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Wow, what a start to the June Test Match window – 15 minutes of New Zealand brilliance, followed by Australian defence to behold, followed by a South Africa comeback for the ages. How good is international rugby!
Across the discussion panel it was only Nobes’ ongoing frustration with the state of coaching around Los Pumas that let southern hemisphere rugby down. Even our adoptive Super Rugby cousins from Japan kicked off their campaign with a solid win over Italy.
But winning last weekend means nothing if our respective sides don’t learn from the mistakes they still made. If their opponents make the huge gains required while our sides stay still, they’ll actually have gone backwards. In the case of Argentina, learning from their mistakes will be the difference between more anguish this weekend and squaring the series.
There is, as is always the case around Test rugby, much to discuss.
This weekend’s internationals
New Zealand vs France, Wellington
Australia vs Ireland, Melbourne
South Africa vs England, Bloemfontein
Argentina vs Wales, Santa Fe
Japan vs Italy, Kobe
Canada vs Russia, Ottawa
USA vs Scotland, Houston
While the end result was pleasing last weekend, composure, execution and discipline let the All Blacks down at times, particularly in the first 30 minutes.
I suppose it is a bit harsh given it was the first hit-out of the season, and it improved during the match, but I feel New Zealand have an uncanny knack of putting themselves under pressure.
Last week we saw an intercept pass, a penalty conceded from backchat eight points down already, not to mention pushed passes in midfield. Arrgh, no more, please!
I really want to see the All Blacks start the match composed and ready to do the hard yards first, particularly in their own territory.
Control, execution and no more silly penalties. particularly after last week, as it isn’t inconceivable that the team will be under extra scrutiny this weekend.
It seems trite to suggest any obvious tweaks for a side that scores 44 unanswered points in the second half of a Test match, but one thing the All Blacks will strive for this week is to maintain or even increase their level of physicality while at the same time steering well clear of any sanctionable offences.
It’s a fine line to walk. On one hand there is a line of critics who point to repeated incidents of foul play involving All Blacks (eight yellow cards and one red card last season) as souring their legacy; on the other, more critics claiming that referees are intimidated by and are soft on the All Blacks as a result.
The All Blacks are not a dirty team and their reputation matters to them, so they will aim their sights a wee bit lower but look to hit a wee bit harder.
The Wallabies are in the unusual position where their kicking game is now both a strength (high contestable kicks) and a weakness (defensive exit and for field position). While it’s great to see positive intent via running plays and short cross kicks, it’s a risky game to concede field position and not expect to be punished on the scoreboard.
Thus the tweak I’m looking for this week is for the Wallabies – through Kurtley Beale and, later, Reece Hodge – to be more definitive about punching the ball across halfway, more often than what occurred in Brisbane.
Last week’s gritty win in Brisbane needs to be the Wallabies benchmark, not just for the remaining Tests against Ireland but for the rest of 2018.
It was a high mark for hard work and achievement of a common goal not seen since the second Bledisloe Test last season. Like in Dunedin that night last August, the key to the Wallabies’ defensive intelligence was its simplicity: few moving parts, players in position early, line speed that choked both the breakdown and the Irish midfield and intensity in the collisions. Sometimes a tad too much intensity, as Adam Coleman was found to have applied several decades before Israel Folau crossed in the corner at the other end of the field.
I don’t want any of that to change – if anything, I just want the timing to be even more on the money, as it will need to be with the expected improvements coming from the Irish.
The tactical kicking – all kicking from hand, actually – needs to be on point too, especially if it’s wet in Melbourne as anticipated. If Kurtley Beale isn’t in the position for the kick, then Bernard Foley needs to be at his very best. I can handle him giving up distance for accuracy, but what he served up last week was seldom distant nor accurate.
The most frustrating thing about this is there are so many kicking options available for the Wallabies – but are they all making sure they present as genuine options?
This is a really exciting time for Wallabies fans but really anxious times too. Come Saturday night we’ll be 80 minutes away from something wonderful. Or something oh so frustratingly familiar.
After Faf du Plessis sold Maro Itoje the Brooklyn Bridge and the Trumpian country of ‘Nambia’ to score a classic halfback try, I texted Roarers ‘Rugby Tragic’ and ‘DaniE’ that the match at Ellis Park could turn into one of those instant classics or would be a real rout.
The 320-cap Boks, without any starting combination that had ever played together at any level, picked themselves off the canvas after Deadeye Owen Farrell laughed to his reserve corps as he jogged and scored the third try unopposed.
I should just say: “Nothing! Do that again! Make Eddie lose his mind”.
But Rassie Erasmus and defence guru Jacques Nienaber will definitely work on the shape of the outside centre-wing channel. Lukhanyo Am can be the long-term answer to that question plaguing South Africa since Jaque Fourie’s premature departure. But Am has to be the short-term answer, now! He cannot gun up in a pressure defensive system if he is not going to smother the ball.
Also, the starting props may need to be flipped. No prop in any team has outperformed honest Steven Kitshoff over the last two seasons. And Wilco Louw is carrying some kind of injury.
Last week I made a point that Daniel Hourcade was going to be under a lot of pressure with a bad result. Well, it was not only a bad result against the Wales B team but an awful performance by Los Pumas.
Mario Ledesma handed a Ferrari to Mr Hourcade and he crashed it. We did not get to see any of the good things that the Jaguares have been doing in Super Rugby, and in exchange we saw most of the bad things that Los Pumas have been doing since 2016. If 18 consecutive defeats against Tier 1 Nations does not ring the bell, I have no idea what will.
My answer to the question will only take a very few words: I would like to see a change in the coaching staff, period.
The press has been really shy on this topic, but the social networks so discredited by Argentine Rugby Union have spoken heavily on this matter. With no strings attached to anybody, I can speak freely thanks to The Roar and this panel. And I will.
It was notorious that the same players skippered by a different captain and under the instructions of Mr Hourcade did not feel comfortable on the field. The body language and attitude of most players was not the same that we have seen in the Jaguares under Mario Ledesma. Also, the strategy was not quite right against a team that defended very well and slowed every ball in every possible way.
The Jaguares set piece that had been improving so much went back many steps under the Pumas. Penalties are back, the defence was poor and the movements were so predictability obvious.
There are so many things I would like to see different, not just improved, that I think it is time to go South Africa’s way and go ahead and change the commanders. Not much to lose at this point.
What tweaks are you making to your national side this weekend? Are you just trimming around the edges, or are cutting things up and starting again?
Let us know below and enjoy your weekend of international rugby.