The RWC2019 Debrief: New Zealand

The RWC2019 Debrief: New Zealand

Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.

As I continue down the list alphabetically, today I will be looking at New Zealand.

RWC2019 Qualification

As defending champions, New Zealand qualified automatically for the tournament.

2019 Form

It was a mixed year for New Zealand. They shockingly finished 3rd in the shortened Rugby Championship, with just the 1 win in Argentina, while they also drew 16-16 at home to South Africa and were stunned by a 47-26 loss to Australia in Perth.

They did however get their own back on the Wallabies with a 36-0 victory at home, before defeating Tonga 92-7 in a warm-up match that saw them willingly go down to 14 men for the final 15 minutes.

During the year, a number of regular starters began to find their places at risk, with Reiko Ioane and Ben Smith being replaced by George Bridge and Sevu Reece, while Damian McKenzie’s injury suffered representing the Chiefs in Super Rugby eventually saw Beauden Barrett moved to fullback, with Richie Mo’unga coming in at flyhalf.

The Debrief

  • Pool Stages (1st in Pool B)
    • New Zealand 23-13 South Africa
    • New Zealand 63-0 Canada
    • New Zealand 71-9 Namibia
    • New Zealand C-C Italy
  • Quarterfinal
    • New Zealand 46-14 Ireland
  • Semifinal
    • England 19-7 New Zealand
  • Bronze Final
    • New Zealand 40-17 Wales

To start the tournament facing off against one of their biggest rivals was always going to be a hard match, but the All Blacks got off to a perfect start with a victory that left them highly likely to finish top of the pool. The Mo’unga/Barrett 10/15 axis and the change of personnel on the wings really began to function well, with Reece especially causing real issues for the Springbok defence, while the team also looked to capitalise on their opponents errors and punish them with tries. Against Canada and Namibia, they controlled the game well and built a platform to excel off regardless of the personnel on the pitch – just look at TJ Perenara’s try while he played on the wing against Namibia – though they did take a while to get going against Namibia, with a number of penalties (including 2 first half yellow cards for high tackles) and inaccuracies. Though the cancellation of their match against Italy due to Typhoon Hagibis put them through at the expense of the Italians, who were still mathematically able to qualify for the knockouts, I think that on the form shown in the previous 3 matches, the All Blacks would have qualified regardless.

Against Ireland, the All Blacks put in a performance that was terrifying and probably made many people feel that they were set to complete the three-peat. New Zealand played Ireland off the park, with Mo’unga controlling the game, Aaron Smith having one of his best performances in a while and hugely impressive performances from Reece and Ardie Savea too. Against England, however, they found themselves on the receiving end of a dominant performance, with the team struggling to deal with England’s quick defensive line and a lineout that was out to steal as much ball as possible. The additions of Perenara and Sonny Bill Williams brought an improvement to the performance, but too late to turn the game around.

With the Bronze final being a match that neither team appeared fully committed to, New Zealand ran riot against the Welsh. Mo’unga controlling the game and scoring a try, while Ben Smith looked back on form while scoring 2 tries as they took advantage of a Welsh defence that was over-chasing.

Not the best tournament for the All Blacks, but only one match that they should really look back on as a missed opportunity.

Looking Ahead

Let’s be honest, this cycle’s All Blacks squad was not the same quality of the last couple, but there were signs this year that the next cycle will see another top quality team coming through.

For so long, they have stuck to just Beauden Barrett at 10, but I have felt for a while that Mo’unga gives more control at flyhalf, while moving Barrett to 15 allows him to be even more dangerous. If they want to stick to the 10/15 playmaking combo, then they will be spoiled for choice when McKenzie returns from injury, while young fly halves like Josh Ioane, Stephen Perofeta and Tiaan Falcon will also be looking to put in huge performances in Super Rugby to break into the squad. While Williams and Ryan Crotty have likely played their last games in the black jersey, in Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape (who I will continue to argue should have been in the squad), they have 3 world class centres to build the squad around, while Reiko Ioane is also a potential option in the centre and may look to revitalise his All Blacks career there with the quality of wingers coming through.

