Eyes On: 2018 Rugby Championship – Round 6

Eyes On: 2018 Rugby Championship – Round 6

The 2018 Rugby Championship came to a close in Round 6 with a reverse of the Round 4 fixtures. If Round 4 will be remembered as the week of upsets, Round 6 will go down as the week of stunning comebacks as champions New Zealand scored 2 converted tries in the final 5 minutes to beat South Africa, while Australia overturned a 31-7 halftime deficit in Argentina to win 34-45, clawing themselves into third place in the standings at the Pumas’ expense.


South Africa 30-32 New Zealand

At 30-18 with just 10 minutes left, South Africa looked set to do an incredible double over the All Blacks. At the final whistle, they were left shell-shocked, trying to figure out how they were on the losing side. I would argue that things started going wrong for them slightly earlier in the match, just after the hour mark. From this point, the Springboks made the following changes:

  • 60′ Vincent Koch for Frans Malherbe
  • 63′ RG Snyman for Eben Etzebeth
  • 66′ Damian Willemse for Willie le Roux
  • 70′ Sikhumbuzo Notshe for Francois Louw
  • 73′ Embrose Papier for Faf de Klerk, Mbongeni Mbonami for Malcolm Marx
  • 74′ Tendai Mtawarira for Steven Kitshoff
  • 78′ Elton Jantjies for Damian de Allende

Now I think some of these substitutions, especially the removal of de Allende and le Roux, were due to injury rather than tactical reasons, but that is a lot of experience leaving the pitch in the final 20 minutes – a time when New Zealand are know to be at their most dangerous. Koch is a quality replacement but has been away from international rugby for years, while Jantjies lacks the same physicality of de Allende. But the sheer quality and – probably even more importantly – the experience of the players coming off the pitch was always going to make things difficult for the Springboks. De Klerk and Marx had been arguably 2 of the best players on the pitch, so if they were able to continue, they should have remained on til the very end. It’s important to build experience and strength in depth, but the chance to beat the All Blacks (twice in a handful of weeks!) should have been too good to turn down. Hopefully moving forwards, Rassie Erasmus will be a bit more careful with his substitutions in big games.

 

It feels crazy to say when talking about New Zealand, but their midfield struggled on Saturday. Much like the week before, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty failed to consistently create a threat in attack and Beauden Barrett also struggled. The back 3 of Ioane, Naholo and Smith were arguably wasted for the first 50 minutes. However, once Richie Mo’unga came on for Waisake Naholo (with Ben Smith moving to the wing and Barrett to fullback), the back line suddenly looked more dangerous and the All Blacks’ fortunes improved. I wonder if Steve Hansen has inadvertently found a new way to set up his squad, making up for the lack of creativity provided by this centre pairing by playing a 10/15 hybrid like Damian McKenzie or one of the Barretts at 15, but using Ben Smith as a more reliable option with more attacking midfield pairings. With the quality of players available and the versatility of many of the New Zealand backs, Hansen will have so many options at his disposal when he comes to creating his match-day 23s, even when he has a more limited number of players in the squad come the World Cup.


Argentina 34-45 Australia

Momentum is a cruel thing in professional sports, just ask the Pumas. They could not have had a much better start, Pablo Matera crossing for a try within 2 minutes on the way to a 14-0 lead by the 5 minute mark. Despite a try from Michael Hooper, the momentum was clearly with Argentina, who went into halftime 31-7 up despite having lost Nicolas Sanchez to injury during the half. However, their momentum stalled at halftime and the Wallabies got an early try through Izack Rodda, while Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty also crossed in quick succession. The momentum was now firmly against the Pumas who could only muster a single penalty in the second half to the Wallabies’ 38. Argentina had 68% possession and 68% territory in the first half, but were limited to 35% possession and 33% territory after the break.

A bit like the Springboks’ final 10 minutes, I think Argentina struggled with a lack of leadership when it was so desperately needed. Agustin Creevy is not the superstar he used to be anymore and I would argue that the Pumas would benefit from swapping him and Julian Montoya around, as Montoya has recently appeared more reliable at set pieces while bringing Creevy on against tired defences could get the best out of him while also bringing a highly experienced leader onto the pitch later in the game. Perhaps even more importantly, they need to get their European-based leaders back in the fold, sooner rather than later!

 

Full credit to the Wallabies for a stunning comeback, but I do not think that this should save Michael Cheika’s job. I’m not one to enjoy seeing coaches lose their job, but despite a strong team, the results have been poor and the first half performance at the weekend was an embarrassment! They have never been lower in the world rankings and should consider themselves extremely lucky not to finish bottom of the table in this Rugby Championship. It may not be ideal switching coaches especially just a year out from the World Cup, but they have just under 3 weeks until Bledisloe 3 (where there would be no pressure on them, having a new coach and being 2-0 down) followed by Autumn Internationals against Wales, Italy and England… there will be no better time before the World Cup. It will be interesting to see how the ARU act…


 

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 2

International Rugby Ramble: Autumn Internationals Week 2

Déjà vu

I’m sure many fans remember where they were when they saw the 6 Nations match between France and Wales last for 100 minutes. More than that, I’m sure many remember how wrong it felt watching the French conveniently need to switch props due to a ‘head injury’, which benefited Les Bleus by providing them a better scrum with the game on the line. Fans and pundits everywhere felt that this was an exploitation of the HIA laws to cheat the Welsh out of the win.

