It’s been a rather remarkable year of rugby in our part of the world.
The Wallabies and Pumas will on Saturday night in Sydney bring down the curtain on what has been a tumultuous season of southern hemisphere rugby. Super Rugby was thrown on its head, Super Rugby then re-emerged in three separate forms and with more teams than ever.
Then the Rugby Championship was salvaged. Then the Rugby Championship was thrown on its head. Then it was salvaged again. Then back on its head. Then the old Tri Nations had the dust blown off it, and the international season was salvaged once again.
And everything we thought we knew about the three teams was thrown out the window in a series that won’t be forgotten.
All thing considered, it might be time for the panel to reminisce a little.
In a year we’re not likely to forget for any number of reasons, what has been your southern hemisphere rugby highlight in 2020?
Watching big old Mario Ledesma turn from the cameras to hide his tears, as his proud and tormented nation exulted.
There is a reason beating New Zealand far from home brings every team tears. Who can forget Pieter-Steph du Toit’s sobs of triumphant relief and release? The utter exhaustion of the Pumas’ famous win, built almost solely on fortitude, burst from Mario’s huge heart.
And now, the winter of our discontent is made even less glorious by the summer shame of old and discredited tweets that made the Pumas remove a captain and a star; a cringing, awful way to end this awful year, this torture called 2020.
Besides this serious matter of the horrendous tweets, I think Los Pumas defeating the All Blacks for the first time, and the sadness for not have been able to see the Springboks play as world champions.
Pick one highlight from that year? But there are so many to choose from: the Wallabies’ win in Brisbane, the thrilling first game of Super Rugby Aotearoa, Harry Wilson and Noah Lolesio both delivering star turns on trips to New Zealand before COVID hit, the Force returning to Super Rugby, the Waratahs putting 38 unanswered points on the Reds in one half of footy at the SCG…
Two moments really stand out: the first, Bledisloe 1. After such a long time without a Test match, that opening encounter between Australia and New Zealand was unreal. It mightn’t have been the purest display of rugby, but it was a thrilling, pulsating affair which had me screaming at the telly for all 88 minutes.
The other is, of course, Argentina’s win over the All Blacks. Yes, the team’s performances this year have been overshadowed by the disgusting tweets which were unearthed this week, but from a pure rugby point of view, it was as big an upset as you’ll ever see.
Tough one. The fact we have been able to have rugby played in front of fans, all things considered, has been a highlight and while I didn’t really want to see it, it is difficult to ignore the sheer joy and celebrations of the Argentinian players and fans after achieving their first win over the All Blacks.
Rugby sure is great, and of course it would be remiss of me to also not highlight the Hurricanes beating the Crusaders in Christchurch this season, always an achievement.
The obvious highlight is the Pumas breaking their duck against New Zealand; not just for the result, but for the quality of their performance. A single handling error and deadly tackling is a winning recipe against any team, but to sustain that level against the All Blacks for 80 minutes, fresh out of quarantine, was scarcely believable.
An honourable mention to Super Rugby Aotearoa reconnecting fans with franchise rugby. No matter the fun everyone takes from bagging Auckland, the sight of Eden Park full of fans behind a genuinely competitive and entertaining Blues side is great for rugby in our region.
Just that fact that rugby got back onto the field at all this year is the highlight.
Back in mid-March, at the end of the Brumbies-Waratahs game that was the last of Super Rugby in its old form, we tried to comprehend on radio that it was entirely possible we might not see any more rugby – or any sport at all, for that matter – played in 2020. There was just no way of knowing when or if we’d be back.
Super Rugby did return, but a global pandemic has forced the changes that so many of us have been calling for for years. There is no doubt the game will never be the same again, all because of 2020.
I guess that’s my way of saying we really shouldn’t take for granted the way the game was able to return at all. Things still aren’t great in so many parts of the world, but in Australia and New Zealand at least, our countries have done a great job of controlling what still looks well out of control in so many other nations.
Of course, there have been so many great rugby moments this year. But really, in the grand scheme of things, it all still runs second at best.
Wallabies versus Pumas: Who wins the final game of 2020 and why?
Australia by a fair amount.
By now it is clear: notwithstanding the miracle win and the stubborn draw, Argentina were not ready for a four-Test series. Nobody would be.
Playing stocks depleted, stars dropping, walking wounded, and no tries; the Pumas are undermanned. Even before Pablogate. I honestly would understand it if the Pumas just pull out.
The Wallabies will win now.
What has happened this week took any possible win away for Los Pumas. Too many distractions away from the game.
The Wallabies. Not by 101, but still by a lot.
Even before Pablo Matera, Guido Petti and Santiago Socino were stood down it was going to take a special effort for Los Pumas to get up for a fourth Test in 22 days.
Without their (former) captain and one of the best locks in world rugby, I can’t see them making much of a game of it.
After the events of this week, Argentina’s fourth game in a row and a rested Australian side, it is very difficult to see anything other than a comfortable Wallabies victory.
Probably very comfortable.
Has there ever been a rugby rollercoaster as crazy as the one ridden by the Pumas over the last few weeks?
Infelicitous tweeting exposed, this week is surely a ride too far for the Pumas.
Wallabies by plenty.
I was reasonably confident the Wallabies would win this weekend, though the hundred required is obviously a bit much.
But it does feel like a Wallabies win will be a bit more comfortable now. No team is going to do well without its talisman, and while I don’t for a second underestimate the motivating factor of Argentinean passion and anger, like the rest of the tired squad, I don’t think it can last 80 minutes.