Readers who were around in the 1970s will remember The Newcastle Song by Bob Hudson, a number one hit single in 1975 in Australia and New Zealand.
Mostly spoken word, the sung chorus comprised the repeated refrain, “Don’t you ever let a chance go by oh lord, don’t you ever let a chance go by”.
Now, 45 years on, having watched the Wallabies conspire to draw a Test match they could and should have easily sewn up, Hudson’s lyrics seem prescient.
Newcastle has now seen a total of 160 minutes of Test rugby. The combined score across both matches stands at 21-24, with Australia’s 2012 6-9 loss to Scotland now followed by Saturday’s 15-15 draw with Argentina.
Hardy fans attending both matches are yet to see a try. The highlight of the 2012 match was two Scottish players headbutting each other celebrating their win. Saturday’s highlight was Pumas captain Pablo Matera taking his shirt off after the game.
If Australia is successful in obtaining hosting rights for the 2027 World Cup, Newcastle will almost certainly host some of the action. But based on what we’ve seen at McDonald Jones Stadium so far, it’s probably best to keep expectations low.
Admittedly the Wallabies came within a Jordan Petaia toenail of scoring a try, one of many incisive moments in a bright opening that saw the home team dominate through cohesive, positive play.
There was enough variation to throw the Pumas loose forward trio off kilter – Matt Philip trucking the ball up, Hunter Paisami and Petaia running with purpose, Tom Wright again looking very comfortable in Test rugby and Nic White pinning the Pumas against the sideline with accurate kicking. With Ned Hanigan prominent, the clean-out was fast and accurate.
But Petaia’s non-try seemed to herald a change in fortunes. Having been playing under advantage, captain Michael Hooper spurned the shot for goal and opted for the lineout only for Brandon Paenga-Amosa’s throw to be ruled crooked.
Not three minutes later Hooper again chose the lineout over a penalty goal attempt. This time it was Tom Banks knocking on in contact.
Hooper’s frustration was beginning to show, arguing with referee Paul Williams over what was very clearly a fumble forwards by his fullback and then following up with more of the same on at least three more occasions before halftime.
Frustrated fans might have wondered instead if the skipper’s anxiety may have been lessened had he chosen to take the points on offer and had been sitting on a 9-3 lead with at least something to show for the Wallabies’ superior field position.
From there the Wallabies began to lose shape, and while the Pumas were offering nothing with the ball, the more ragged the game became, the more it felt that they would still be around to have a say in proceedings at the business end.
Just after halftime the Wallabies got some good fortune, with referee Williams honouring his earlier team warning and sending hooker Julian Montoya to the bin. It should never have come to that – a knock-on in that play sequence by Allan Alaalatoa missed by Williams and his assistants.
The contrast between this and Williams being asked, as television match official, to check a potential knock-on in Brisbane, which ultimately led to New Zealand’s Scott Barrett being sin-binned, was very interesting.
One imagines that those who supported the TMO’s intervention in Brisbane in the interests of getting the call right would also have encouraged TMO Nic Berry to bring Alaalatoa’s knock-on to Williams’s attention, thus saving Montoya from an unjust yellow card.
For the record, rugby is better for accepting little misses like this one as ‘rub of the green’ if the price to be paid in search of utopia is over-reliance on the TMO and, worse, variable and selective use of video by which to officiate.
The Pumas scrambled through the sin-bin period without losing too much skin, but last week’s hero Nico Sanchez was being repeatedly exposed for shallow exit kicking, and when he missed from a handy position and Reece Hodge took the Wallabies out to 15-6 it was hard to see where the visitors were going to find enough points to turn things around.
Those points ultimately came from a variety of sources – a scrum penalty, Filipo Daugunu running himself into trouble and Philip inexplicably picking the ball up from an offside position. With ten minutes left it was suddenly 15-15, and if the crowd didn’t have any tries to savour, they had tension in spades.
The final stanza resembled Super Rugby AU’s ‘super time’, with both sides desperate to establish field position, playing for a penalty. That opportunity fell to Hodge with three minutes remaining, but his 40-metre effort was never as close as commentator Tim Horan insisted it was.
