2022 Rugby Championship Round 1: Argentina v Australia

2022 Rugby Championship Round 1: Argentina v Australia

Australia kicked off their 2022 Rugby Championship campaign with a trip to Mendoza to face off against Argentina. Now coached by former Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika, the Pumas came into the tournament off the back of a last gasp 2-1 series victory over Scotland, and they were soon ahead here as Santiago Carreras’ inside pass sent Pablo Matera over from close range. Australia were missing 2 of their stars in Michael Hooper—who had returned to Australia after not feeling in the right mindset to play—and the injured Samu Kerevi, but they welcomed back Quade Cooper, who soon got them on the scoresheet with a penalty. Emiliano Boffelli kicked 2 penalties of his own, but Australia chose to go to the corner with their next penalty, and after drawing in the defense with the initial maul, they spread the ball to create a gap for the looping Jordan Petaia to arc through, Cooper kicking the conversion. Boffelli soon added another 3 points, but Australia were growing into the game and looking dangerous, with their next attack taking them right to the Pumas’ try line, only for Cooper’s offload to hit the unsuspecting James Slipper in the face and fall into Argentina hands, allowing them to clear their lines. Though both teams tried, neither could create another chance of note before the break, though Boffelli ended the half by kicking a 4ᵗʰ penalty for a 19-10 lead.

It was the Australians who made the first attack of note after the break, Tom Wright and Jordan Petaia breaking down the right wing following an Argentine clearance, Wright ran out of space but his offload inside found debutant Jed Holloway, who was stopped just short and turned over. The Wallabies were soon back up to the line, but after failing to score in the initial phases, Quade Cooper tried to make something of a penalty advantage and ended up injuring his ankle, with Reece Hodge replacing him. Hodge’s first act was to kick to the corner with their penalty and the pack successfully mauled Fraser McReight—a late call-up to the 7 shirt following Hooper’s withdrawal—over for a try, which Hodge converted to cut the deficit to 2 points. The Pumas should have stretched the lead with a try of their own just minutes later, as Marcos Kremer was released by a inside pass, but his pass in the 22 was knocked on by the onrushing Carreras. Their next attack was much more successful though; countering a kick and spreading the ball to Matera, who carried with determination before feeding his fellow back row Juan Martín González to score in the corner, Boffelli nailing the kick from the touchline. That kick proved crucial, as a scrum penalty allowed the Wallabies to kick to the corner again, and while they couldn’t get over the line, it was adjudged that Matías Alemanno had illegally collapsed the maul, resulting in a yellow card for the lock and a penalty try for the visitors, who took the lead through a Hodge penalty just minutes later. The Argentine discipline of the first half was all-but gone and it was allowing the Wallabies to dominate, with their next kick to the corner seeing Folau Fainga’a peel off the maul and fight his way over. Back to 15 men, Argentina earned a much-needed penalty on halfway with 5 minutes left, only for Boffelli to push it too far to the right, and a last-gasp attack to earn a bonus point saw the ball go to floor and get turned over, Jake Gordon collected and his forward pass (clear to all on the replay but allowed to stand) allowed Hunter Paisami to draw the last defender and send Len Ikitau over for a final try, which Hodge converted for a 26-41 victory that will leave them top of the table after Round 1.

Too tight

Back in the days when Argentina were establishing themselves as worthy of a spot in the Rugby Championship, they were known for their dominant pack. These days, they are probably more noticeable from the incredible talent they are producing in the back 3, so much so that Santiago Carreras can be moved to fly half and there are still more legitimate options for those positions than can fit in the squad.

However, far too often when watching the Pumas so far under Michael Cheika, the back 3 has been seriously underused in attack. This is a unit that contains genuine game-changers like Santiago Cordero and Bautista Delguy, and yet they are not being given the chance to get the ball in any space to attack the defence like we know they can, being limited to just kick counters. Even Boffelli on the wing was wasted in this game, with no attempts to put the ball high in the air for Boffelli (one of the best in the world at competing for the high ball) to go up for.

