AUCKLAND, NZ – That’s more like it. Round 2 of The Rugby Championship was a vast, vast improvement over the first one, serving up one excellent performance from the All Blacks and an exciting victory to the Springboks. Both the Wallabies and Pumas headed into this round with high hopes of victory but ultimately they came away empty-handed, in the latter’s case with plenty of positives to take out of a strong performance, the former going back to the drawing board after getting wiped off the park.
The action started in Auckland at the All Black’s Eden Park fortress, where they laid waste to the Wallabies.
All Blacks 51 (Penalty try, Julian Savea, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw 2, Steven Luatua tries, Aaron Cruden 3 pen, 5 con, Aaron Smith con) Wallabies 20 (Israel Folau, Michael Hooper tries, Kurtley Beale 2 pen, 2 con)
What a difference a week makes. The All Blacks, stung by criticism of their flat performance in Sydney last Saturday, came out swinging at Eden Park, completely dominating the Wallabies to post their highest score against them on NZ soil. So complete was this showing that it’s been immediately labeled one of the best All Black performances of all time and made a mockery of suggestions that this team was ‘there for the taking’ and ‘on the decline.’ Embodying this was captain Richie McCaw, who has unbelievably had to endure calls for his retirement of late. It’s fair to say he put those voices in their place with a two-try performance. But just to satisfy those who think he’s a cheat, he was yellow-carded early in the game.
After this yellow card, it was referee Roman Poite again who played the key role in the first try after the All Blacks had established a 9-6 lead after 27 minutes. The game had so far seen a series of mauls from the home side’s forwards that the visitors were having little joy defending, so lock Rob Simmons took it upon himself to drag one down but earned himself a yellow card. The All Blacks kept on the attack and forced a five-metre scrum, which looked for all money to be going over for a try until the Wallabies buckled and collapsed, leaving Poite no option but to signal a penalty try under the posts. Their next try cruelly came as a result of the Wallabies best attacking chance up until that point, a great Israel Folau break down the left wing was followed up by the ball being spread wide to the right where it was turned over and cooly controlled by Aaron Cruden who sent Julian Savea away on an easy 50 metre jog to the try line. Simmons had to sit in the sin bin and watch all this, his indiscretion turning into 14 points and a commanding 23-6 halftime lead to the All Blacks.
After the break the assault didn’t let up, a break by Savea down the left wing and grubber kick infield led to Kieran Read crashing over next to the posts. McCaw got on the scoresheet with his first try off a line out drive and then thought, ‘what the heck, let’s do that again’ three minutes later with another in the same corner off a similar move, making the score 44-6. With the result beyond doubt the Wallabies fans finally got something to cheer about when Folau, who had been trying hard all night, scored next to the posts. Bouyed on by this brief resurgence, the Wallabies pack got a bit of a roll on and opened up some space for captain Michael Hooper to wriggle his way over shortly afterwards. The All Blacks woke up quickly from that and ground out the remaining 10 minutes, however they saved a little bit more misery for the last play of the game when Steven Luatua scored his first test try, the conversion bringing up a half-century of points and making sure the Bledisloe Cup won’t be shifting across the Tasman this season.
Quite simply, the All Blacks were outstanding. Apart from a brief patch where the Wallabies scored a couple of tries, the home team completely dominated this test match and reminded anyone who may have forgotten that they are the best team in the world. It was a victory that can be put down to a complete team performance, the work up front by the tight forwards meant the backs had front foot ball all day. Halfback Aaron Smith had one of his best performances in a black jersey but can thank his pack for giving him and armchair ride. McCaw was outstanding as he played like he had a chip on his shoulder from all the criticism and, although he had a few handling errors, Liam Messam put in a punishing display on defense filling in for the injured Jerome Kaino. The All Blacks did suffer one key injury, Ryan Crotty having to leave the field at halftime with a fractured cheek, however his replacement Malakai Fekitoa had a strong showing.
The Wallabies had no answer to the intensity the All Blacks played with and were out of the game after half an hour. Israel Folau looked dangerous every time he touched the ball but got no help from his wingers, who may as well have not even been on the park. Halfback Nic White was out of sorts as the pack in front of him were getting dismembered by their opposites and Kurtley Beale did nothing to help his cause in the ongoing debate over whether he or Bernard Foley should be staring in the number 10 jersey. This match is a serious setback to a Wallaby team who came into this game full of confidence and regarded by many as a growing force in the test arena.
