The Rugby Championship heavily influenced the narrative in August and yet again it was the All Blacks who once again led from the front while Australia and the Springboks waned...
The cross kick is no longer a risk
A decade ago the ‘cross kick’ was deemed a last resort in rugby union. A risky play from the cross pollination of union and league which occurred in the mid 1990’s. Well it is no longer a risk in union, it is a must. You only need look at the efficiency with which Beauden Barrett executes the option for New Zealand, Sanchez and Hernandez for Argentina and Colin Slade’s effort in Pau’s recent game against Toulon, to see just how necessary it is in modern rugby.
To cross the width of the field with the ball in hand requires a minimum of four passes, not to mention the handling and contact errors that can occur in between – the cross kick requires one precision kick and one precision catch to eliminate four to five defenders. And with the increasing height of modern wingers, the crosskick is likely to almost become the third set piece in rugby.
Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are still the benchmark
There are many good second row combinations in world rugby. Maro Itoje and George Kruis, Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris to name but two. However, as August proved, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick remain unrivalled. Whilst their lineout work, ruck clearing and defence are a given (they made 28 tackles between them in Bledisloe One, missing just a single hit) it is their ball handling that sets them apart from the rest – Retallick completed three more passes than even Israel Dagg in the First Test.
They may wear four and five on their back, but their hands and feet are that of a six and seven. Retallick’s ability to bounce the first tackle and offload through the central channels is hugely important in the All Black’s gameplan. Whilst Whitelock’s ankle high pickup and pass ‘through the back’ of two Wallaby defenders in the first Bledisloe test was the equal of Dynamo’s sleight of hand. Whitelock and Retallick remain on the throne, leaving the rest very much sitting on the bench.
Wallabies hit rock bottom.
Losing a three test tour to England could be considered a blip. A massive blip, but one that may have been an anomaly. To be absolutely annihilated by the All Blacks, at home, in Bledisloe One is quite another. We must of course take into consideration the injuries which blighted their backline – few teams could cope with losing Matt Giteau (ankle), Matt Toomua (neck/head) and Rob Horne (shoulder), but unless Michael Cheika had something weird up his sleeve, even weirder than a listening device, it’s doubtful that any of the above would have jumped in the lineout or added much weight to the maul and scrum.
The Wallaby lineout was so unstable that it seemed as though Stephen Moore must have posted the calls on Facebook the night before. The Wallabies only managed to make two line breaks compared to the All Blacks’ 22, largely due to the fact that Tevita Kuridrani had to get through an incredible defensive workload – completing 17 hits and missing none. The Wallabies were more competitive in Bledisloe Two, but nowhere near the standard required from one of the great test nations. The Wallabies are bottom of the table after two games, with a points difference of -54, and currently the famous Wallaby gold is starting to look like the stuff you can buy from a street vendor in Magaluf.
Beauden Barrett – the quadruple threat player
After Beauden Barrett’s performances in August it seems unfathomable that there was even a debate as to who would wear the ten shirt for the All Blacks. His displays in the first two tests against the Wallabies were simply awesome. A true example of a triple threat individual who can run, kick and pass – a skillset that all of the best outside halves have. But Barrett takes it one step further beyond the third dimension and into the fourth.
Barrett is one of the few outside halves who have the top end speed of a test wing – rumoured to be under 11 seconds over 100m which is rapid when you consider that Bryan Habana, in his prime, recorded 10.6. Whereas most test fly halves make the line break and then require a supporting runner to make the second line break to finish the try, Barrett can finish the whole thing on his own – often leaving the last defender as if they have made eye to eye contact with Medusa herself. Awesome Mr Barrett.
Pumas and the new world order
Whilst Zebre and Treviso being dropped into an elite competition has proved largely damaging for both themselves and their respective league, the addition of the Pumas into The Rugby Championship (TRC) has been a rampant success. A team which once only had a scrum, a maul and a goal kicker is now playing the most attractive rugby outside of New Zealand. The predicted whipping boys of the TRC have now ripped the said whip from those at SANZAAR and are using it to hand out a few sound thrashings of their own.
The Pumas were valiant in defeat against the Boks in Nelspruit and delivered a set of core numbers that would be the envy of any top five nation – whilst the try which they scored in the 24th minute would be the envy of even the All Blacks. All of which was rounded off with a win over the Boks in the second round where they made nearly twice as many line breaks as the Boks – 18 in total. This was their third victory in what is the hardest tournament in the world and rest assured it won’t be their last.
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