Granted the Pumas have some fantastic carriers in the back row, who they managed to release quite a few times with some clever inside passes, however when things looked to go wide, players continually got in each other’s way. Is this a matter of Carreras not being able to control his back line effectively? Or are the coaches struggling to impose a more expansive attacking plan in these early days?

Blunted attack

Obviously any team is going to be hurt by the loss of Samu Kerevi, but I think this match shows just how important he is for the team.

With their star centre missing, Hunter Paisami shifted inside to 12 with Len Ikitau coming in at 13. Now Paisami is a quality centre, but is still at the earlier stage of his career where he is seen as a solid defender and a crash ball in attack, he has not yet developed that passing and kicking game that we see the best  crash ball 12s (think Kerevi and Ma’a Nonu) develop, while Ikitau is still finding himself at international level as he finds himself in and out of the 23 depending on who is available.

And so without Kerevi, the midfield looked rather blunt, just carrying into a Pumas defence that was happy to tackle and jackal all day long. It’s notable that of Australia’s 5 tries, 3 were from driving mauls, 1 was a counterattack after a turnover and the only one that involved the back line running any real shape was first phase off a lineout in the Pumas 22, a situation where any team should be able to do something creative.

Kerevi and Paisami appear to have secured the top 2 centre spots. But when Kerevi is unavailable, is Ikitau the answer, or do they need to look at a more creative option?

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2022 Rugby Championship Round 1: South Africa v New Zealand

2022 Rugby Championship Round 1: South Africa v New Zealand

The 2022 edition of the Rugby Championship kicked off in Nelspruit with the first of 2 away matches for New Zealand in South Africa. The Kiwis came in at risk of dropping in the world rankings and with Ian Foster’s role as head coach being seriously questioned and it require a great tackle out wide from Jordie Barrett to stop Makazole Mapimpi going around the outside of him as the Boks looked to spread the ball wide. The home side were almost immediately back on the attack, and when Kurt-Lee Arendse put pressure on Beauden Barrett in the air under a Handré Pollard high ball, Lukhanyo Am was there to claim the loose ball and feed the Bulls wing for the early try. Though New Zealand were getting some possession they could not get out of their half, and when captain Sam Cane was pinged for going off his feet at the breakdown, Pollard kicked the 3 points to make it a 10-point lead with a quarter of the game gone. With Arendse challenging them in the air, the All Blacks were struggling to deal with the high ball, and when Siya Kolisi beat Akira Ioane to the net loose ball, South Africa quickly recycled and spread the ball wide, but Damian de Allende’s kick forward just refused to stay infield as Mapimpi tried to catch up to it, while a timely turnover from Ardie Savea under his own posts brought the next South African attack to an end. With just 4 minutes left in the opening half, Jordie Barrett got the All Blacks on the scoresheet with a penalty after Damian de Allende encroached into an offside position at a South Africa scrum—though rarely seen penalised, both back lines should stay at least 5m behind the hind foot until the ball is out—and this appeared to give the visitors some heart as they went on the attack, only for Malcolm Marx to bring it to a swift end with his second turnover of the match on his 50ᵗʰ Test cap, which saw his side go in at the break with a 10-3 lead.

The South African dominance continued after the break and saw Pollard kick another penalty with 30 minutes remaining. With Jordie Barrett struggling with a foot injury, Richie Mo’unga was brought on at fly half—with Beauden Barrett moving to 15—but it had little impact as South Africa continued to dominate, allowing Handré Pollard to kick a drop goal just before the hour. New Zealand finally saw themselves gifted with possession in the South African 22 with just over 15 minutes remaining after Arendse kicked out on the full when the ball had been played back into the 22, but the threat lasted just a couple of phases before replacement hooker Dane Coles knocked on. As the game entered the final 10 minutes, the South African defence continued to play as they had all night, and when Lukhanyo Am won a turnover penalty just inside the New Zealand half, Pollard kicked the penalty to open up a 16-point lead—a notable figure as a loss of 15 points or more would see the All Blacks drop to 5ᵗʰ in the World Rankings. An impressive game for Arendse was ruined by a late red card for taking out Beauden Barrett in the air with 5 minutes remaining—an incident that saw both players stay down for a number of minutes and Arendse eventually stretchered off. With just minutes left but a one-man advantage, Caleb Clarke made a break and was stopped just short by Damian Willemse, but bought time for his support, which allowed Shannon Frizell to go over in the corner, but some loose play as New Zealand went hunting for the bonus point on their next possession saw the All Blacks flanker fumble Sam Cane’s pass, and replacement Willie le Roux nipped in to score under the posts, Pollard kicking the conversion for a 26-10 victory.