Man of the match: Tough one due to the all round quality of the home side, but the prize this week goes to Aaron Cruden who had maybe his best performance for the All Blacks. He showed great composure, kicked intelligently and gave the selectors a real headache as to whether they retain him or select a fit Dan Carter when he’s available.
Over in the Argentinean city of Salta it was the Springboks who had to rely on a late penalty to snatch victory out of Los Pumas hands in a thrilling finish to a high scoring game.
Springboks 33 (Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Marcell Coetzee tries, Handre Pollard con, 3 pen, Morne Steyn 2 con, pen), Pumas 31 (Manuel Montero, Tomas Cubelli, Joaquin Tuculet tries, Nicolas Sanchez 2 con, 2 pen, Juan Martin Hernandez dg, Marcelo Bosch pen)
So close. Argentina were just five minutes away from a famous victory on home soil in front of a raucous crowd separated from the field by barbed wire, but replacement Morne Steyn stepped up and slotted a penalty that edged the Boks in front. Before that however, Los Pumas had come out firing from the opening whistle, gaining a serious edge in possession in the opening 20 minutes that they eventually turned in a try to impressive winger Manuel Montero. The Boks replied with a try against the run of play to Bryan Habana and held an unconvincing 16-13 lead at halftime.
After the break Los Pumas shot out to a 28-16 lead, replacement halfback Tomas Cubelli crashing over after some weak Bok defense let him through a big gap close to a ruck before he showed great strength to get the ball down. Just to really let the Boks know that they meant business they added a third in the left hand corner to Joaquin Tuculet.
The shell-shocked Boks came out with a different attitude after that and Cornal Hendricks dotted down after some great lead up work. They retook the lead through a line out drive try to replacement flanker Marcel Coetzee but this was wiped out soon after by a booming penalty from halfway by Marcelo Bosch. It was all on for a grandstand finish and the drama unfolded as the Boks methodically hammered away at the Argentine defense. Ultimately it was a foolish ruck infringement that gave Steyn the opportunity he needed and the kick sailed through to edge the Boks back in front. They still had to withstand a late charge but Los Pumas couldn’t quite execute the forward play to get themselves in range for a drop goal.
Did the Boks deserve to win this game? Absolutely not. Los Pumas played with far more passion and desire and, had they been able to convert a couple more opportunities, should have won this game running away. Credit to the visitors for launching an unlikely comeback but for a team of South Africa’s quality, this result is about as unacceptable as a loss. Handre Pollard still looked like he was finding his feet on the test match stage, he better find them pretty quick or his place will be taken by the more experienced Steyn. The humiliation of the Springbok scrum was probably the highlight of the match for any non-South African fan, Los Pumas went a bit old-school and focused their efforts on pummeling them up front to great effect.
While Los Pumas will be disappointed with the loss, they can take heart in the fact that they played a more open, expansive game and it came within a whisker of earning them a victory. The forwards earned their backs good ball and it was only a moment of brilliance by Hendricks that let the Boks back in the game. They did, however, drop their composure when they needed it most for Coetzee’s try. They’ll be fancying their chances of creditable performances against the All Blacks and Wallabies.
Man of the match: Los Pumas number eight Juan Manuel Leguizamón had a gigantic game, getting through a mountain of work with ball in hand. However, he was only able to thanks to the efforts of his front row, who combined to demolish the Boks at scrum time.
Those results mean The Rugby Championship points table looks like this after two rounds:
The Springboks hold a very tenuous grip on the top of the table and head to Perth in two weeks time to take on the battered Wallabies, who will be relieved they’ve got a week off to regroup after their heavy loss. Los Pumas travel to New Zealand where they’ll meet the All Blacks in Napier, both games should provide a great deal of entertainment. Big ups to both referees over the weekend, who let the games flow and provide us with the entertainment The Rugby Championship is known for.
On a personal note, I have to share my experience of attending that booming All Black performance along with 50,000 others at Eden Park on Saturday night. In my preview of the last round I included highlights of the All Blacks destroying the Wallabies in Wellington in 1996, another game I was lucky enough to be at. These two games would have to be the finest performances I’ve been in attendance for and it was helped by a fantastic atmosphere by the home crowd. After the game I was lucky enough to find some friendly Wallaby fans who, despite being gutted by the loss, let my mates and I share a drink and come together as supporters of our great game. I even did a jersey swap with one fan, the first time in my life I’ve ever pulled on an Australian jersey.
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.