In the pack, Kieran Read will clearly be a loss, but the decision to use Ardie Savea at any available back row position has brought a great new dimension to the pack, allowing a more specialist fetcher like Sam Cane and then another player who can vary depending on the tactics, for example Shannon Frizell, Dalton Papalii, Luke Jacobson, Vaea Fifita and Akira Ioane, while injuries and suspensions for New Zealand’s main second rows over recent years have also allowed players like Patrick Tuipulotu and Jackson Hemopo to get some time in the squad, while Fifita is also an option there. Finally, in the front row, the majority of players are in their mid-late twenties so likely have another World Cup in them, while there are already young talented players coming through who will be pushing into the squad with a couple of good seasons in Super Rugby.

This is not a squad that will suddenly drop in quality anytime soon. The only thing that needs sorting right now is a replacement for Steve Hansen. While results and performances may suggest that he stayed in the role a season or 2 too long, he is still a highly experienced coach that has been with the team for so long. It is vital that New Zealand Rugby get the right man in to replace him, otherwise the improvements of the other teams around them over the last few years could see them come under pressure to stay in the top 3 of the World Rankings.

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool B

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool B

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? Today, we’ll look at Pool B:

New Zealand

Ngani Laumape was going to be my pick here until his shock omission, so I have instead chosen to look at Sevu Reece. I made mention of Nehe Milner-Skudder earlier in the article and he is basically the Milner-Skudder of the 2019 All Blacks squad, having only made his debut in recent months. With pace, power and footwork, Reece looks the real deal and comes into the tournament having been the top try scorer in the last Super Rugby season.

South Africa

The first 2 rounds of Super Rugby made it clear that I had to pick to Herschel Jantjies. The Stormers scrum half did me some help in my fantasy team this year but even I wouldn’t have imagined his international career would begin with 3 tries in 2 Rugby Championship games and a draw against New Zealand in Wellington. Capable of controlling the game well enough to lead the team, he is such a danger with ball in hand if given too much space. Between him, Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach, head coach Rassie Erasmus is spoiled for choice at 9.

Italy

While I have to mention Gloucester’s Jake Polledri who I rate highly, I am going to the backs again here with my selection of Matteo Minozzi. The fullback missed this year’s Six Nations through injury, but proved himself to be a potent attacking talent in the 2018 tournament with 4 tries in 5 games. Part of the rebuild going on at Wasps this summer after moving from Zebre, Minozzi will be looking to make up for lost time. Expect him to run riot against Namibia and Canada.

Namibia

This was the hardest of the 20 teams competing to pick by a country mile. Reynaldo Bothma was going to be my pick here until he recently announced his retirement – I really hope there was no pressure from Harlequins affecting that decision – so in his absence I have picked Aranos Coetzee. The prop gets a selection here by virtue of his experience of playing at a relatively high level, having played for Racing, Brive and the Cheetahs all in top tier leagues while also featuring for South Africa’s U18s team back in the day. An experienced prop will be invaluable during the tournament.

Canada

Canada are a team that have really struggled for success in recent years, but if they are to have any success in the tournament, D. T. H. van der Merwe will surely be involved. The winger bizarrely struggled to get any time at Newcastle Falcons but has excelled at the Scarlets and in 2 spells with Glasgow. Internationally, he has scored 38 tries in 57 caps and has started every game at the last 3 World Cups, scoring 6 tries – including 4 in the 2015 tournament.


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Will you be picking any of these players in your squad?

Eyes On: New Zealand v Tonga – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: New Zealand v Tonga – RWC2019 Warm-ups

After a couple of weeks off, New Zealand played their last Test before attempting to win their third consecutive Rugby World Cup. Facing off against Tonga in Waikato, the All Blacks fielded a strong lineup that put their opponents to the sword, scoring 14 tries through 9 different scorers, while Beauden Barrett and debutant Josh Ioane added 14 and 8 points with the boot respectively. Tonga did get a consolation try in the final minutes through captain Siale Piutau, with Tane Takulua kicking the conversion for a 92-7 final score.

New Zealand

Having just gone 92-0 up with about 15 minutes left, New Zealand made an interesting decision to remove Ryan Crotty but not bring anyone on in his place, instead finishing the match with 14 men. Speaking after the game, Steve Hansen explained that part of the reason was as they did not want to risk Crotty any further as he returned from injury, while it was also a chance to put themselves under pressure and replicate going a man down in a match situation.

Personally, I don’t know if I believe that not wanting to risk Crotty for the full 80 was really part of the thinking, as if this was the case then they would have removed him rather than Ben Smith or Beauden Barrett. I think that they were always planning to use this as a chance to test themselves a man down.

