Monday’s Rugby News sees us finally back in the winners circle, the latest round of NRC, the results from the Aon Uni Sevens and mindsets turning to Argentina.
Back in the Winners Circle
Ahhh, the four match losing streak finally comes to an end.
The Wallabies retained the Mandela Challenge Plate after a scrappy 23-18 win over the Springboks.
While the game was far from the flashiest effort, the players overcame a disrupted lead up that saw David Pocock, Israel Folau and Adam Coleman ruled out, and showed plenty of old-fashioned grit and determination in the dying stages to bring it home.
Much of the success of it was, in all honesty, due to an outstanding performance by the Aussie Thor, Taniela Tupou, who more than earned his name after saving the Wallaby scrum from being continuously mauled by the Boks in the first half.
In the end, it was the boot of Matt Toomua and Reece Hodge that proved the difference, with two tries scored apiece.
The win was a much needed one for Michael Cheika, who has been under increased pressure over the last fortnight following another demolition at the hands of the All Blacks.
While there is a long, long, LONG way to go before the team will be back to the side that made it to the 2015 World Cup Grand Final, this win will certain be a much-needed confidence booster for the side.
Cheik admitted that he took a gamble with the Beale-Toomua combo, but after Saturday’s performance, he said he was open to the possibility of using it again and bringing Bernard Foley in later to guide the team home.
“I definitely think they did a good job out there in some difficult circumstances,” Cheika said post-match.
“We had some nice plays set up which just didn’t come off but that’s the first week they have played together.
“There is still plenty to do and we didn’t have a heap of attack going.
“But we had the forwards going forward in a few instances that were really important for us which created overlaps or kick opportunities.”
Cheik also responded to calls post-match for Tupou to become our run-on tighthead.
“It’s horses for courses like all things – we just see how we go,” Cheika elaborated.
“We have a guy like Keps who didn’t play today and that sets up a challenge now.
“With Taniela we have to remember that he has five caps.
“There is no hurry, no panic, just let him grow as a footballer.”
It’s interesting what combination Cheik will go with when the lads head to the Gold Coast next week for what might a worrying clash against a resilient Pumas.
The men from South America made the All Blacks work for a tough 46-24 win in Nelson in the other match of the round, a scoreline which didn’t reflect how close the game was.
The Pumas scrum proved to be a resilient match for the All Blacks, and the visitors three impressive tries that saw the match turn into a see-sawing affair for the first sixty minutes. Then… well, you know what always happens after that.
The match sees the All Blacks go three for three. One more win against the Boks next week at home and the Championship trophy is theirs again. Yawn.
After Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus talked the talk all of last week, Michael Cheika came out pretty quickly after the Wallabies win over the weekend to emphasise that they’ll be no ‘mind games’ between him and his long time friend and former forwards coach, Mario Ledesma.
Ledesma departed the Wallabies set up at the end of last year to help support the game in his home country of Argentina, and under his guidance, the Jaguares made it to the Super Rugby quarterfinals for the first time ever. His success saw him promoted to the coaching role of the Pumas, who are now also experiencing a resurgence in their performances.
Cheik has been pretty quiet on Ledesma’s rapid rise through the Argentine system, considering Ledesma worked with him for four years as his forwards coach for the Wallabies and Waratahs.
However, with the upcoming fixture this weekend, this topic of discussion was pretty unavoidable. And Cheik made it clear that he hopes both him and Ledesma will put aside the lip and let the rugby on the field do the talking.
“Without a doubt he has been a very important part in developing this team,” Cheika said to rugby.com.au.
“There is always going to be influence in us with him and him with us.
“But it’s a little bit different I think this week.
“You come up against guys you know in different times and there is always a bit of hedging and mind games and everything like that but not this week.
“We are too close – we are as good as family.
“He has done a great job this year with everything that has happened.
“In the small amount of times that he has had them he has really delivered.
“Once the whistle blows it will be war but it’s respect before then.”
Cheik admitted as well that he was not surprised that Ledesma has been able to utilise the talent in the Argentinean game to deliver immediate results.
“He brought a lot of new ideas and he was really passionate.” Cheika said of his time with Ledesma.
“He was a great balance between the Latin influence and the Anglo-Saxan influence.
“I think he can take that back the other way.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching his teams play since he has taken over there and I am looking forward to going up against each other.”
It was well and truly raining tries over round two of the NRC, with 281 points scored over four games over the weekend.
Saturday was very much a demolition derby. Starting on sunny Fiji, in front of a monster crowd the Fijian Drua put on a masterclass, completely annihilating Brisbane City 66-5 and sending a dangerous message to the rest of the competition.
The Flying Fijians ran in ten tries to one, entertaining the 6,000 strong crowd at Lautoka and reinforcing their position at the top of the ladder.
The second match of the round saw the Sydney Rays host the Canberra Vikings at Concord Oval in a match that showed how much having an extra week of prep can have. The Rays came into the game having suffered a very disrupted buildup, and lost one of their star players in Rob Simmons to the Wallabies the day of the match.
While they did score three tries and showed moments of brilliance, the Vikings ran riot to record their first win, running out 17-54 winners.
Sunday saw the two best matches of the round, with the first being played in front of a capacity crowd of over 4,000 in the west. The Western Force knocked over the NSW Country Eagles in front of their home fans, winning 54-28. The match sees the Force go two-for-two, and retain the Horan-Little Shield.
However, the scoreline didn’t reflect how close the Eagles came to winning this, at one point trailing 35-28 with five minutes on the clock. Considering they only had a few training sessions under their belt, expect them to be a much-improved side at home in Mudgee next week.
And lastly, the match of the round saw an unbelievable game up in Townsville between QLD Country and Melbourne Rising. Country were heavy favourites to win this one, but the Rising looked a different side to the one that got pumped in Fiji, and actually were leading 12-14 at halftime.
The second half saw a good old-fashioned arm wrestle, and despite a late charge from the Rising at the death, the Townsville faithful were rewarded with Country coming from behind to win 29-28.
The results from the weekend see the Drua, Force, Qld Country and Canberra Vikings hold the top four positions, with Brisbane City and the two NSW sides still to register a point.
The Rays shine
While the Sydney Rays mens side struggled in their first match of the NRC on the weekend, for the Womens team, it was the exact opposite.
In round two of the AON Uni Sevens down in Canberra, the Macquarie Uni side brushed aside the likes of favourites University of Queensland and Griffith University to win their first ever round of the competition, defeating Griffith in a convincing 26-0 win in the final.
The win is the first time a team other than UQ have won the gold medal match.
Round Two saw the return of multiple Wallaroos to many of the teams, and their inclusion was noticeable, with a dramatic increase in the quality of play.
With this win and their silver placing in Tasmania, Macquarie Uni take first place away from UQ on the overall leader board with three rounds to go. UQ drop to second, while their improved performance in this series sees Griffith University maintain third position.
Following the top three are Sydney University, University of Canberra, University of Tasmania, University of Adelaide, Bond University, University of New England and lastly, Melbourne Uni.
The teams will now enjoy a week off before heading to University of Queensland in Brisbane for Round Three on September 22-23rd.