Rugby Championship Round 1 – Review

This weekend marked the kick off of the SANZAR Rugby Championship. What an opening it was as well, with the Springboks destroying the Pumas, and the All Blacks soundly defeating the Wallabies.

The Springboks thumped Argentina’s Los Pumas 73 – 13 in Soweto, posting what is disturbingly their SECOND highest defeat that they have handed to the South Americans. The try list for the South Africans pretty much read like a replay of their team list – the Springboks simply were too strong on both offence and defence. Does this mean the Pumas can expect to have similar score results throughout the championship? I would suggest not. The Pumas are still developing well, and do have some degree of international representation.

However, it is fair to say the Springboks are a phenomenally strong team, and especially with the likes of Morne Steyn, Jannie du Plessis and the electric Jean de Villiers, you’d be a foolish man (or woman) to rule out the South Africans when they face the Wallabies and All Blacks later in the series. That said, in news through today, the team still has some internal issues with prop Trevor Nyakane being dumped today for ongoing discipline issues. I doubt that will have any major impact of the Springboks though, and they are looking very much like the solid, form team of old.

Naturally the big one for me this weekend was the defence of the Bledisloe Cup (which runs concurrently with the Rugby Championship), with game one at ANZ Stadium, in front of a vocal and passionate Sydney -based audience.

WHAT. A. GAME.

I wrote a while back that I had my concerns about the age of some of the All Black’s players, and the depth of the team. For the first half hour I was very, very tense. The Blacks looked okay, but that was just it – it was only “okay”. Not amazing, not dynamic, just okay.

But Aaron Cruden, who played a key role in the first Ben Smith try at the 3-minute mark, seemed to almost bring the team to life. Around the 31-minute mark, he charged down a clearance kick, which he then turned into one of the most spectacular tries I’ve seen in some time. From there on, it was just a brutal, methodical destruction of an admittedly spirited but overwhelmed Wallabies side.

Israel Folau, who had the potential to be a big danger man, was all but absent from the game. The Aussies just couldn’t seem to get the ball wide and utilise the wingers’ speed and skill. Quade Cooper started off the bench at the 61st minute and proceeded to do, well, nothing really. I actually had to laugh at former Wallaby Digby Ioane tweeting afterwards “Great to see you back doing what you do bro” to Cooper. Cooper seemed vauge, ineffective and wholly pointless. I was also frankly disgusted to see him laughing when Matt Toomua – the uncapped rookie who was on the field in Coopers place – took an unfortunate shot to the head off an ill-timed Cruden kick.

Steven Luatua crashed over for a try that, in his words, left him in shock. Another late call-up to cover Liam Messam on the blindside, Luatua more than justified his place in the team. He was on target, and also provided great support play to set up another Ben Smith try.

Ben Smith tries were a fairly common theme of the game by the way, as he ended up with three of them.

When the Wallabies fired on all cylinders they were good, but they just couldn’t keep it together. The All Blacks were slow to start, but when they they got it together.. let’s just say I’m starting to feel a lot more confident in this team. If they can keep this focus and keep moving forward we’re in with a good shot.

BREAKING: This just in – Colin Slade, and Tom Taylor have been called up as support for Cruden and Beauden Barrett. Barret came into the test match late in the game, and has been having calf issues. Cruden took a knock to the knee and left the field around the 71st minute as a precaution. This could have big ramifications for the next Bledisloe game on Saturday here in New Zealand. I’m back to panicking!!!

 

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