Part of me likes the thinking here. Going a man down in a big match can be a killer and no training will really replicate a matchday situation. However, they did not really react to the situation, continuing to play a high-tempo game with quick-tap penalties rather than slowing everything down as they usually would to use up the 10 minutes. It was telling that they started to give away a number of penalties after going down a man and eventually conceded in this period despite barely being troubled in the first 70 minutes.

The thing that doesn’t sit quite right to me though is that I can’t help but feel that (intentional or not) it was a little disrespectful to do this against Tonga in a capped Test. I definitely feel that there is a place for this sort of situational practice in a match, but I don’t know if that should be happening in a capped Test. I would rather see an uncapped match in the build-up to a tournament where teams announce ahead of time that they will be running situations like being a man down, that way it does not feel like the Test or the opponent is being disregarded.

Tonga

As someone who does not get to watch Tonga play very often, this match was disappointing. With Sevu Reece, Ben Smith and Codie Taylor all scoring in the first quarter, the game was already over as a competition.

Watching the game, Tonga didn’t really do anything horrible. They had 48% possession and 51% territory, while New Zealand actually attempted 3 tackles more than Tonga. What proved the difference was the Tonga defence. It set itself up very narrow to avoid being broken through the middle, but that just let the All Blacks play it wide and get around them that way, while turnovers proved costly. What it came down to was that the Tongan defence were unable to deal with the might and skill of the All Blacks once their front-up defence was left chasing.

Tonga have the misfortune of being in an strong World Cup Pool, hopefully they can do some work on their defence over the next couple of weeks to deal with the opposition once they get past the initial defensive line.


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Eyes On: New Zealand v Australia – Bledisloe Cup Game 2

Eyes On: New Zealand v Australia – Bledisloe Cup Game 2

With the shorter Rugby Championship over for another season, we had the reverse of last weekend’s fixtures begin with Australia’s trip to Eden Park. Last week, the Wallabies dominated 14-man New Zealand, but the All Blacks had made some changes for this match and looked much more dangerous from the off, taking an early lead through the boot of Richie Mo’unga. While Australia worked their way into the game, an errant display off the tee from Christian Leali’ifano kept them scoreless, while New Zealand scored 2 quick tries through Mo’unga and Aaron Smith for a 17-0 halftime lead. It was more of the same after the break as New Zealand kept Australia scoreless while scoring a further 3 tries themselves on the way to a 36-0 victory.

 

New Zealand

Back when South Africa beat New Zealand in the 2018 Rugby Championship, I suggested that the All Blacks needed to become more pragmatic and be willing to kick the points. In this match, we saw a different side of the team, and they looked so much better for it. While they were willing to put points on the board by kicking penalties rather than going for the corner, Richie Mo’unga – who looked more comfortable at 10 this week – was happy to put the ball in behind the Wallabies defensive line, with some of his kicks to the corner causing Australia real problems. They even almost got a try off one of these kicks as it held up just metres from the line and forced Reece Hodge to play the ball under pressure. The kicking game did not give the Wallabies a chance to counter and did a great job of keeping the momentum with the men in black.

This is not to say that the All Blacks didn’t use their back line and still attack in the usual way. They did plenty of that too – to great effect – but the important thing was that between the forwards making hard yards (most notably Ardie Savea), the backs cutting through the defence and a strong kicking game, the All Blacks had the right balance that suddenly makes them look much more dangerous again with the World Cup just around the corner.

Australia

Last week, Australia were on fire, they looked like they were fighting for their lives and looked dominant. This week, it was not an awful performance, but the errors crept back in. Too many balls went to floor, most notably when an Australia attack was ended by a Reece Hodge drop that was picked up by Mo’unga and ran back for the opening try. While the pass dropped low to make it a difficult catch, Hodge was too flat and being just a couple of steps further back would have allowed him to take the ball and continue the attack, potentially changing the shape of the game. If Australia can cut out the errors and do the basics right, they look a very dangerous team.

More than that though, they also need to cut out the stupid penalties. Jaco Peyper was very kind to them today as he twice allowed them to get away with taking out New Zealand players well beyond the ruck, while he also gave just a scrum after Izack Rodda knocked on and a teammate picked the ball up from a clearly offside position. Despite this, they still gave away 9 penalties… too many for a side that wants to win the big matches. The Wallabies really need to sort out their discipline if they want to make it past the World Cup quarterfinals.

