The first round of The Rugby Championship provided a mixed bag of emotions for me. Obviously I am bummed about the Springboks losing to Australia, and a bit angry since we had it in the bag but let it slip. The Aussies played well and in all fairness, they deserved the victory at the end of the day. Well played Australia. The All Blacks and Los Pumas encounter was entertaining rugby as both sides played positively with ball in hand. Argentina showed great determination to take the game to the All Blacks, but at the end of the day, they were out-classed and dominated by the All Blacks. New Zealand are clearly ahead of their Rugby Championship competitors at this stage in the build-up towards the Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand (38) vs Argentina (18)
The New Zealand couching staff will be pleased with the performances of their older players. Dan Carter found a bit of his mojo again when it comes to his running game. Richie McCaw had a solid performance and is still one of the best breakdown specialists to play the game. I was impressed with the amount of work that McCaw did on the field. Israel Dagg made it clear that he deserves to go to the Rugby World Cup after he had one of his best performances in a very long time. The ever present Kieran Read stamped his authority on the game, letting everyone know that he is still the current benchmark when it comes to world class no. 8’s. He was sublime.
Even though Argentina were dominated in general by the All Blacks, they were able to take the game to the All Blacks late in the 2nd half. Their captain, Agustin Creevy, was an absolute monster on the field! I was really impressed with his leadership and communication with the referee and his teammates, not to mention how he was one of the few Argentine players to consistently gain meters in the contact situation. I feel that most of the Argentine players were outplayed by their New Zealand opposites, and that no one apart from Creevy had a stand-out performance. With first-choice players set to return to the Argentine setup they should be improving every week.
Australia (24) vs South Africa (20)
Collectively the Australian side was solid and their bench had a massive influence on the game, particularly the reserve front row who absolutely dominated the Springboks scrum in the 2nd half. But there were three names who stood out above the rest. Israel Folau had a complete game at fullback and completely nullified the Springboks kick-and-chase strategy. As always he was dangerous with ball in hand and was able to gain meters for his side. There is no one with a higher work-rate in the Australian team than Micheal Hooper. He is everywhere! Always making big hits and never giving the Springboks a chance to even take a breath. However, I was most impressed by Stephen Moore. Not just because he had a solid game, but more for his leadership on the field to lead his team from behind to clinch the victory right at the end. To have made that call to go for the lineout with mere seconds left on the clock… that took some balls!
On the South African team, there were a few players like Ruan Pienaar, Tendai Mtawarira, JP Pieterson and the whole bench (apart from Lodewyk De Jager) who had a poor day. Changes are required to elevate the collective performance of the Springboks. On the bright side, the center pairing of Damien de Allende and Jesse Kriel keep on impressing, particularly in defense this week. Willie Le Roux had a good performance at the back providing security under the high ball and making good choices with ball in hand. In the forwards, I was thoroughly impressed by the brute physicality of Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger. Eben is definitely on the right path towards becoming one of the best locks in the world, while Schalk showed that he can provide that physicality at No. 8 that we are so used to see from Duane Vermeulen, whom is currently injured. I was most impressed by Jannie du Plessis to be honest. He has been struggling in the scrums during the past, and at times he is not as physical and aggressive in the contact as one would expect from a prop. However, today he dominated his opposition at scrum time, was very physical and aggressive in general game play and did not do anything stupid or give away unnecessary penalties. Well played Jannie, keep it up!
Image credits: Supersport