AUCKLAND, NZ – It looks as if it’s going to come down to the All Blacks and Wallabies for The Rugby Championship title in 2015, with both sides pulling off impressive victories against the Springboks and Pumas. The All Blacks showed their nerve to score late and deny the Boks in Johannesburg, while the Wallabies more than made up for their disastrous last trip to Mendoza, handing out a hiding to a Pumas side bereft of any attacking nous.
At Ellis Park, Johannesburg: All Blacks 27 (Ben Smith, Dane Coles, Richie McCaw tries, Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen) Springboks 20 (Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel tries, Handre Pollard 2 con, 2 pen)
The All Blacks once again cruelly showed the Springboks that rugby is an 80 minute game in the hostile environment of Ellis Park. Richie McCaw called his own number and received a trick play lineout throw in the 73rd minute, ploughing over the top of a helpless Ruan Pienaar to put the visitors up 24-20. However, it was the Boks who managed to get the better of the earlier exchanges, scoring the first try. Willie le Roux benefitted from yet another Bismarck du Plessis turnover after a bomb into the All Blacks 22, the ball shifted wide then passed back inside for the fullback to surge through the hastily arranged defensive line. The visitors countered with a line break of their own, Lima Sopoaga put into a gap by Ma’a Nonu and then finding Ben Smith to get over the line. Halftime saw the scores locked up at 10-all.
Impressive centre Jesse Kriel made it two tries in his first two tests, showing perfect timing to run onto a Handre Pollard pass on the All Blacks’ 22 and dash untouched under the posts five minutes after the restart. Again, the All Blacks adopted an attitude of copying what the Boks had just done, the slightly bulkier frame of Dane Coles hitting the line off a Sopoaga pass and running in to level the scores up at 17-all. A Pollard penalty put the Boks back in front, however they had a Lood de Jager try ruled out by the TMO and the loss of replacement prop Vincent Koch meant that scrums were uncontested for the final 15 minutes. A penalty with seven minutes to go could’ve locked the scores back up again, but McCaw opted for the lineout and lead instead. A flat throw from Codie Taylor found McCaw at the front with daylight between him and the try line, he lowered his head and smashed over Pienaar to score the winner. Sopoaga tacked on some insurance at the end with a penalty and the All Blacks once again showed they’ve got more than a few tricks up their sleeve for tight situations.
As expected, it was a game that featured more than it’s fair share of physicality up front, which meant the eventual decision to play golden oldies scrums was even more than farcical than usual. It certainly robbed the Boks of an area of the game they’d been dominating, while their lineout was solid as usual. If all the talk about ‘boring lineout drives’ and rule changes was a clever ruse to trick the Boks into thinking that’s what the All Blacks would pull out as their match-winner, it certainly worked. While McCaw’s winner was more than a little reminiscent of Tony Woodcock’s World Cup final try, it was the All Black defensive effort that got them the victory. Lima Sopoaga enjoyed a dream debut, playing with the confidence that was so successful for the Highlanders this year. His kicking was superb and he used his pace and distribution skills brilliantly to set up Ben Smith.
Man Of The Match: Charles Piutau played out of his skin, creating an interesting selection situation for Steve Hansen. While he’s been showing more than a bit of faith in Israel Dagg, performances like this from Piutau could force a rethink.
Replay Worthy? Yes, in fact do yourself a favour and set aside some time to watch the last three Ellis Park tests between the two true heavyweights of world rugby.
At Estadio Malvinas, Mendoza: Wallabies 34 (Joe Tomane, Dean Mumm, Tevita Kuridrani, Adam Ashley-Cooper tries, Bernard Foley 4 pen, con) Pumas 9 (Nicolas Sanchez 3 pen)
Revenge tasted pretty sweet for the Wallabies, humbled at this ground a year ago by a fired-up Pumas team and some knob in the crowd with a laser pointer. Neither of those things were present this time around, although it did take the visitors 40 minutes to really put the hammer down. Joe Tomane benefited from an long kick return by Israel Folau, who took the pill in stride and used his pace to exploit a numbers mismatch out wide. Tomane did the rest, but the remainder of the half saw a lot of half-chances squandered by a Wallaby team enjoying a massive possession advantage.
Lock Dean Mumm, playing in his first test in five years, got the visitors off to the best possible start in the second half by bashing his way down the touchline to score. After the very impressive Tevita Kuridrani finished off a well-worked attack by waltzing over next to the posts, the outcome was more or less decided. The Wallabies were in a rampant mood by this stage, Folau again chimed in from the back to spark a sweeping movement that ended with Adam Ashley-Cooper scoring out wide. Los Pumas had nothing left by this stage, they had no response to the Aussie onslaught in the second half.
Like the All Blacks, the Wallabies are getting good at coming right in the business end of matches, which is a pretty handy skill to have in a World Cup year. They shied away from taking on the home team at scrum time and forced them to rush their clearing kicks, which were returned with interest by a rampant Folau. Last week’s hero Matt Toomua was forced from the field with an injury after only 15 minutes, meaning Quade Cooper had to fill in at 12. Another concern would be the goal kicking of Bernard Foley, his normally reliable boot sprayed a few that he would normally get.
Once again, there’s not much to say about Los Pumas. Their attack was lateral and lacking in any imagination and their defence was exposed numerous times. They need an overhaul pretty quickly if they’re going to salvage anything from this year’s edition of The Rugby Championship, if not the World Cup later this year. They will probably make it out of their pool, but they won’t get any farther than that playing like this.
Man Of The Match: Big Dean Mumm returned from the wilderness to stamp his mark on the game with a great try.
Replay Worthy? Probably tune in for the second half.
The Rugby Championship takes a break next week, however the upcoming Bledisloe Cup clash between the All Blacks and Wallabies at ANZ Stadium in Sydney will decide the competition.
It looks like the Boks and All Blacks have decided to start enjoying their time off early, with Eben Etzebeth, Damian de Allende, Lima Sopoaga and Malakai Fekitoa all having a drink and a good time after their test in Johannesburg. Fekitoa especially looks as though he’s enjoying himself a little too much, let’s hope that’s just a spilled drink on his shirt! The next time they meet may be deep in the World Cup, when things may not be as friendly.
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