RWC2019 Winners & Losers

Usually I try to stick to 2 players from each team in this section, but today I felt that I needed to take a moment to mention 4 All Blacks. Whether they were dropped or just rested as Steve Hansen looks at his options, Owen Franks, Ben Smith and Reiko Ioane will have been worried about their starting spots watching the great performances of Nepo LaulalaSevu Reece and George Bridge. In the absence of Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu put in a strong performance – including muscling Kurtley Beale back over the All Blacks try line in the first half – and surely confirmed his spot as the fourth choice lock – assuming Retallick is fit. Moving over to the Wallabies, Tolu Latu had another strong performance that included a very smart kick downfield and I think he may be securing the starting hooking spot, while Taniela Tupou did a good job of helping solidify the scrum following Allan Alaalatoa’s injury.

Moving onto the players who will be a little more nervous, Ben Franks may be a risk of missing the cut following the performances of Laulala and replacement Angus Ta’avao, while Jack Maddocks looks like he has fallen behind Adam Ashley-Cooper in the pecking order. Of those who were actually involved in the match, Richie Mo’unga ha a strong game but will be hoping a shoulder injury is not too serious, while Kurtley Beale may find his spot in the staring XV at risk after a game where he struggled under the high ball, though I imagine he will still be in the squad due to his experience and versatility.


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RWC2019: Predicting the New Zealand Squad

RWC2019: Predicting the New Zealand Squad

With the shortened version of the Rugby Championship over, the attention of rugby fans will now be turning to the upcoming World Cup. Though it is hard to believe it has been almost 4 years since the All Blacks lifted the trophy in London, we are just a matter of weeks away from the deadline for teams to name their squads for the tournament.

Having won the World Cup at home in 2011, the All Blacks became the first nation to ever defend their title when they won again in 2015, becoming the first team to win the tournament 3 times. Now, having been ranked #1 in the world since late 2009, the All Blacks have the chance of the first “three-peat” in Rugby World Cup history. Having coached New Zealand since 2004 first as an assistant coach and then from 2012 as head coach, this will be Steve Hansen’s last World Cup with the team as he will standing down after the tournament, so it’s safe to imagine that he will want to go out on a high, though some people will surely be wondering if that is possible after a less than stellar Rugby Championship campaign.

As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series with predictions of each 31-man squad for the Rugby Championship teams, and today we will be looking at the All Blacks. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, but I have also looked at some notable names who have been selected for the Maori All Blacks or not included in either squad but could come into consideration. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Steve Hansen will take.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


So without further ado, I predict that Steve Hansen’s 31-man squad for the World Cup will be:

Hooker

New Zealand regularly take 3 hookers to the tournament and considering the injury history of Dane Coles over recent years, I expect that trend to continue here as he is too good to leave out, but precautions must be taken. Codie Taylor has done a great job in Coles’ absence to the point that I wouldn’t be wholly surprised to see him given the starting shirt. As for the 3rd hooker, things become more difficult. Nathan Harris and Ash Dixon look to be out of luck after being assigned to the Maori All Blacks this summer. I initially thought that Asafo Aumua would get the nod as they begin to look to the future, but I now believe that it will be Liam Coltman who goes to Japan, as he has been the next man up during the Rugby Championship.

Prop

For the rest of the front row, I will not be looking beyond the Rugby Championship squad due to the importance of scrums in the international game. The Crusaders pair of Owen Franks and Joe Moody have become regulars when available. Karl Tu’inukuafe was one of the breakout internationals last season but appears to have fallen out of favour this season and would likely require injuries ahead of him in order to make it to the tournament. Ofa Tu’ungafasi will travel to provide cover for Moody, while Nepo Laulala will provide cover for Franks. For the final spot, I will go for Angus Ta’avao, as Franks appeared to struggle in the first Bledisloe match so may not have the starting spot as secured as he would have hoped.

Second Row

The first 3 names in the All Blacks second row corps pick themselves. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are one of the best lock pairings in World Rugby, while Scott Barrett can easily come in with no real drop off in quality. However due to Barrett’s ability to play in the back row, I expect Steve Hansen to also pick one more. While Jackson Hemopo also provides cover for the back row, I think that the spot is more likely to be filled by Patrick Tuipulotu, who has more experience at this level. The big question here though is on Retallick’s fitness after he left the South Africa match with a dislocated shoulder. If he’s fit, then he travels. If there is any delay in his recovery, however, I expect Hemopo to take the spot that opens up.

