Our teams are back on the Gold Coast again, having shared a charter flight for all four teams from Townsville down to the Glitter Strip on Sunday.
Interestingly, the seating arrangements weren’t based front-of-plane to back-of-plane on current table standings, but rather some kind of weird weight distribution model that saw the forwards up front in completely underserving and spacious surrounds, and the backs crammed into frankly inhumane seating behind the curtain.
So, there was Joe Moody sitting up front in a business class seat he clearly had no idea how to appreciate. Trevor Nyakane was seated across the aisle from Taniela Tupou; one of them admiring the pretty pictures on an upside-down safety card.
Meanwhile, Quade Cooper walked down the aisle with a tear in his eye as he passed Faf de Klerk, with the heroic scrumhalf with wonderful locks wedged in between as many as four different Springbok midfielders across the middle seats.
It was the worst kind of backline discrimination I’ve ever seen. An offensive, outrageous arrangement that World Rugby must tackle with urgency and ensure can never happen again. I’d go as far as saying it’s the biggest blight on the game currently. I’ll never forget those harrowing images.
If the players can possibly recover from this, an intriguing final round of The Rugby Championship may be able to be completed on Saturday – and it’s a bit curious to think about who gains what from a final round which will play no role in deciding the Championship.
I’ve also asked the guys what changes they might like to see in their teams for the finals round, but bear in mind that some teams will have been announced between when the guys responded, and when you’re reading this…
To be on the photo? That would be a triumph… hahaha!
I think a little more respect, and seeing some different players with a few minutes on the field or debutants would be a good sign.
The Pumas have to develop more depth, and the 16 injured in the squad opens the door to young hopefuls.
For two sides it is about continuing on with the momentum they have managed to build while for the other two sides it’s about halting their current momentum, or at least changing it.
Both the Pumas and Springboks will not want to leave Australia winless and a win each will be a great confidence boost heading towards their respective Northern Tours, while a win for both the Wallabies and All Blacks will keep their current momentum rolling on into their fixtures to come.
Another win for New Zealand up against a tough Springbok forward pack will be just the right tonic with away matches against the Six Nations champs and an ever-improving French side. The Irish will not have forgotten the World Cup quarter-final either and I suspect they may just prove the toughest opponent to come in this year’s end-of-season tour.
My beloved and frustrating Boks can gain a rare All Black scalp abroad, the biggest prize in rugby after trophies.
How? Better poise and match day mentality in big moments, fewer tackle fall-offs, and recognition of the handful of overlaps that may occur in 80 minutes.
Nobody except a full Lions squad can blunt the All Black attack like the Boks, but on red zone and counterattack, it’s the Wallabies shape that offence-challenged brains trust Jacques Nienaber and Mzwandile Stick should study and copy.
Keep the No.1 team around 20 and score two tries: a recipe. But you still have to make your goals.
Look for Elton in the last 15 minutes, and maybe takes the tee. Words I never thought I’d write.
All four teams have plenty to gain from the final match. Last week, all that mattered to the All Blacks was winning the 100th Test. You could see from the reaction of the players that how they did it, and by how much, didn’t matter.
This week, winning will still be enough – any win over South Africa is hard-earned. But secretly, the All Blacks would love to win the battle of styles conclusively and decisively, so as to remove any doubt. To do so, though, they will need to play more directly first, before rolling out the millionaire plays.
Interestingly, the Wallabies have the same desire. Coming off a solid but not wholly convincing win, they would love nothing more than to put in a fully rounded performance, to ensure that every single fan is on the bandwagon before they travel north.
Another win this weekend will give the Wallabies something they’ve not had in huge quantities over the years.
I can’t even remember the Wallabies finishing The Rugby Championship in such strong form to the point that we fans want the Spring Tour to start the following weekend, but I’m sure it’s happened at some point.
And then the Tour presents both challenge and excitement. Japan, then Scotland, England, and Wales in consecutive weeks presents exactly that: challenge and excitement.
Wallabies supporters have waited for a season like this for years, but it’s been just as long for the logo and the gold jersey themselves. Players come and go – some even come back – but the Wallaby on the chest and the gold jersey remain, and they’ve been longing for a chance to shine.
So, that’s what there is to gain this weekend – just everything.
Everything for the players, everything for the squad and the coaches, and beyond them, everything for the game in Australia.
2021 is a chance to be proud of the Wallabies again, and it’s impossible to understate how wonderful that is.
In addition to seeing new players, I would like to see a greater and better obtaining from set pieces.
Los Pumas has not had a place to hold on to develop their game since the few times they get the ball. It is of poor quality and therefore it is very difficult to progress on the field.
I would also like them to come back with points when visiting the opponents’ side of field. Obviously, reducing the number of penalties should be a goal to meet.
The biggest change I would like to see for the All Blacks is a greater emphasis at the breakdown, and what I really mean is dominating it. In particular a greater focus from our loosies to achieving that end.
We all have our opinions on who should be there but at the end I want to see a shift in overall strategy regardless of who gets picked in this area of the match.
Changes: I would start Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx with Frans Malherbe.
Keep the rest of the pack, but replace the injured Marco van Staden on the bench with Robert du Preez for abrasive carries.
Tactically, I would green light longer phase attack inside the AB half, and if we are so lucky as to have the lead in the last minutes again, ground-and-pound for the penalty.
If we are on a knock-on advantage, carry until stopped, to get our scrum. If we are playing pragmatic rugby, more prag, less matic.
I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far to suggest that, for the Springboks, Luke Jacobsen returning to No.8 is a good option. His replacement, Ethan Blackadder, did more than enough to gain another start, which means that it’s probably time for Akira Ioane to sit one out.
In the backline, George Bridge played his way out, which paves the way for Rieko Ioane to return to the wing, to accommodate Anton Leinert-Brown.
Oh, and Richie Mo’unga? If he’s fit and ready, then throw him in. He’s too good to mess around with.
The Wallabies are benefitting from continuity in selection, but there’s a case to be made this week, for Feleti Kaitu’u to start and Matt Philip to rest. Rob Leota did nothing wrong in his debut, but there’ll be temptation to let Sean McMahon show what they bought him back for. I’ll be happy either way.
We’ll find out later today just how many changes the Wallabies make for the last game of the domestic season, but if I’m honest, I hope it’s not many and I hope they’re all forced.
Three wins on the trot directly after a pretty deflating series against New Zealand has been a hell of a turnaround, and I really think the 30-odd players who have been involved deserve to finish the job.
There’s definitely a need to try a few things here and there, but that can wait another week. It won’t be an unchanged 23 this week – Marika Koroibete has already gone home to see his kids – but I hope it’s pretty close.
Once on tour, then sure, let’s try those things there and there.
Let’s find out if Andrew Kellaway is as natural a fit at fullback as it feels like it might be. Let’s give Feleti Kaitu’u and Lachie Lonergan the chance to really put their hand up at hooker. Let’s find out if the Sean McMahon hype has more to it than five-year-old memories.
But let’s not forget the ones that have dropped off along the way. All of them are good players. There’s no reason why they won’t play just as well in a team performing way better.
OVER TO YOU: What does your team have to gain this weekend?
And what changes do you want to see?