The tense finale also showed up deficiencies in decision-making under pressure. For the Wallabies, Petaia kicking ahead in the attacking half with men in support, giving up a final opportunity to force a result with the ball. For the Pumas, Emiliano Boffelli inexplicably forcing the ball in goal instead of letting it roll touch in goal, which meant that Sanchez was required to give the Wallabies one last chance with the ball instead of the Pumas feeding a final scrum up towards halfway.
Dry-eyed Pumas coach Mario Ledesma called the draw a fair result for both teams, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. The Wallabies may have had better of the run of play, but their inability to maintain their structure and to maintain clean possession of the ball in the backline, their slide into ill-discipline and their neglect of points on offer are all lessons for a developing side to cop on the chin.
There were positives to take out. Rob Simmons in the midst of a late-career revival and Hodge kicking extraordinarily high at the restart, forcing the Pumas to ruck it out from deep against Taniela Tupou, posted as the lead one-out defender, rushing like a bus-width linebacker, giving the first receiver nowhere to go.
Tupou, however, remains an enigma, pulled at halftime by coach Dave Rennie because he was being riled up and lured into some niggly play. All coaches want their best players logging maximum minutes, but there’s a strong argument that, for now at least, jersey 18 provides Tupou with a more focussed and defined role.
Although well down on last week’s skill level and execution, Argentina did well to overcome all of the emotional carry-over baggage and stay in the fight. Good sides need to learn how to play ugly and still come away with a result, and Ledesma was clearly satisfied with ticking this box.
As ragged as they were with the ball, the Pumas were fast to reset and number off in defence, with new inside centre Santiago Chocobares once again very impressive.
They missed Tomas Cubelli’s organisation and accuracy at halfback, and with Sanchez seemingly struggling with a groin complaint and the All Blacks keen to right some wrongs, Ledesma and his Lebanon rugby league coaching sidekick might have their work cut out this week to keep things rolling their way.
This draw means that the Rugby Championship or Tri Nations table is delicately poised, with all three nations on six points and all with an opportunity to win. By nature of their thumping victory in Sydney the points differential favours New Zealand, although one gets the feeling that coach Ian Foster will be thinking about nothing else but his side playing well and winning rather than of any potential scoreline.
An important development that passed largely without comment in the rugby media last week was the news that New Zealand Rugby chairman Daryl Impey is to stand down as chairman of SANZAAR.
This is not a matter concerning Impey’s competency, although it is fair to say that the recent discrepancy between SANZAAR and New Zealand Rugby’s account of events regarding a proposed Rugby Championships schedule was, given Impey’s chairing of both organisations, hard to reconcile.
Instead his resignation promises a long-overdue change of governance and structural model for SANZAAR, one which has the potential to improve rugby outcomes in the region.
Administrators from all four nations have for years recognised and acknowledged that their ‘consensus model’, requiring decisions to be mutually agreed by each of them, has been unwieldy and cumbersome. It has also proven to be overly risk-averse, each nation with one foot in the SANZAAR boardroom and the other firmly in their own.
As a result, the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby in particular have been hamstrung by too many conflicting objectives, giving way to ultimately unsatisfying consensus outcomes.
Japanese rugby, Pacific Islands rugby, Western Australian rugby and now even Argentine rugby have been left battered and bruised by their experiences with SANZAAR as a result of the ‘big three’ member nations not being able to balance their own desires and motivations with the rugby public’s view of what an engaging regional rugby competition should look like.
As a result, the SANZAAR administration has been often made to look foolish, without the autonomy to operate as it should and without the funding to market its competitions as it should.
We await details, but if SANZAAR is finally able to operate under an independent structure, Impey’s stated objective of growing the game commercially and internationally and to act with more cohesion and influence on issues such as the global calendar, laws, regulations, governance and mutual commercial interests is likely to lead to better competitions and more satisfaction for fans.
A good place to start might be to shift the Test match scheduled for next week, away from Newcastle.