Back Row

Captain Kieran Read is the obvious selection here, while Sam Cane and Ardie Savea will surely both travel to compete for the 7 jersey – or potentially even play together as a 6/7 combination. For the final 2 spots, things get harder to judge. Akira Ioane is a talented player but with Savea able to cover 8 and Kirean Read there, he is still stuck with the Maori All Blacks and likely won’t be capped until after the tournament. Vaea Fifita looked to be their next star at 6 a few seasons ago but has since falling down the pecking order. Dalton Papalii has been the recent inclusion, but the Blues’ struggles and lack of international experience could hurt him. Liam Squire is currently asking to not be selected for the All Blacks but could come back into contention if he makes himself available for the World Cup. Shannon Frizell burst onto the scene in his first couple of caps but had a limited impact on later matches in last year’s Rugby Championship. While part of me is thinking that none of these players will make it and Hemopo may even take the spot as a utility forward, I’m going to pick Vaea Fifita here as he has experience in the second row and provides another option in the lineout. The final spot goes to jackal Matt Todd, who was one of the stars of the Super Rugby final and made Super Rugby’s top 10 for offloads and tackles completed.

Scrum Half

The top 2 pick themselves here as both Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara are among the best in the world at the position. Bryn Hall’s success with the Crusaders and link with Richie Mo’unga does not appear to have been enough to see him promoted from the Maori All Blacks. While Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi has been the usual 3rd man since Tawera Kerr-Barlow moved to France, he has spent most of the season on the bench while his teammate Brad Weber has had a stunning Super Rugby season, so I see him making the squad instead of his more established rival.

Fly Half

He may not be my pick for the number 10 jersey, but Beauden Barrett looks set to lead the line at the World Cup, while Richie Mo’unga is the clear option behind him given Damian McKenzie’s injury. Or they may even both make the starting line-up with Barrett at 15. As a 3rd fly half, I expect that they will rely on cover from elsewhere in the squad after Josh Ioane was one of the first players cut, most likely Jordie Barrett.

Centre

I could have easily picked 6 or 7 players at the position but in line with previous squads have limited myself to just 4. Jack Goodhue is one of the best all-rounders in the centre corps, while Ngani Laumape has had a stellar season for the Hurricanes. Anton Lienert-Brown may not have had the best matches when starting but is lethal off the bench around the hour mark. As none of the centre options are that experienced covering other positions, I can only imagine Steve Hansen taking 4 centres, which means a big name will be missing out. With these 3 making the plane, I expect a more experienced presence to take the final spot. Ma’a Nonu rolled back the years with his performances from the Blues but it feels like his time is over, while Sonny Bill Williams has missed most of the season through injury and not looked close to his best during the Rugby Championship. New Zealand can look a little questionable defensively at times, so I expect Ryan Crotty to take the final spot by virtue of his stellar defence. However, he did pick up an injury in the Super Rugby semifinal and if he does not recover in time, then I see a fit Williams taking the spot.

Back 3

Again, Damian McKenzie’s injury leads to some big decisions at this position, further hampered by the retirement of Israel Dagg. Jordie Barrett and Ben Smith will compete for the 15 jersey (assuming that Beauden Barrett is not given the jersey fulltime), while Smith is also very experienced on the wing for New Zealand and Barrett has played there for the Hurricanes too. Rieko Ioane’s 22 tries in 24 Tests guarantee him a place on the plane. Ben Lam does not appear to be in consideration despite another strong season for the ‘Canes. Nehe Milner-Skudder’s chances of a second World Cup seem gone after a torrid series of injuries stopped him from jumping on from his starring role at RWC2015. Waisake Naholo is also currently not involved with either the Rugby Championship or Maori All Blacks squads as he comes back from injury, so I think that he is left to play in the Mitre 10 Cup before making his way to the Premiership, while Crusader fullback/winger George Bridge comes in to cover the back 3. The All Blacks showed with Milner-Skudder’s selection 4 years ago that they are not afraid to bring in a winger with just a few caps as a bolter into their World Cup squad. I can see that happening again this year in the form of Sevu Reece, who just finished this season as the top try scorer in Super Rugby.

Who do you think will make it to Japan?


