The Big Rugby Championship Question: We might not lose this weekend

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Australians all, let us rejoice. There is one certainty: we are not going to lose to the All Blacks!

    One of the big pluses in the immediate aftermath of the Bledisloe Tests, and even as we emerged this side of the bye weekend was that suddenly, the Wallabies are a chance of winning a Test this weekend.

    Of course, that same feeling is shared by our South African friends, whose Springboks are playing with a similar lack of lustre. The Boks are similarly pulling apart their team’s performance to try and work out how on earth they’re trying to play.

    And so it seemed only fair that we hand the question reins over to our resident South African this week.

    The Big Question: For each team, which player epitomises the team’s strongest point, and who epitomises the weak point? (from Harry)

    Nobes: “This is a very difficult question for someone that loves rugby because I believe is all about a team effort where everybody brings something to the table.

    “The second part of the question does not seem fair, considering that the coaching staff decides which players are selected and which are not. But I will play along, Harry, hoping not to utterly disappoint anybody.

    “New Zealand is the most difficult to talk about, because they have some many talented players. However, if the selection has to be made based on what is going right now, I will have to place Barret as the man who epitomises the All Blacks strongest points. To answer the question on weakness, I will have to go with Wyatt Crockett whom I like in the loose but he does not convince me as a scrummager.

    “For Australia, I think Israel Folau is a player that everyone would like to have in their team, powerful when running and extremely secure in the high ball.

    “In the other end I am afraid to say that James Slipper has never convinced me. He is a good player at club level but not as someone that I would consider to play as a country representative in the national team.

    “The Springboks have in Eben Etzebeth what South African rugby is for me: a powerful and merciless attacking force, making tackles showing strong personality. You always know when this fellow is on the field. At the other end I have two candidates – please, do not give me a hard time about quota issues.

    “My first choice is Adriaan Strauss: my assumption is that something is not right with him in this season. I remember he used to make a stand every time he entered the game. He is not quite the same this year. The other choice is Oupa Mohoje: his poor tackle technique can leave SA with 14 men at any time, and he may also become something even worse: a health threat for any opponents.

    “Finally, in Argentina, it is my opinion that Augustin Creevy represents Argentina rugby very well. He is passionate player, ready to leave everything on the field. In the other end I will place Gonzalez Amorosino that earned his place after a superb try in RWC 2011 that put the team in the quarter finals, however he has not been able to come up with anything else since then.”

    Harry: “Thus far in The Rugby Championship, the Springboks have been slow and sloppy start/strong and spirited finish, but young and raw Pumas have been brave and enterprising and started strong, then faded both times; holding on one time courtesy of missed ‘Bok kicks and bad box kicks. The Wallabies have been sour, cramped and ragged. The All Blacks have been masterful in their fundamental skills, and happy, actually cheeky, warriors.

    “So for me: NZ’s 2016 TRC campaign is epitomised by the bulked-up and very cocky Dane Coles, who’s missed no lineouts, scrummed with good technique, but also steps defenders with high numbers on their jerseys and smiles after he scores. Argentina’s been epitomised by Creevy, because he’s having a go AND a rip in the first half, and then hanging on in the final quarter, breathing like a racehorse.

    “The ‘Boks have been playing like Faf de Klerk: full of energy and courage, but inexperienced and thus, starting each game with kicking errors, high passes, and dubious tactical decisions. The Wallabies are definitely playing like Stephen Moore: unhappy, feeling a bit like a victim, and not finding partners in space or the jair.

    “Players who have not epitomised their larger squads’ play in the first two rounds:
    – The All Black props. Smile!
    – Etzebeth, who has played all 160 minutes at one (full) speed, almost error-free, and an experienced skillset.
    – Will Genia: fast, happy, decisive, and on target.
    – Santiago González Iglesias, who was the ultimate finisher in Salta: created the vital 22 m drop to retain, broke the line, and slotted a pressure kick for the win.”

    Digger: “A challenging question indeed from our resident Bearded South African axe champion, and part time ‘Wellingtonian’ poet. Let’s start with the A teams.

    “It would be easy to nominate Creevy in this category, probably because he is the right answer but I would like to propose Juan Martin Hernandez, whose turnabout in form from the Jaguares season has played a big part in the respective performances of the Super and National side to date. And here is a controversial suggestion: in my view the Pumas biggest struggle is to complete an 80-minute performance which I would suggest Creevy represents; a huge 40 to 50-minute effort that tends to peter out into holding on in the last few.

    “For Australia, while debate rages around the practicality and effectiveness of his selection, Michael Hooper represents a never say die, 100% committed effort week in, week out which cannot be faulted. The selection of Matt Giteau would, in my opinion portray the worst; a stubbornness, if you will, to continue in the same vein and not looking to adapt or change to the challenges presented.

