Welcome to another week of the Top 5. Well that was a bit better, wasn’t it? A win is a win and there were some positive signs. This week we share some of the things that we took away from the matches on the weekend, both the good and the not so good, from both matches of the Rugby Championship. We also take a sneak peak at what is going on with the Pacific nations Cup, which is also running at the moment.
What did we make of that?
Well let’s be upfront about it. We got the win, which is a big positive. But was it really the start of the epic comeback that we need to make it to the top of the heap at the World Cup? Don’t get me wrong, there were some big positives out of the match (which I will get to in a moment), but there were a lot of factors in play here.
Firstly, the Pumas turned the ball over what is believed to be a Rugby Championship record 30 times. Considering they were in possession for 49% of the match, which is approximately 39 minutes, turning the ball over that many times is …. well costly, to say the least. The Wallabies really should have been able to capitalise on that more, but were unable to make the Pumas pay for their poor ball retention, turning the ball over a huge 24 times themselves.
Also, we all like to talk up how dangerous the Pumas are, and the results of the Jaguares in Super Rugby has lifted this talk. But in reality the Pumas, since joining the Rugby Championship in 2012, have played 41 matches. They have a win/loss record of 5/36. Yes, despite all the positive talk about them and how tough an opposition they are, they have still only won 5 out of their 41 matches. That’s not to say they are easy beats, their matches are definitely tough, but at no point should the Wallabies, Springboks or All Blacks be going into a match against the Pumas as underdogs based on those results.
In terms of the Wallabies themselves, there were elements of that match that could have been severely punished against a different team. 74% tackle rate is well below par, imagine missing one out of every 4 tackles against the Boks or All Blacks. I’ve already mentioned the turnovers. 24 is too high. Quality teams, especially teams which thrive off quick turnover ball, will make you pay for giving them that many freebies with the ball. And there was still pretty much nothing happening on attack. Giving the ball to Kerevi might be great, but it needs to go beyond that. Look at what happened when Lealiifano used Kerevi as a decoy. We scored.
What made us smile?
As I said, it’s definitely not all doom and gloom for the Wallabies. Far from it in fact, there were a number of areas where they definitely showed an improvement on the previous week.
The scrum – whatever they did at training, they need to keep it up. The scrum was a different beast on Saturday. What was the difference this week? We had Sio back, but the man he replaced, Slipper, can hardly be said to be a weak link in the scrum, he proved that many times over during the year. Was the Pumas scrum weaker that the Springboks from the week before? Or did it just click for the Wallabies and they got it right? I guess what happens in the match against the All Blacks might give us some of those answers.
The lineout – while the lineout wasn’t bad against the Springboks, there were doubts about how Fainga’a would go at this level, given the team that really gave the Brumbies lineout grief was the Jaguares. People (well Phil Kearns, and his opinion is the only one that matters, right?) were worried after the Brumbies semi-final loss to the Jaguares that Fainga’a couldn’t cope with the Argentinians at lineout time. “Although Fainga’a had been in strong form throughout the season and finished as Australia’s top tryscoer [sic] (12) in Super Rugby, Kearns said his performance in Argentina meant he was no longer the front-runner heading into the World Cup year.” But on Saturday the Wallabies won all but one of their own lineouts. Add to that Faingaa did the job around the park too and I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t still be considered a front runner for the hooker position going into the World Cup.
Number 10 – Christian Lealiifano was solid on Saturday night. He didn’t do anything flashy and he didn’t do anything silly either. It wasn’t the biggest test for him, I think Foley had a tougher test the week before, but I would like to see how Lealiifano handles himself against the All Blacks. That will give us the best picture of who the starting 10 should٭ be at the World Cup.
٭Who it should be may or may not bear any resemblance to who it will be
I wasn’t sure exactly where to put his one, as it fits into both the positive and negative from the match. The crowd. 31,599 sounds great but when that many people are in a stadium that seats 52,500 it looks pretty empty. 20,899 empty seats really stood out especially when it looked like there was no-one in the whole top tier. Plus nearly one full bay was taken by the Nudgee College students, so that number could have been worse. I know that Argentina aren’t the biggest drawcard, and the fact that the first Bledisloe is a sell-out shows there is support for the Wallabies in this country. But it just didn’t look good. But then the positive, 31,599 is a record for a Pumas game in Australia (outside the World Cup). And by a fair margin too. Now I’m only looking at matches since 2012, but the biggest crowd since then, before this weekend, was 22,278 in 2012. Since then there hasn’t been a crowd over 20,000 to a Pumas game. So looking at it that way, the crowd was very good on Saturday.