InkedScreenshot_2017-11-18-18-59-00_LI
When even your Welsh friend calls it blatant cheating, it doesn’t look good for Wales

Fast forward to this November and we see some more conveniently injured props, but this time from the Welsh! Against Georgia, the inexperienced pairing of Nicky Smith and Leon Brown were dominated by the Lelos’ scrum for the opening 56 minutes before being replaced by Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis. The new props shored up the scrum considerably and made the set piece a much more even contest… until Francis decided to give away a stupid penalty on his own line with the clock in the red and get sent to the bin. With Wales a man down in the pack and the score at 13-6, it was no surprise to see the Georgians choose the 5m scrum, which meant that Wales needed to bring one of their original props back on. In a shocking twist though, both Brown and Smith had conveniently started suffering from cramp after their removal and were unable to come back on, meaning that any scrum would be uncontested and the Georgian advantage nullified. The Georgians switched their decision to a 5m lineout (I’m not sure if this was entirely legal but given the circumstances I think it was fair) but were unable to get across the line and had to settle for a 7-point loss.

I’m not even close to being a medical professional so it may be that Brown was genuinely injured – Smith does not play tight-head so the scrum would have still been uncontested – however he did not seem to be hindered when leaving the pitch and looked to be ready to come back on following Francis’ yellow until he “remembered he’s supposed to be injured” as Martyn Williams put it. We’ve had a couple of dubious ‘injuries’ in international rugby over the last 12 months and there was also a similar incident in the Challenge Cup Final. I think that it would be prudent for World Rugby to mandate at least one independent medic at games to confirm a player’s injury status, as this would probably make any similar situations in the future less controversial if a neutral entity is declaring a player unable to continue.

Angry man

Just days after Steve Diamond finally gets banned for his outburst about the match officials following Sale’s loss to Exeter, we were reminded that he is not the only angry man leading a rugby team. Michael Cheika is known to wear his heart on his sleeve but his actions at Twickenham crossed a line. I can understand being frustrated at the way the game was going, but his anger seemed directed towards the officials and it certainly looked like he called the ref a “cheat” after one of the decisions went against him. He also appeared to get into some verbals with a fan on his way down to the pitch and appeared to be remonstrating with the officials at half time. Granted the 50/50 decisions did seem to go England’s way, but did Cheika really have any argument that the officials’ calls were wrong?

I can also understand why Michael Hooper was shown yellow considering he gave away a couple of cynical penalties close to the try line in quick succession, but I would have also understood him getting a final warning rather than a card. However I am totally in agreement with Beale’s yellow as it did not realistically look like he had a chance of catching the ball and his professional foul stopped an England break down the wing.

Looking to the tries that were allowed and disallowed, whether Elliot Daly’s try should have stood will come down to which side you support. I initially thought the ball touched the line, but there was no camera angle that clearly proved one way or another. I am 100% behind the referee disallowing Hooper’s try as he was clearly in front of Tevita Kuridrani when he initially kicked the ball and continues to move forward before being played on by Marika Koroibete, so I feel that the offside penalty was right despite Hooper being onside by the time Koroibete kicked the ball on. The decision as to whether Koroibete’s try should have stood comes down to whether you feel Stephen Moore was interfering with play. He was clearly in front of the ball and in my opinion he impeded Chris Robshaw – who appeared to try tackling both players at the same time – so I feel the decision to disallow the try was correct… but then I am an England fan so I may be a bit biased.

results
The results from this weekend’s internationals from http://www.worldrugby.org

Regardless of the decisions, Cheika is meant to be a role model in a sport that prides itself on its respect of officials and I feel that his actions on Saturday reflect badly on him. I have read today that World Rugby have referred the case to the disciplinary authorities, it will be very interesting to see what punishment (if any) he gets for his outbursts.

The gaps are closing

The best news from the second week of the Autumn Internationals is that the gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations is closing. Wales and Ireland may have both fielded less experienced teams, but they still had plenty of talent and experience, yet still only beat Georgia and Fiji by 7 and 3 points respectively. The Georgian scrum looks like it will be a match for most national teams and if their backs continue to improve the calls for them to join the 6 Nations will just continue to grow. Romania also beat Samoa and Scotland will consider their loss to New Zealand the one that got away, despite being down to their third choice at some positions and spending most of the second half with a hooker playing flanker.

As the gap closes between the tiers, this will just improve the quality of international competition – both the Summer & Autumn Tests and the World Cup – which will then just continue to improve the popularity of the sport in Tier 2 and Tier 3 countries. I for one can’t wait for the day we have to re-think the Tiers or scrap them altogether!