AUCKLAND, NZ – The Wallabies are your Rugby Championship winners for 2015, after an upset win over the All Blacks in Sydney. But wait, that’s not all. Before you pick your jaw off the floor, Los Pumas not only managed to beat the Springboks on their own turf, but comprehensively blow them away with the result being settled by halftime. OK, so who picked that? I can say my hand will remain firmly in my pocket, anyone who did can give themselves a pat on the back.
At ANZ Stadium, Sydney: Wallabies 27 (Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley Cooper, Nic White tries, Matt Giteau pen, 2 con, White con, pen) All Blacks 19 (Nehe Milner-Skudder 2 tries, Dan Carter 3 pen)
If you’d switched this game off after 20 minutes, you would’ve walked away pretty certain that the All Blacks were in the process of recording another comfortable victory against the Wallabies. A 20, even 30 point one, for that matter, because up until then they’d done everything except pile on the points on a nervous looking home team. As it stood, the deficit was only 3-0 and the only thing stopping the All Blacks enjoying an even bigger share of possession was the inspired selection of David Pocock and Michael Hooper in tandem in the Wallaby loose forwards. Both proved to be troublesome in the extreme for the visitors, with a series of key turnovers snuffing out any first half chances. Bernard Foley’s kicking woes from last week were rectified by stripping him of the job and handing it to Matt Giteau, who looked very much at home in a Wallaby jersey despite not having played against the All Blacks for four years. Halftime saw the score 6-3 to the All Blacks.
The second half saw the Wallabies continue to muscle their way back into the game, their first try coming from the unlikely Sekope Kepu. It was the prop’s first try in 55 tests, so it’s a safe bet no one except his mother would’ve had a bet on him as he strode quite comfortably through some poor All Black defense. However, the All Blacks hit back immediately. New cap Nehe Milner-Skudder justified his rapid elevation through the ranks with an even more rapid finish of some good lead up work by Dan Carter and Ben Smith to score in the corner, but Carter missed the conversion. Matt Toomua once again come on and made a difference for the Wallabies, putting through a beautiful kick for Adam Ashley-Cooper to run on to and score shortly after and the Wallabies retook the lead. But that was short-lived as well, Milner-Skudder showing some individual brilliance to bag his second to make the score 19-17 and set up the All Blacks to show their trademark fortitude and close the game out.
Except no one told the Wallabies, in particular Nic White. The replacement halfback had come on after Nick Phipps had been sinbinned for some cynical play that would make even the most petulant number 9 blush, so immediately showed what a difference he could make by slamming over a 49 metre penalty to give the Wallabies the lead. Much like against they did against the Boks a few weeks ago, the Wallabies launched a final assault on the All Black line, not content with only being ahead by one. White again showed up at the right time and place, ducking through some tiring tackles to seal it for the Wallabies. The rest of the match was a formality, the Aussies now have to win at Eden Park next weekend to regain the Bledisloe Cup after 13 long years.
As mentioned previously, Micheal Cheika’s loose forward selection was a pivotal reason as to why this result went the way it did. Hooper and Pocock had huge games, as did Scott Fardy, while the All Black trio were quite the opposite. Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read may as well have stayed in NZ for all the impact they had, so Richie McCaw had to shoulder a lot of work. Despite that, the All Blacks actually did successfully nullify the Wallaby strike weapons pretty well, Tevita Kuridrani, Israel Folau and Will Skelton were all shut down without making too much headway. Toomua’s cameo was again telling, but it was White who will remember this game fondly. White couldn’t have picked a better time to come on and impress, as well as getting himself binned Phipps had hardly covered himself in glory around the park anyway. On the other side Aaron Smith got himself sent to the bin as well for a high tackle, he had to watch on as Kepu took advantage of one less defender around the ruck.
The All Black game plan was too predictable for the hosts, who simply waited for any lateral movement to send one of their talented loosies into the ruck area to turn over ball. There’ll be some concern over the state of the All Black scrum, it got buckled early by their less-fancied opposites. Another concern would’ve been the amount of handling errors, which is pretty out of character for this All Black team of recent years. Milner-Skudder unfortunately joins the club of All Blacks who have lost on test debut, on the bright side that club includes legends Ma’a Nonu, Mils Muliaina and Joe Rokocoko. However it also includes the less-than-stellar likes of Bryn Evans, Danny Lee and Keith Lowen.
Man Of The Match: Hard to split Hooper and Pocock on this one, will be interesting to see if this combination was just a one-off for the All Blacks or is the start of a long term strategy by Cheika.
Replay Worthy? It won’t go down as an absolute classic, but there was enough good play in there to give it a look.
At Kings Park, Durban: Pumas 37 (Juan Imhoff 3, Marcelo Bosch tries, Juan Martin Hernandez 4 con, pen, Bosch pen, dg) Springboks 25 (Lood de Jager, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana tries, Handre Pollard 2 pen, 2 con)
With the force of history, more than a little bit of luck and a serious load of guts and determination, Los Pumas managed to pull off perhaps the biggest win in their international history. Playing in retro designed jerseys to honour their groundbreaking counterparts from 50 years ago, the Argentines shocked the Boks early through a well-worked try to Marcelo Bosch off an attacking lineout and never looked back. To show that they’d adapted their game plan from simply trying to keep the All Blacks and Wallabies from scoring 50 points, they piled on two more tries in the first half to left wing Juan Imhoff in similar circumstances to the first to lead by an unbelievable 20 points at halftime.
There was a touch of controversy when Imhoff bagged his hat trick, it all started when Los Pumas were awarded a penalty five metres out from the Bok try line. As they are often want to do, the team trainers rushed the field to attend the players, meaning the Boks took their eyes off the ball and left a giant gap on the left wing. Problem is referee Roman Poite didn’t blow time off, so Juan Martin Hernandez simply tapped and shifted the ball into the accepting arms of Imhoff to record the first hat trick by an Argentinean in the Rugby Championship. Their luck didn’t end there though, Poite and his assistants missed a massive knock on in the lead up to Bosch slotting a drop goal and putting the game out of reach of the Boks. Willie le Roux and Bryan Habana tacked on a couple of consolation tries but the damage had long since been done.
This was very much a case of one team showing up to win and another not showing up at all. Los Pumas ripped into their work early, their set piece solidity was finally matched with some attacking nous and effective defense. Meanwhile, the Boks bumbled their way through 80 minutes of sheer frustration for their fans, it’s pretty hard to believe these guys were on the brink of beating the All Blacks only a week ago. Handling errors marred any attempt to do anything, but it was their tackling that let them down the most, Marcell Coetzee set the tone early by doing his best turnstile impersonation as Los Pumas went in for their first try. Juan Martin Hernandez made a huge difference at 10 for the visitors, his steady hand having a role to play in all of their scoring, Los Pumas will be keen to repeat this result in a week’s time back home.
The Boks now have the ignominy of getting gypped twice now by failing to realise that the ref hadn’t called time off, back in 2004 Irish first five Ronan O’Gara strode over unopposed as John Smit called his team in for a huddle. The try stood and Ireland hung on to win 17-12.
Man Of The Match: While his third was exceedingly lucky, Juan Imhoff joins a pretty select few that have scored a hat trick against the Boks.
Replay Worthy? Yes, for the fact that Los Pumas wore awesome retro jerseys alone. But seriously, it will go down as one of the great Puma performances and all of a sudden they’re looking alright for the RWC.
So well done to the Wallabies, but just a quick note though: no team has ever won the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup in the same year. They can expect a king-sized backlash in the deciding Bledisloe Cup test next weekend at Eden Park, a ground they haven’t enjoyed success on for 29 years.
That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.