The Other Match
Let’s talk for a minute about the All Blacks v Springboks match. Talk about intense. The Boks can probably feel a little hard done by, the final penalty that was kicked by Mo’unga looked like it was actually a knock on against the AB’s first, but the Boks didn’t drop their heads and got the draw. They have some serious talent in their side and looked threatening whenever they got the ball. The final play of the game, the one that got them the try to tie it up, was one that required not only skills, but trust in their teammates. After Kolbe made the break, he kicked the ball ahead knowing that it was pretty much their only chance as time was almost up. He knew that Jantjies was there to chase the kick and placed it perfectly. Jantjies did his part in gathering the ball and scoring, which he made look easier than it probably was.
Just jumping away from the game for a moment, how good is this kid? He made his Super Rugby debut in the final match of Super Rugby last year, coming on as a replacement. So far, in his 2 international matches, he has scored a try in each half he has been on the field.
Back to the match …
The All Blacks, on the other hand, had some very ordinary moments. 19 turnovers conceded, Mo’unga making a few errors, they just didn’t look like to formidable side we have come to know. The biggest stand out was their inability to cross the line. The All Blacks usually don’t struggle to score tries, but they did this week with a single try in the first half. There have been definite signs that the All Blacks are vulnerable. With the late try to South Africa, Aaron Smith, who is usually like a terrier chasing everything, admitted he was caught out by Jantjies coming through and taking the ball. How often do we see that kind of lapse from one of the most experienced AB’s in such a tight match? In fact, the All Blacks haven’t exactly looked convincing in their last 2 matches. In the game against the Pumas they turned the ball over 25 times, even more than the Wallabies did on the weekend. They aren’t scoring tries as easily as we have become accustomed to seeing and their handling has been a bit off. Will they lift for the Wallabies match? (probably, after all they always seem to lift for the Bledisloe matches).
Stuck in the mud
Sliding around in the mud used to be great fun as a kid. Seeing who could do the longest belly slide, tearing up the back yard then being sprayed down with the hose – it was a blast!
But spare a thought for the Samoan and Tongan players who played over the weekend, sliding around in the mud isn’t as much fun when there are 29 other guys on the field all trying to chase after the same slippery ball.
— Sam Lousi (@samlousi) July 27, 2019
On Saturday, in Apia, Samoa hosted Tonga in the opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup. Samoa took out the match 25-17, but there are some very unhappy players after the match was allowed to go ahead in such dreadful conditions. Markings on the field were hard to see, players struggled to stay on their feet and holding the ball looked near to impossible. There have been matches played in poor conditions in the past, no doubt. The question many are asking though, is if that were an England/All Blacks game would it have been played?
Please @WorldRugby enlighten us all on what processes you took to allow this game to go ahead? My question is – if a tier 1 team was to play that day ,would the game still go on? #PlayerWelfare https://t.co/TwWkrqkn5N — Cooper Vuna (@CVUNA) July 28, 2019
All I can say is spare a thought for the poor front rowers. I imagine scrums would have collapsed fairly regularly with such a slippery pitch, and it looks like the front rowers would have spent some time actually under water!
You haven’t played rugby if you haven’t played on a pitch like Tonga and Samoa did today…pic.twitter.com/TZdzBS9qFu
— Front Row Club Rugby (@Front_Row_Club) July 27, 2019
Pacific Nations Cup
Speaking of the Pacific nations Cup, this weekend saw the first round of the tournament played. For those unfamiliar with the Cup, it involves 3 Pacific Island nations, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. In the past a variety of other countries have been part of the competition, including Australia (A), New Zealand (Junior All Blacks) and Georgia. Fiji are the reigning champions and have been for the past 4 years. This year Canada, The USA and Japan make up the field. Teams play each other once in a round robin comp.
The first round saw Samoa host Tonga (as discussed above), USA host Canada and Japan host Fiji. The Eagles extended their 11 run winning streak over Canada with a convincing 47-19 win. It’s hard to judge how the Eagles are flying, we know their 7’s team were outstanding this year, finishing second to Fiji in the series, but their 15s are more of an unknown. They are in a pool with England, France, Argentina and Tonga so even if they do well in this tournament I don’t see them progressing past the pool stage at the World Cup.
The other match, Japan and Fiji, threw up a bit of a surprise with Japan defeating the reigning champs 34-21. It had previously been 8 years since Japan beat Fiji, and the first time since 1994 that they have done it in Japan. The main competition in Japan’s pool at the World Cup will be Scotland and Ireland, so there is a chance they could make it through to the next round. Fiji is in the Wallabies pool and, if all goes to plan, will not make it out of the pool stages after finishing behind Australia and Wales.
Next weekend USA will take on Samoa and Fiji will play Canada in a double header in Suva, while Japan will host Tonga in Higashiosaka City. The final round will be played the following weekend, with Tonga and Canada playing in Lautoka, Fiji, USA against Japan and Fiji taking on Samoa in another double header in Suva.