Fifty up

On a recent article, I named Malcolm Marx as one of my top 5 hookers currently playing. Today was the perfect example of why.

While he was ultra-reliable at the set piece, he was also used as one of the primary carriers on first phase off the lineouts, and yet despite this meaning pretty much all of his carries were into an organised defence, he still managed to break the gain line with every single one of his carries, with one knock on in contact the only real blight on his 53-minute performance.

But where he really came alive was in defence, where he won 4 turnovers. The best openside flankers in the world would be happy with 4 turnovers in a Test match, this is coming from a hooker. He is so physically strong and in control of his body, while he has the nous to get himself in the right position as the tackle is made an the technique to get himself over the ball and latched on in a split-second.

Don’t ever be fooled by how often he starts on the bench, Marx is an elite player who should never be underestimated. This Man of the Match performance on his half-century was a timely reminder.

New faces, same result

The NZRU shockingly allowed Ian Foster to stay in his job following the series loss to Ireland, instead sacking his assistants. But this will surely have doomed Foster, even if he remains in the job for one more week with another Test against the Boks in South Africa next weekend.

The big worry for a while with New Zealand has been how there appears to be no plan in attack. Well the change in coaches certainly didn’t help there as the All Blacks looked worse than ever, creating just 1 attack of note, which was not even manufactured by the team, but simply a broken tackle late on and the individual skill of Caleb Clarke. Had the Boks nt scored that second try at the death, a 9-point difference would have been far too kind on the All Blacks and thoroughly undeserved.

Granted, the South African defence didn’t make things easy for New Zealand, with players regularly shooting out the line to make the man and ball tackle, but New zealand never looked like thy had an answer and continued to try and truck it up through the middle with their centres and forwards, who were too often being caught behind the gain line.

As a rugby fan, it is actually a real disappointment to see the All Blacks reduced to such a shambles. If Ian Foster survives this latest embarrassment, I begin to worry just how far this team can fall.

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Top 5: Second Rows

Top 5: Second Rows

Welcome back to my “Top 5” rugby series. This 13-article series has been inspired by countless conversations among friends or other fans over the years and will see me selecting my top 5 men’s rugby players who are currently playing at each position.

With all of these lists, I am picking who I feel are the best 5 at each position, so there may be some surprises in there as I select the players who I feel are most appropriate to the position despite there being multiple ways to play many positions. I try to watch rugby from a broad range of leagues as well as plenty (or too much, depending how you ask) of Test matches, but I appreciate that I still have some blind spots, while a list like this is subjective; so while the majority of each article will be my list, I also set my good friend and occasional collaborator Phil the challenge to select his top 5, which I will include below. I’d also love to hear your picks, so go ahead and post them in the comments!

With the front row now covered, today we are looking at locks.


Top 5


Maro Itoje

I must admit, I’ve not always been the biggest fan of Itoje as he has sometimes gone for too much niggle and it’s been costly. However, he has matured of late, picking his moments, and as such is showing that potential to be the best lock in the world. Capable of playing 6, he is much better suited to lock, where his dynamism and jackaling ability adds an extra dimension to his play, and is a legitimate gamechanger in all areas of the game.

Eben Etzebeth

When he first came on the scene, he looked like the heir apparent to Bakkies Botha as the enforcer in the pack. Well Etzebeth became much more than that. A true leader on the pitch, Etzebeth plays a huge role as one of the South African behemoths to dominate the set piece, while in open play he uses his strength to hold players up and force a turnover through creation of a maul. Also has a good turn of pace when put through a hole. Despite the depth of quality in the Springbok back row, he is fully worthy of his 100+ caps.

