AUCKLAND, NZ – Well, this was supposed to be the weekend that decided The Rugby Championship, but the All Blacks got greedy and won the whole thing in the last round. Their third consecutive title was sealed with a four-try bonus point victory over Los Pumas, meaning this weekend’s game against the Springboks is meaningless, right? Wrong, dead wrong. This is the biggest test of the year for both teams, their ancient rivalry culminating in hopefully another epic battle at Ellis Park. Meanwhile, Los Pumas will be hungry for their first win and will be hoping to dine out on a bit of Wallaby when they meet in Mendoza. However, it’s been an eventful week so here’s some…
Former Northland, Blues and All Black Rene Ranger (currently at French club Montpellier) is apparently interested in returning to NZ rugby with the intention of attending the 2015 Rugby World Cup. It’d a bold move, given that the All Blacks midfield is probably one of the most solid combinations and the wingers are undisputedly the best in the world. Good luck to him if he does, the main beneficiaries would definitely be the Blues. Get everything you need to know about the French Top 14 in James Harrington’s excellent column here.
Just when it looked like Australian rugby was getting it’s act together, Kurtley Beale goes and screws it all up. The Waratahs first five has been cut from the test side after getting into what is reported to be a ‘heated argument’ with a team staff member. Who knows what actually happened, but it’s a real shame that the Wallabies seemed to be on the verge of something special heading into The Rugby Championship. Instead they’ve melted into mediocrity in the back end of the season and now an all-too-familiar off-field distraction from a player who should’ve been reined in ages ago. Also it doesn’t help that former coach Robbie Deans has just released a book this week which, among other things, discusses a few sensitive issues that the ARU would have preferred had been kept behind closed doors.
It seems the English rugby team can’t redesign their jersey without annoying people. From the same people that thought that an all-black strip would be a good idea (because no one has done that before, right?), they’ve now released their new strip complete with a pattern based on the Victoria Cross (the Commonwealth version of the Medal of Honor). Unsurprisingly, equating playing rugby for England with the heroic sacrifice of over 1000 recipients of the highest honor for battlefield valor has offended anyone with a brain, especially if they’ve also watched this awful promo video. Most galling of all is the fact that the VC isn’t just awarded to servicemen of England, in fact three out of the last five have been to Australians and the only man to receive it twice was a New Zealander.
Tragedy struck the English Premiership this week (which you can read a full review of in Nicholas Hall’s informative column here), with former All Black Nick Evans involved in an horrific incident during the Harlequins vs. Saracens match. WARNING: If you are easily upset at beer going to waste, the following clip contains content that will disturb:
As I alluded to in the opening, while The Rugby Championship trophy is currently residing in NZRU headquarters for another off season, the second test between the All Blacks and Springboks is still very much a big deal. To know why you must go back through the vast history between these two sides, a couple of weeks ago I told you the bad parts, now here’s the good. The first two test series between the two nations were played in 1921 and 1928, with both drawn. However, the rivalry really kicked off in 1937, when the Springboks toured New Zealand and dominated the All Blacks for a 2-1 series win and thrashed a host of top provincial sides along the way.
I’ve already talked about the humiliating 1949 All Black tour of South Africa, which meant by the time the 1956 Springbok tour of NZ happened, the Boks had unofficially been world champions for almost 20 years. Because there was no World Cup back in those days and the two teams historically had the best records, any time they met was essentially a battle for global rugby supremacy. The ’56 tour was a landmark historical event in NZ history, setting attendance records at most grounds that still stand today. The final test at Eden Park was won thanks to a famous try to All Black flanker Peter Jones, whose aftermatch speech that was broadcast live has gone down in history as the first time anyone had used profanity on the radio in NZ.
The two sides went tit for tat in five more increasingly controversial series, with the home side winning each until South Africa’s eventual sporting isolation. In 1992 the All Blacks played their first test on South African soil in 16 years at Ellis Park, a one-off affair that had a slightly flattering 27-24 scoreline. In reality the Boks were well beaten before they tacked on a couple of tries at the death, what this test really showed is how far off the pace they were due to the isolation period.
However, the most famous test in terms of world attention came three years later in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final. Dodgy waitressing aside, the All Blacks were heavy favorites to lift the cup again at Ellis Park. The Springboks, led by Francois Pienaar, had other ideas and put on a mammoth performance to grind out a 15-12 win in extra time thanks to a Joel Stransky drop goal. The one image that this game is most noted for is the symbolic gesture of South African president Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey while in attendance.