    “South Africa is relatively simple. Etzebeth would represent to me the best of ‘Bok rugby, powerful, uncompromising and skilful while Elton Jantjies perhaps the worst, capable of brilliance while equally capable of inconsistent application, but too ready to retreat into his shell, highlighting the ever conservative nature that permeates through Springbok rugby at times.

    “For New Zealand, the culture and drive within the group to succeed would be one aspect I would focus on as a strength, and I think ‘ole man’ Jerome Kaino is a fair reflection of this, particularly when his form is compared to other experienced campaigners from other sides within the Championship.

    “The worst, perhaps I can poke a stick at Dane Coles, who can become unfocused at times and allow himself to become immersed in off-the-ball stuff a little too often, but I feel I am reaching a bit here.”

    Brett: I knew it. I knew the Harry Jones question would be the hardest to tackle, and that’s kind of why I saved him for last. That, and I needed more time to study…

    Digger’s beaten me to the punch in nominating Juan Martin Hernandez as Argentina’s strong point, and I think he has always been the Pumas’ barometer. When he’s on, Los Pumas can beat anyone and beat them well. If he’s quiet though, well that’s them done for the night. And equally, Nico Sanchez might be the weakest link, because if he’s having an off night, so much of Argentina’s game is pinned on him.

    For the Wallabies, Stephen Moore might actually be the strongest and weakest link. A lot of people are saying that Moore’s Wallabies form has followed on from Super Rugby, but I disagree with this, because I genuinely believe – and I know the club thinks this, too – that Moore had his best ever season for the Brumbies. His lineout work was good, and he was doing things around the ground that he hasn’t done in a long time. That hasn’t translated to the Wallabies though, and there’s no doubt he’s under pressure to hold his spot as a result.

    I agree with all comments made anointing Etzebeth as South Africa’s lynchpin, and I just hope to hell that the Wallabies have fixed up their lineout issues this week, otherwise Sacha Baron Cohen’s stunt double will have a field day. Their weakness currently is Damien de Allende, and I genuinely hope Allister Coetzee sticks with him this weekend, because I think even Bernard Foley could fool him into a defensive mis-read.

    And for New Zealand to finish with, there’s no doubt for mine that Kieran Read is their strength, and just like that other bloke who captained the All Blacks before him, so much of the ABs’ performance flows from Read’s personal performance. It’s like if he’s confident, then every other player can be confident too.

    Is there an All Black weakness? Well once, I think, I saw Ben Smith jink left when he should’ve jinked right. (Click to Tweet)He still got the offload away, though.

    Tips

    Week 2: The Crowd, Brett, and Nobes 2; Digger and Harry 1
    Nobes: “It is very hard to tip without knowing the starting teams, we do not know if Hansen or Hourcade will play all their regular starting soldiers or save some for later on. Hourcade is aiming to win two games in TRC and may feel that Australia is more vulnerable, but they are up just one week after this game.

    “However, as Pablo Matera told me in an interview this week: ‘We are very lucky to play the ABs twice a year and if we win we would make history’. He is looking forward to be part of it. Me too. Unfortunately, and less wishful thinking, I may have to go with the ABs.

    “About the other game I flipped a coin and head came up so it will be the Wallabies over the ‘Boks. And my coin is almost never wrong! Only half the time.”

    Brett: I genuinely look forward to both games this weekend, and it will be the first time this season I’ve watched the ‘Boks and Pumas live, so there is that too.

    I’ll be interested to see how long Argentina can run with the All Blacks, though, and whether they have any luck bringing NZ down to the gritty level and speed they like to play at. I guess it’s just a matter of which point the home side will run away with it in the ‘Tron.

    And maybe it’s the home ground thing, or maybe it is the fact that the Wallabies have had a bit of success against the ‘Boks in Brisbane when they’ve been struggling elsewhere. Whatever it is, I hope – nay, demand – it will be enough to record the first win 2016.

    Diggercane: “I expect Argentina to be quite challenging for the All Blacks but I can see a blowout in the second half to the All Blacks.

    “And I am essentially settling on the home side in Brisbane, as I feel they will be more motivated after the hammering they have taken with regards to their recent performances and having no victories on the board. I think they have also had a better preparation in terms of recent opposition.”

    Harry: “NZ will have to work about as hard as they did against Wales. Argentina will test the home team’s set pieces and restarts, but NZ will separate from the Pumas in the last 25 minutes.

    “The ‘Boks will have too good a pack, and won’t keep missing 35% of their penalties and conversions.”

    The summary

    The verdict…
    A record response for The Rugby Championship to date, with more than 500 responses received for this round. Thanks to everyone who had their say, and I have to admit, I’m a little surprised at the final Australia-South Africa result.

    93.9% New Zealand
    57.2% South Africa!

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.