AUCKLAND, NZ – Absolute garbage. I could just leave it there, because those two words are all the first round of The Rugby Championship deserve. Horrible weather, horrible refereeing and horrible skills made for some truly horrible rugby. The first order of business is to inform any of you that if you missed the live coverage of either the All Blacks/Wallabies or Springboks/Pumas tests and you were thinking about watching them: DON’T. There are far more productive things you can do with 160 minutes of your life, for example watching paint dry, grass grow or tracking the sun’s progress across the sky. Honestly, staring at the sun would probably better for your eyes than watching these two games. But because I’m such a nice guy, I sat through both excruciating encounters so you don’t have to.
First up was the much anticipated Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney between the All Blacks and Wallabies, which ended in a very lame 12-all draw.
All Blacks 12 (Aaron Cruden 4 pen), Wallabies 12 (Kurtley Beale 4 pen)
The most unfortunate thing about this result? That it was the most anticipated test between the two nations in years, mainly due to the resurgence of Australian rugby, evidenced by the Waratahs triumph in Super Rugby. This, coupled with the fact that an All Black victory would’ve earned them the all time consecutive test victory record meant the unprecedented interest in this game demanded an enthralling and entertaining spectacle. It was anything but.
The first ominous sign of the impending boredom was the arrival of heavy rain to Sydney early on Saturday morning. It showed no sign of leaving and by the time kickoff rolled around the ground was soaked, meaning most of the crowd were already cowering under disposable rain coats. Both teams were drenched by the time the anthems and haka were completed and, unsurprisingly, the first stoppage in play was a handling error. To the Wallabies credit, they spent the first portion of the game attempting to run the ball by bringing Israel Folau into the line on a few occasions. Once the All Blacks gained possession Aaron Cruden attempted to sow some discord in the Wallaby defensive system by sending short-range kicks in between the back line and fullback, which paid off in a painful way for Folau when he collided with a backtracking Nic White while attempting to regather a kick. The result was a bloody nose for the star fullback. Honestly, that’s about as good as it got in the first half. Cruden kicked three penalties for the visitors, Kurtley Beale one for the home team and Wyatt Crockett got sent to the sin bin. Wallaby captain Michael Hooper made some very questionable decisions regarding what to do with kickable penalties, none of which paid off.
The second half saw a bit of a resurgence by the Wallabies, with the most notable chances being a couple of kicks of quick turnovers that had firstly Dane Coles then Julian Savea showing great skill to defuse. Beale kept their points tally ticking over and the scores were locked up by the 65th minute. A moment of potential drama followed when Cruden was replaced Beauden Barrett, who was promptly sinbinned for a very debatable penalty. This left the All Blacks having to defend their line for the last 10 minutes with 14 men. Sounds exciting right? It wasn’t. The Wallabies bumbled their way to not getting anywhere near scoring the winning points. The final whistle mercifully came and everyone just stood around, not really knowing how to react.
How did this much anticipated test turn into a damp squib? Obviously the weather played a major part, but, as evidenced in the 1996 Bledisloe Cup classic in Wellington, this can be overcome with a positive attitude. Neither team was helped by the performance from referee Jaco Peyper of South Africa, whose rule interpretations were frustrating at best and downright baffling at worst. Both sin-binnings were questionable and the length of several advantages seemed very dubious. Other than a brief burst of positive play at the very beginning from the Wallabies both teams looked incredibly disjointed, which is a real head-scratcher given they have already all played test rugby this season.
Man of the match: This is an easy one – nobody. Even the guys kicking the goals missed a few sitters that might have made all the difference. No subs came on and made a difference and given the lack of ball movement all the wingers did was stand there and get wet.
After that load of crap hopes were high for a better match between the Springboks and Pumas in Pretoria. The final scoreline of 13-6 in favour of the home team would suggest those hopes were dashed spectacularly.
Springboks 13 (Ruan Pienaar try, Handre Pollard pen, con, Morne Steyn pen) Pumas 6 (Nicolás Sánchez 2 pen)
Yes, unless you love awful rugby, this game was only a slight improvement on the dirge-fest that preceded it. There was at least one try, although almost cruelly it was scored in the first couple of minutes, therefore giving off the impression that this might actually be a decent game. The next 78 minutes proved that hypothesis utterly false as the two sides traded penalties, contested scrum after scrum and fumbled their way to the final whistle. To be fair, Ruan Pienaar’s try was pretty good, coming off a slick line out move and some good work by Cornal Hendricks. Other than that, not much to write or read about.
One of the main problems was again the weather, Pretoria suffering from an unseasonable torrential rainfall that made playing conditions difficult. Over-officious refereeing meant the game never got going once again and the Springboks played like a disorganised rabble. You’ll probably be hearing a lot of praise for the Pumas efforts due to their defence and commitment, but, at the end of the day, their lack of basic skills meant this should go down as a missed opportunity rather than a gallant effort. One of the positives of Argentinean rugby of late has been the nurturing of core attacking instinct, but this was absent as they blundered around with the ball just as much as the Springboks. Again, it was just a case of enduring 80 minutes of pain before mercifully being able to watch something else.
Man of the match: Another easy one – nobody.
And so ended one of the worst displays of international rugby in many years. Yes, there were many factors that contributed, most notably the weather, but again that’s not a complete deal-breaker when it comes to the ability to play an entertaining game. The refereeing was diabolical and should send a clear message to the IRB that they need to sort out that area of the game if they still want people to show up and watch. To be perfectly honest, both displays were in the channel-changing category for most viewers in this country anyway. I’m only looking forward to next week’s test at Eden Park because it can’t possibly be worse than what I saw on Saturday night. Stay tuned for a preview later on in the week. P.S: If you see anyone that is advertising ‘highlights’ of these two games, please feel free to sue them for false advertising. You’ll win.
OK, I can’t just leave you all like that. There has to have been something memorable that happened this weekend right? Check out this awesome try from Otago winger Fa’asiu Fuatai in the ITM Cup:
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.