Over the years since then test between the two sides have become commonplace, although last years corresponding match at Ellis Park showed why the rivalry between two has shown no signs of letting up. The Boks, needing a four try bonus point to win The Rugby Championship, ran the ball from everywhere and forced the All Blacks to do the same. The result was one of the greatest tests ever played. Check out the highlights here:
Ellis Park, Johannesburg, will be the setting for the final showdown of 2014 for the All Blacks and Springboks. #RSAvNZL
The biggest issue regarding this match has been the injuries to both sides. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be sweating on the fitness of his main weapon, Duane Vermuelen, who has been bracketed in the starting lineup with Schalk Burger. The number 8, whose mission to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’ has kept medics overworked all season, will be given right up until kickoff to prove that he’s ready to go hunting for some more big hits. The only other change is at hooker, with the equally abrasive Bismarck du Plessis coming in after being rested for the last two tests for Adriaan Strauss. The full team is:
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Duane Vermeulen/Schalk Burger, 7 Tebo Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Schalk Burger/Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 JP Pietersen.
The All Blacks most notable change sees rookie prop Joe Moody from the Crusaders getting a start for Owen Franks. The is a massive sign from the selectors of the regard they must hold Moody, a former NZ wrestling representative. Keven Mealamu retains the hooking spot vacated last weekend by Dane Coles, the veteran rewarded for an outstanding game in Buenos Aires that dispelled a few doubts about his aging legs. Jeremy Thrush gets another chance at lock, however the All Blacks will definitely miss the man he’s replaced as Brodie Retallick has been outstanding at every level this year. The only other change is on the bench, where Tawera Kerr-Barlow comes in for TJ Perenara. The full team is:
All Blacks: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Joe Moody.
Bench: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty
The selection of du Plessis gives a clear indication of the Boks intention to hit the All Blacks hard up the middle of the park, which almost brought them victory in Wellington. Like all other sides, the Boks greatest chance of victory will be to score as many tries as possible. Meyer has stated this is the case midweek, although it will be built on traditional set piece. Getting the ball to the form back three will need to be done quickly and accurately, because the All Blacks kicking game will do them few favors. For the All Blacks it’s a case of maintaining the same standards they’ve set since round two, however the new faces will really need to step up in the tight five to avoid being bullied by their vastly more experienced Springbok counterparts. Malakai Fekitoa and Jean de Villiers has the potential to be a fascinating match up given the latter’s recent form and the former’s massive potential.
Prediction: Again, disregard everything you know about the past history of these two sides. The Boks could’ve got thumped by 50 last weekend and would still come into this game confident but the All Blacks know that. Expect a another massively physical encounter in which there will be more than a few casualties, probably a few shots at goal and a very tight finish. All Blacks by 1.
Man to watch: Joe Moody will have his work cut out for him by getting given the task of marking the ruthless Jannie du Plessis. It’ll be very interesting to see if he can handle his trial by fire.
Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza, hosts the other test of the weekend and sees Los Pumas welcome the Wallabies. #ARGvAUS
The familiar echoes of how Los Pumas fans could be ready to celebrate their maiden Rugby Championship this weekend have been tempered somewhat by everyone casting their minds back to the corresponding match last season. A Wallabies team in disarray, a partisan home crowd and encouraging performance all seemed to point to an Argentine victory. The result: a 54-17 masterclass by the Wallabies, including a gigantic performance from Israel Folau. Just how much Kurtley Beale’s indiscretion will effect the team on the field remains to be seen, but adversity can certainly galvanize a team like the Wallabies. No one has actually replaced Beale positionally, with Ewen McKenzie opting for a 6 forward/two back bench this week. Meanwhile, Dane Coles isn’t the only international rugby player to have had timing issues with regards to having children, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe will miss this test for the home side for the same reason. Horacio Agulla gets a reward for coming on and dotting down last week with a start at centre for Marcelo Bosch, while Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro gets a run at prop. The full teams are:
Los Pumas: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Horacio Agulla, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Benjamin Macome, 6 Rodrigo Baez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Bench: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Jeronimo De la Fuente.
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Bench: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Rob Horne.
Prediction: While this edition of The Rugby Championship will be seen as a failure for the Wallabies, don’t discount their ability to draw strength from the recent adversity. While they were well beaten in the end by the Boks last weekend, they showed glimpses in the first half of what they are capable of and were heroic on defense for 70 minutes at least. Meanwhile Los Pumas turnover count last week was abysmally high and they will get punished again if they continue in that vein. Wallabies by 10.
Man to watch: An interesting selection is on the bench, where 33 year old Josh Mann-Rea will most probably come off to make his test debut at some stage in the second half. While his story speaks volumes about the Wallabies crisis at hooker more than anything else, it is cool to see a guy at his relatively advanced age still being able to begin an international rugby career.
The last round means NZ fans will be getting up at 4am to watch the test, or alternatively stay up all night drinking and then fall asleep about five minutes after kick-off. I’m a huge fan of the time difference in Argentina for us, I’m guessing it’ll be somewhat similar when the All Blacks take on the US Eagles in a month in Chicago. Speaking of which, we’re currently putting together some helpful video clips for all you US fans to give you an insight into the All Blacks. Look out for NZ Rugby 101, coming soon!
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.