The first game of the second week saw the two premier teams in Rugby Championship 2019, New Zealand and South Africa, clash in what has historically been tight, combative game. In last year’s tournament, only two points separated the teams both times they faced each other.
Rugby Championship 2019
It was an equally cagey affair on Saturday as the two sides could not be separated thanks to a late try from Herschel Jantjies and conversion from Handre Pollard which brought the Springboks level despite the All Black’s comfortable performance in the second half where they looked sure to win at a canter.
James Skeldon takes a look at the main talking points.
Herschel Jantjies’ impressive fortnight
The Stormers scrum half put himself in the spotlight last week due to his electric performance against Australia where he scored two tries including an intelligent snipe around the breakdown which caught the Wallaby defense napping. The question was whether he could reproduce his heroics this week.
Faf De Klerk ran the show in the first half with his hanging box kicks and canny work around the contact area shows why he is a key attribute for the ‘Boks Rugby Championship 2019 campaign. He was forced off at the 50-minute mark after he failed his HIA. This brought on Herschel Jantjies who looked confident and more than capable in the second half. He dictated the pace of the game well and looked assured in his second cap for the Boks. He really made his mark on the game when he out jumped Aaron Smith in the dying seconds of the match allowing Handre Pollard the opportunity to kick at goal which earned South Africa a draw.
South Africa is blessed with two highly talented scrum-halves going into the Rugby World Cup. De Klerk has blossomed into a fantastic game manager and when the game breaks up, Jantjes is waiting in the wings to inject pace into a match. In his short international career, he has shown a knack to be in the right place at the right time.
The Springboks will be delighted to have him on board.
Beauden Barret and Richie Mo’unga’s partnership at 10 and 15
This match was perhaps not the best game to conclusively determine whether the Mo’unga/Barret 10/15 combination is a successful one due to the match often being scrappy and error-strewn. There were minimal phases of any attacking continuity for the All Blacks so the involvements of the two playmakers as a pair were few and far between.
However, they did show glimpses of what a New Zealand attack with the two of them at the helm would look like. Last season, the All Blacks employed a similar tactic with Damian McKenzie at fullback with Barrett at 10. As McKenzie is a part-time 10, the two could dovetail in and out at first receiver and create a multi-dimensional attack with two generals available who are able to spearhead the attack at all times. This was the plan for Mo’unga and Barrett and it showed signs of success. Mo’unga handled himself well picking out his runners competently and when he ran at players and took the ball into contact, Barrett was on hand to fill in at first receiver to direct the next phase of play as if he was he fly half.
The transition was made easier as Barrett is outstanding at full back. On multiple occasions throughout the first half, he bailed his team out by covering potentially dangerous attacking kicks from the Boks and releasing pressure with his kicks. In the 17th minute, he came from a mile away to cover a Kolbe break off a turnover and shut down the attack. he was also excellent under the high ball. He beat high ball specialist, Willie Le Roux, in the air and looked assured throughout. Additionally, having Barrett at 15 gives him more freedom to roam the wider channels and counter from deep. It was his involvement in open play-off turnover ball that resulted in Goodhue’s crucial first half try. He threatened from deep on more than one occasion.
The partnership of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett showed promise and deserves to be tested in future games as it has the potential to be deadly.
Sonny Bill Williams’ return
Ahead of the game, Williams’ performance was one to pay close attention to. He is one of World Rugby’s biggest stars and you would have thought that a fully fit SBW is a nailed-on starter for the All Blacks. However, in the last year, he hasn’t played too much rugby with only three Super Rugby starts this year due to a lengthy ten week layoff.
It was a mixed bag for Williams on the night. His athletic, powerful frame was often deployed at crash ball on first phase to a varying degree of effect. On a couple of occasions, much like his teammates, he coughed up the ball in contact. Perhaps due to the ferocity in which the Springboks tackled throughout the game.
However, as he so often does, Williams popped up with a game-breaking moment, throwing the ball wide to send Barrett on his way which ultimately lead to New Zealand’s solitary try of the game.
Whether Williams can nail down the 12 jersey remains to be seen due Ngani Laumape’s continued success in the starting XV as well as the world-class Ryan Crotty being ever-present. He deserves an opportunity though because a Sonny Bill Williams firing on all cylinders is a serious weapon.
Brodie Retallick’s Injury
Embed from Getty ImagesBrodie Retallick is arguably the best player in the world.
His involvement in the All Blacks pack is so crucial and everything seems to function and fire more efficiently and ruthlessly when he is present. He looked on dangerous form throughout stealing a couple of Springbok lineouts as well as working tirelessly in the tight, something that has become par for the course whenever the Chief takes to the field.
As he reeled away from the breakdown clutching his arm you feared the worst for the lock. The early impression seemed to be that he had dislocated his shoulder. Dislocated shoulders often take three to four months to fully heal which puts his World Cup hopes in jeopardy.
His loss at the Rugby World Cup would be not just a loss or the All Blacks but, also a loss for rugby. At the highest level, you want all of the teams to be at their very best, and without Retallick (it is arguable) whether New Zealand can be at their best in The Rugby Championship 2019 without him.
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