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Eyes On: Australia v New Zealand – Rugby Championship 2019

Eyes On: Australia v New Zealand – Rugby Championship 2019

The final round of this season’s shorter Rugby Championship began in Perth this weekend 2019’s first Bledisloe Cup match. The Wallabies took an early lead with a try from Reece Hodge and though Anton Lienert-Brown & Rieko Ioane both crossed in the next 10 minutes, Australia led 16-12 at the break, while New Zealand were left reeling after a red card for Scott Barrett just before halftime. The extra man had an impact after the break as Australia scored a further 5 tries to the All Blacks’ 2 on their way a 47-26 victory, their biggest scoreline against New Zealand. Coupled with South Africa’s win later in Argentina, Australia finished 2ⁿᵈ in the tournament and the All Blacks an unprecedented 3ʳᵈ, leaving themselves at risk of losing their World #1 ranking to Wales.

Australia

With James O’Connor returning to the starting lineup and starting at 13 for the fist time in his Wallabies career, this partnership with Samu Kerevi was the 13ᵗʰ centre pairing they have used since the end of the 2015 World Cup. If this match is anything to go by though, Michael Cheika has finally found what should be his first choice midfield combination. Christian Leali’ifano has helped bring more control to the team while he also does a good job of attacking the line. Kerevi is in the form of his life and makes the big metres to put the team on the front foot, while bringing in O’Connor at 13 gave the team a much better balance than they had with Tevita Kuridrani as he had the pace, vision and skills to play whatever situation he was in, resulting in multiple assists in this game.

This close to the World Cup, Cheika now needs to give this midfield time together, but I would be interested to see Tom Banks given another go at fullback as O’Connor’s inclusion provides another playmaker option that reduces the need for Kurtley Beale (who has had his moments but on the whole been rather quiet) at 15. With a return to New Zealand next week, it will be interesting to see the back line selected.

New Zealand

I all the years that I’ve been regularly watching rugby, I can’t remember a New Zealand team that had so many questions to answer this close to the World Cup. The 6 shirt is one that has not been sufficiently filled since Jerome Kaino left New Zealand and while Ardie Savea looked to be the best option given the depth at 7, this performance from the back row was largely disappointing – though Savea did finish with more metres made than any other player in black. Richie Mo’unga has not looked comfortable at 10 with Beauden Barrett at 15, but I can’t help feel that part of this was due to the forwards not putting the team on the front foot and the ever-changing cast at 12 and 13 (this week saw Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue start, with Ngani Laumape replacing Goodhue just 19 minutes in). Whether at wing or fullback, Ben Smith has been a star for the All Blacks for years, but he has looked far from comfortable during recent matches .

Now it may just be that the team are experimenting with different options and do in fact have all their plans settled ready for the World Cup. If so, they are playing a dangerous game as people will be looking at the draw against South Africa and this loss with confidence. The All Blacks are looking not just beatable, but ordinary. Momentum can be a great thing when you start winning, but when you’re struggling its the exact opposite. They need to put in a big performance and get a result at home next weekend.

RWC2019 Winners and Losers

Starting with a man who has already received praise in this article, James O’Connor has come in from the cold and shown that not only is he deserving of a place in the 31-man squad, but he should arguably be starting. Tolu Latu is another who has overcome off-field issues and earned another shot with the national team. Starting today and putting in a strong performance, he’s surely cemented his place in the squad and may have even beaten Folau Fainga’a to the starting spot. While there were not many great performances from the men in black, Dane Coles looked back to his best and will be pushing to cement the starting spot despite strong opposition from Codie Taylor. Atu Moli‘s selection on the bench for this match also seems to have brought an end to Karl Tu’inukuafe’s chances of going to Japan, and he will be hoping to make it onto the plane as one of the loosehead options.

Moving onto players who maybe getting nervous about their places, Ben Smith will need to hope that Steve Hansen goes on the idea that “form is temporary, class is permanent” and continue to select him. His versatility and experience will likely save him but there is the distinct possibility that he could be a high profile exclusion. His try aside, Anton Lienert-Brown again struggled to impose himself on a match from the outset. He does so well off the bench, but in a limited-numbers squad and with so many options at centre, could that limited impact as a starter prove costly? The rise of Tolu Latu has possibly brought an end to Jordan Uelese‘s chances of making the squad, having not featured since his injury-hit cameo against South Africa. Another player whose chances of making the squad look to be over is Nick Phipps, who has not been involved in the tournament at all, with all the minutes going to Will Genia and Nic White.