Tadhg Beirne

I’ve been a fan of Beirne ever since his Scarlets days, and if possible, he’s just got better since then! Like Itoje, he is capable of playing in the back row, but excels at lock as he can provide that extra dynamism and threat that wouldn’t always be expected from a second row. In defence, he will tackle all day, but is even more of a threat when able to jackal, while he has a good turn of pace and good footwork to cause real issues when put through a hole in attack. Proved himself crucial in Ireland’s historic first ever series win in New Zealand.

Brodie Retallick

World Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, the New Zealand lock is the only player at his position to have won the award to date. So solid in every area of the game, his workrate is phenomenal, and while a lot of what he does probably goes unnoticed, he still finds a few moments to remind the world of his quality.

Courtney Lawes

There were so many ways I could have gone with this final pick, and had I done this list a few years earlier, I’m sure that Alun Wyn Jones would have earned the spot, but I have instead gone for Northampton and England’s Lawes. Started his career as an enforcer who would put in a couple of giant hits each game, but has matured into a real leader and a quality all-round player, so much so that he is spending much of this stage of his career in the 6 shirt. He still has the big hit in his locker, but instead is a hugely reliable defender, while he runs the pack at the set piece and can also make ground with a good carry.

Phil’s top 5: Maro Itoje, Eben Etzebeth, Tadhg Beirne, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul Willemse

Who makes your top 5?

They brought it home

They brought it home

I’ll keep this one brief, because first of all, I wouldn’t consider myself even close to an expert on the subject, and second, because even 24 hours on, I’m still struggling to find the right words.

In 1996, 30 years on from England’s World Cup triumph and with the European Championships coming up in England, David Baddiel, Frank Skinner, and The Lightning Seeds released the song “Three Lions” with the hope that 30 years of hurt would end with Terry Venables’ England would go the distance and in their first major trophy since 1966. England eventually fell to Germany in the semifinals on penalties.

But last night, Sunday 31ˢᵗ August 2022, I watched on with barely-controlled emotion as, after 56 years of hurt, England won a major tournament. But it wasn’t Harry Kane and his gang of millionaires. Instead it was Leah Williamson’s Lionesses as Chloe Kelly’s 110ᵗʰ minute goal secured a 2-1 victory over Germany (of all teams!) after extra time in the final of the UEFA Women’s Championship!

The Lionesses have made the country proud. But much more than that, they have helped take women’s football to a new level, with packed stadiums throughout the competition ending with a crowd of 87,192 fans watching at Wembley (a European Championships record, regardless of gender) and a a peak BBC One television audience of 17.4 million making it the most-watched women’s football game on UK television.

At a time like this, you must spare a moment for those who came before. The Steph Houghtons, the Alex Scotts, the Kelly Smiths… those who played and represented their country at a time when there was less support and visibility. They set women’s football on the path and were the heroes the current generation needed to encourage them to take up the sport and then make a career out of it. Now the vital thing is that this is seen not as the destination, but simply the next step on the road to making women’s football equal to the men’s game.

We are clearly making strides. Women’s football is getting more coverage and it sounds as if FIFA 23 will even be giving the women’s game a lot more focus that previous iterations, which only recently began to feature a handful of national teams. But the key is to keep the momentum, with fans now going to WSL games—let’s be honest, they’re bound to be much less expensive than Premier League games—while it is also important that sponsors and broadcasters continue to give more and more focus to the game. One shot fired at the England squad was how white it has become, as the increasing professionalism has seen the clubs move their training bases to more affluent areas, which leaves girls from poorer areas unable to afford travel to training, and so it is vital that money continues to come into the game so that solutions can be found to stop this being an issue.

20 years from now when I’m an old man and talk about this Championship, of how Beth Mead came back from Olympics snub to become Player of the Tournament and win the Golden Boot, I hope that I will not be looking at one shining moment in English football, but instead remembering how this was just the next step in the growth of women’s football. After all, it’s Her Game Too.