So, this is it. One last weekend of the rugby year, and what are the chances of us all being happy this time next week? Wouldn’t that be nice?!
But collectively, there’s a bit of work to do. Argentina and South Africa will be wanting to maintain their current vein of form, New Zealand suddenly need to save a bit of face (and Ian Foster’s bacon, if some opinions are to be believed), and Australia head into their last game potentially the most desperate they have been all year.
Obviously, we’ve got some thoughts on what needs to happen and one last week to say it all in advance, before joining the rest of the rugby world as Hindsight Harrys next week.
Oh, and the Panel’s not quite done yet. We’ll be back for one last run next week, and we’re going to name names…
South Africa is England’s bogey team. Even when the Red Rose is blooming brightest, it tends to get plucked by the hungry Boks.
Anyone can look at the record (of last ten, last 20, all-time), so all I’ll say is, there’s a familiar script, an archetypal rhythm. So, the boys need to follow that pattern.
The coaches need to select the right players: Cobus Reinach at 9, a wing at right wing, and a 6-2 bench. But then it’s a matter of prevailing in the scrum, the lineout, the tackle, and the chase.
It’s bloody England! The boys will pitch up.
There’s plenty to play for: having retaken the number one ranking – South Africa is historically the clear second team in holding that top rank, so every day it’s held, the case for the top rivalry gets stronger – Jacques Nienaber and his jolly, naughty water boy rise in Saffa legend; but also, there’s the “2021 champion” to play for.
On first blush, NZ have that, with only two losses to SA’s four, but the scales have shifted. If SA spanks England cheeky arse, and the All Blacks stumble in Paris, well then, I’d say South Africa won 2021:
•A Lions series win over Warren Gatland
•1-1 head to head with NZ
•Two stinkers by NZ (on EOYT) one by SA (the second versus Australia)
•Better depth in the pack; thus, sustainability for next year and 2023.
Both the All Blacks and Wallabies get it done this week by doing what they didn’t do last week.
You don’t win Test rugby against Tier one nations by conceding 70 per cent of possession. The All Blacks simply have to be more accurate with the ball in hand, show some of the patience and discipline that Ireland showed, not to push the pass and recycle instead.
And they need to put more pressure on the French ball and bother them in a way that they weren’t able to ruffle the Irish.
The Wallabies have to find a way to revert to the controlled rugby that served them so well in the Rugby Championships. Execution at set piece. Clinical, direct attack. Intense, but disciplined defence.
A difficult ask without some leading players, but it’s time for some senior, experienced players to step out of Michael Hooper’s shadow.
It’s one the biggest press conference cliches from a player or coach, and almost always contrary to reality – because team truly pays no attention at all to the opposition? – but the Wallabies really do just need to worry about themselves and not Wales this weekend!
And they need to forget about the last couple of weeks and just play like this is the first game of the season. No baggage into the game, no recent history, no worrying about (or sweating on) Welsh injuries; just run out there, play the game that best fits the players selected and do the little things right.
Once they’re into the game, they’ll need to see chances coming and take them as soon as they’re offered. Taking penalties regularly was the way they stayed in the games against England way longer than their performance perhaps should have allowed, so that’s one thing, but they need to remember the right time to run at Wales and the right time to kick over their heads and turn them around, too.
The Wallabies have played some excellent rugby in 2021, that’s one thing they do need to remember. Do the little things well, take the chances as they come, and be relentless.
Oh Dear, after the Ireland demonstration this weekend in front of the All Blacks I think that Los Pumas’ chances of beating the men in green are more and more distant. The Pumas have beaten the Irish a couple of times in World Cups but never in Ireland.
How much more toned can one get after clearly defeating the multiple world champions?
The Pumas showed an improvement against a weak Italian team, but I think they would need much more time to work to have a chance in this game and it is something that they will not have.
More often than not, the All Blacks tend to bounce back from a poor performance strongly and Paris appeals as a good place to do so where they have a very solid record.
A far more concerted effort will be needed up front, particularly the offensive breakdown and I suspect they will get the job done.
I am very much hoping we all get to see an Aaron Smith-Antoine Dupont match-up at halfback, that will be a cracker.
At Twickers, I’m looking for better execution in their red zone, longer exits out of our own, 30 or more points scored against the cheeky chariot, less than two tries conceded, and utter scrum dominance to cause Kyle Sinckler to turn into a puddle of indignation.
Oh, and Eddie Jones to talk about Naomi Osaka in a post-defeat rant.
Without being glib, I just want to see both teams win. Lord knows both coaches need it, just to be able to go into summer with a degree of surety that, even though they’ve dropped games and put in some disappointing performances, things aren’t anywhere near as bad as what some of the doomsayers are suggesting.
Despite the disappointment of last week, and the question marks around the All Blacks sticking too doggedly to a style of game that has been figured out, a win against a very good French side would cap off a more than reasonable year.
The Wallabies are undermanned, so the asterisk is already out, but a win against Wales would be just the shot of confidence the playing group needs, heading into summer. And reward too for a fan-base that is due a change of fortune.
I just want to see the Wallabies play with smarts.
No silly penalties, no dumb options, no lazy shortcuts; play a smart game that controls the situation and makes Wales play to them, not the other way around.
There’s been some truly puzzling rugby played at times since they landed in the UK, and they just need to show that still know what good, well-executed rugby looks like. And they know they can play it, because they have played it this year. Not that long ago, in fact.
Play for pride, play for each other, play for themselves, play for whatever. Just play like it means something.
I would like Los Pumas to be competitive and to be able to keep the result within reach.
It would be important for them to show greater cohesion in attack, a good set piece, and a good grade in discipline.
To end the year that has not been good with a sign of hope for a brighter future, would be enough for me.
Dominate the breakdown, absolutely decimate their opposition in this facet, particularly on our ball.
OVER TO YOU: How does your team finish 2021 on a high?
And what’s the one thing you want to see from your team in the last game of the year?