A historic weekend of rugby last weekend panned out as many expected as the defence orientated Wallabies could not pounce on the mistakes made by the rusty All Blacks and the Springboks ran away from the gallant Pumas.
This week of fixtures present the “return bouts” with the All Blacks hosting the Wallabies at Eden Park and the Pumas hosting the Springboks on Sunday morning in Mendoza (Australian time).
Game 1: New Zealand v Australia
What can one say about the clash between these sides last week? Frankly it was scrappy and the score line flattered a very ordinary Wallabies outfit. This week this fixture comes to us from Eden Park where the Wallabies have not been victorious since Alan Jones was the coach of the Wallabies in 1986. I do not expect this record of losses to be resolved this weekend given the disparate level of quality and class between the two line-ups.
The All Blacks have made one change to their line-up from last week with Woodcock out through injury. Last week they showed that they are somewhat more flexible in attack than most expected with their “big” centres playing a limited roll and acting mostly as decoys in the set plays that lead to tries. They also dominated the Wallabies at scrum time and were so effective at the breakdown that ball to Will Genia was consistently slow.
Equally the All Blacks did play below their usual lofty standard in their first run together for some weeks so they will be looking to improve significantly on last week’s performance rather than trotting out “more of the same”. In order to do this it will again be important for the All Blacks to dominate the set pieces, win the collisions and score points through their slickness in the backline rather than just barging it up through their outside centres.
What do the Wallabies need to win? It might sound facetious but given that last week was probably their best chance to defeat the All Blacks this year it looks likely that a miracle will truly be required to dent the All Black’s Eden Park dominance. The Wallabies have the look of a rudderless ship in disarray in a storm at the moment with selection condundrums and injury concerns compounding the woe that rests with being the second best team in the ANZAC colonies.
No David Pocock this week is a big blow for the Wallabies albeit it must be said that he was nullified at the breakdown last week before he was injured and in Michael Hooper he has a star of the future to replace him. More worrying for the Wallabies will be their total ineffectiveness in attack last week. Coach Deans has tried to mitigate against a similar performance this week with the injection of Quade Cooper into the line up at fly half however the inclusion of the Waratahs’ 13, 14 (noting Drew Mitchell’s lack of match time in the sky blue this year) and 15 will not be causing the All Blacks’ brain trust to unduly loose sleep at night.
Simply put, Cooper cannot do it all on his own no matter how mighty his performance might be. Across the backline the key match ups aside from those between the fly halves look like the rest easily in the favour of the All Blacks and thus the ability of the Wallabies to score points will continue to be a worry.
The well beaten front row from last week has also been shaken up through injury with the Brumbies’ hooker Stephen Moore returning to the run on side. Equally the well beaten Benn Robinson retains the number one jersey ahead of James Slipper, so it will not be a surprise of the problems of last week at scrum time do not raise their ugly head again.
Ultimately, the All Blacks are the number one team in rugby for a reason as well as being prohibitive $1.09 favourites to win this game: they loose at home rarely if at all and will be primed for an improved performance before an Eden Park crowd that has little to cheer about so far this season. Whilst my heart is begging for a Wallabies victory my brain is saying to consider same a possibility is an act of stupidity on current form and that being the case I this the All Blacks will win this game and win it well. All Blacks by 19.
Game 2: Argentina v South Africa
It has long been said that if the Pumas are to win a game in the Rugby Championship this season it will be at home albeit most pundits presently suggest that that win may well come later in the season against the wobbling Wallabies.
The Pumas have suffered a major blow already this week with Juan Martin Hernandez ruled out with a torn hamstring that occurred at training. They have made one other change to the side from Newlands with Martin Rodriquez coming at fullback for the incumbent Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino whose performance last week was calamitous to say the least.
This week the competition debutants have another mountain to climb to threaten the Springboks and they will need to do so through their strengths in the forward pack as well as in defence which was praised by the Springbok’s coach last week despite leaking 27 points by full time. In order to beat this Springboks outfit the Pumas must score at least 25 points in my opinion and must have an early lead. They must also carefully monitor their discipline to ensure that they do not present Morne Steyn with any opportunities to bolster the Springboks score.
The Springboks were workmanlike in their disposal of the Pumas last week and gave the impression of being a team that still had a few gears to get through before they reached top gear. They have made two changes to their line-up last week with Keegan Daniel dropped to the bench after a moribund performance in game one and Bismarck du Plessis ruled out with a knee ligament injury. Adriaan Strauss and Jacques Potgieter come into the team.
One suspects they will need to lift a couple of gears in this fixture as they will be against a Pumas side desperate for their first win in the competition before their home fans. That said they are team with class across the park who will rely upon their combinations formed during the Super 15 which have largely been maintained to again beat the debutants. In Messrs Kirchner, Habana and Mvovo they have a back three with pace to burn who will use the platform created by their enormous forward pack to their absolute advantage if the Pumas are not diligent in defence.
I do not expect an upset in this game but do expect the Pumas to present more of a test to the Springboks this week in their first home match of the Rugby Championship and thus I expect this game to be closer than last week’s away loss for them. Springboks by 11.