane Vermulen pinged for a completely legitimate hit on James Slipper. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the last time the ref would have a say in a tackle during this test.
The second half saw the Boks grind their way through the rain and Wallaby defense and open up a 23-14 lead after Steyn knocked over three more penalties. Then came the biggest talking point of the match and probably the weekend as Adam Ashley-Cooper tried to get on the outside of Bryan Habana. The Springbok winger caught his Wallaby opposite with tackle around his shoulders but referee George Clancy of Ireland adjudged it to be high. While most would feel it was a debatable penalty at best, Clancy then unbelievably dished out a yellow card to Habana, who had the ignominy of being sent to the sin bin in his 100th test match. The resulting penalty closed the Wallabies to within a try and it took a piece of brilliance from Israel Folau to set it up. During being tackled he threw a no-look pass to Tevita Kuridrani, who set up Rob Horne for the match winner. Now trailing by one, Bernard Foley calmly slotted the conversion to take the lead and ultimately, the match.
It was a creditable performance from the Wallabies after their humbling defeat to the All Blacks two weeks ago. While the game was a bit of an arm wrestle that saw the Boks dominate large parts, the home team showed the right amount of fight to get themselves back in the game when all seemed lost. Though the Boks can feel pretty shafted due to the sinbinning, this was easily their best performance of the campaign to date and for most of the game played like the team we all know they can be. Still it was the little things that cost them, one major blot of Steyn’s performance was missing touch just before the Wallabies launched their final assault that ultimately led to victory.
Wallabies 24 (Israel Folau, Rob Horne tries, Bernard Foley con, 4 pen) Springboks 23 (Cornal Hendricks try, Morne Steyn 6 pen)
Man of the match: Potentially the best code swapping player ever? That’s the discussion being thrown around about Israel Folau, who again showed how dangerous he is by scoring one crucial try and then setting up the game winner. Oh yeah, he also was claiming back kick offs too, not bad for a fullback.
Round three all done and the All Blacks have clammed the top spot. Things are looking pretty shaky for the Springboks, who will probably be in must-win territory next week when the two sides meet in Wellington. Los Pumas will be buoyed by their showings so far but will hit a rejuvenated Wallaby side in the Gold Coast in their next match.
There’ll be no prizes for guessing who is getting the coveted idiot of the week award this time around, but here’s the weekly awards anyway:
Try of the week: Even though the Springboks lost, they can still claim the best try with this effort to the massively impressive Cornal Hendricks:
Performance of the week: The Wallabies had their backs to the wall after their heavy loss at Eden Park, but came out swinging and won their match with the sort of attitude that they’ll need to become the great side they can be.
Idiot(s) of the week: The men in the middle. How Pascal Gauzère thought that was a knock on and how George Clancy thought those were dangerous tackles leads me to believe they’ve been reading a different rule book from everyone else in the world. This was inexcusable stuff from a couple of guys who get paid good money for what they do. After calls like that, you’d think they should have to forfeit their paychecks.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.