As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

Eyes On: New Zealand v South Africa – Rugby Championship 2019

Eyes On: New Zealand v South Africa – Rugby Championship 2019

We reached the halfway point of this season’s Rugby Championship on Saturday (that’s a sad thought!) with a match between New Zealand and South Africa. The 2 teams will both be in Pool B at the World Cup, so while both teas were looking to test the depth of their squads in an attempt to pick the 31 men they take to Japan, both teams will have also wanted the psychological edge of a win over their rival.

In a match full of handling errors from the All Blacks, 2 South Africa penalties gave them an early lead, but a try for Jack Goodhue and Beauden Barrett’s conversion gave New Zealand a 7-6 lead at halftime. The game remained close throughout the second half and with the final play of the game Herschel Jantjies (on for much of the half following a failed HIA for Faf de Klerk) managed to collect a chip forward from Cheslin Kolbe to score out wide and Handrè Pollard slotted the conversion to secure a 16-16 tie. The All Blacks will more likely be concerned with the health of Brodie Retallick, however, as he suffered a dislocated shoulder that could put his World Cup in jeopardy.

New Zealand

Beauden Barrett had been the go-to fly half for New Zealand for a while now, but this match found him moved to fullback, while Richie Mo’unga took the 10 jersey. I really like this decision from Steve Hansen as I have been saying to my friends for a while that I would pick Mo’unga over Barrett as I find him a more reliable option, while moving Barrett to 15 keeps his playmaking ability on the park and arguably enhances it by giving him more space to work from, similar to what we were seeing with Damian McKenzie prior to his injury.

While Mo’unga had a shaky start with a couple of charged kicks, he grew into the game, while Barrett also had a strong game and got the assist for Goodhue’s try. What did surprise me though was the decision to give Barrett the kicking duties. Barrett has been the kicker for the All Backs on plenty of occasions so there is nothing new to learn there compared to Mo’unga. As it turns out, that decision arguably cost them the game as Barrett left 6 points on the field with 2 missed kicks that a top-level international kicker should be making, before being replaced off the tee by Mo’unga.

South Africa

So often in the past, a team has needed to play the best match of their season and still require some luck to avoid losing in New Zealand. That was not the case here though, as South Africa put in a good workmanlike performance that I would describe as solid rather than spectacular.

With Faf de Klerk at the helm, they did a great job of keeping the All Blacks down their end of the pitch and putting them under pressure, with Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am doing a great job of stopping them making ground through the middle. Cheslin Kolbe is tiny by present international rugby standards but was anything but a pushover, completing 13 of his 15 attempted tackles – only Kwagga Smith (15/16) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (14/16) made more for the Springboks.

The set piece saw them largely keep parity with the number 1 team in the world, and watching the replacement props come on and immediately win a scrum penalty against New Zealand’s starting front row will have given the team a huge psychological boost with a crucial rematch in Japan just months away.

RWC2019 Winners & Losers

If 2 tries on debut wasn’t good enough for Herschel Jantjies, he did not look like a player earning just his second cap against the All Blacks and scoring the crucial try at the death by beating opposite number Aaron Smith to the ball will have made it even sweeter. Off the back of these 2 performances it’s hard to imagine Rassie Erasmus not taking him to Japan. The starting pack for the Boks certainly looked like the first choice players minus injured captain Siya Kolisi, which seems to suggest that Kwagga Smith is being heavily considered for a spot in the squad. By being the team’s top tackler and also having some great moments on the ball and at the breakdown, he certainly didn’t do himself any harm. For the All Blacks, Shannon Frizell was given a shot in the number 6 shirt that currently seems up for grabs and certainly grew into the game, while one of his rivals for the place, Vaea Fifita, was probably given a better shot of making the squad by covering the second row position on the bench. Brodie Retallick’s hopes of making the plane depend on how quickly he can recover from his dislocated shoulder, while Scott Barrett is also currently missing through injury, which gives Fifita a great chance to prove himself as an option at lock to increase his chances of making it onto the plane.

The player whose World Cup hopes were hurt most (literally in this case) was arguably Brodie Retallick, who has suddenly gone from a definite starter to someone hoping he can recover in time to make it into the squad. Sonny Bill Williams is making his way back from injury and though he was involved in the try, he struggled to have any significant impact on the match and put his team on the front foot in the same way that Ngani Laumape has. Moving over to South Africa, Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi both struggled at times in the lineout without providing as much as usual around the park, which could put them at risk if Schalk Brits can prove himself worthy of being first or second choice in the squad. Likewise, the success of Herschel Jantjies will put Cobus Reinach as risk if Rassie Erasmus decides to only take 2 scrum halves.


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