“They’ll be better for the run,” said every coach after a first-up loss, ever. And the bigger the loss, the better they’ll be, the argument goes and so coaches want us to believe.
Two teams who conceded 13 tries between them on the opening weekend of The Rugby Championship now meet each other in the second round, and their ability to bounce back from heavy losses is going to be the biggest narrative of their contest this weekend.
On the other side of the coin, the two other teams scored 13 tries between them and they also now meet each other this weekend, and all the talk for their contest is going to be about fresh players and relative closeness to 1st XVs, and RWC knockout previews and the like.
So, what did the first outing of The Rugby Championship tell us about our relative sides?
And are we looking forward to Round 2, or are nails already in danger of destruction this week?
The Anxious Australian Appraisal persists under a new coach: who are we, what do we do best, and how can we put that on the pitch consistently?
A hybrid Springbok team (Cobus Reinach, Manie Libbok, Marco van Staden, Marvin Orie, Andre Esterhuizen, Joe Dweba, Grant Williams, and Evan Roos are only hoping to make the squad and not likely a top choice 23) gave Eddie Jones a few answers:
No, Suli Vunivalu is not going to be the world’s best wing in union, and no, Tom Hooper is not ready to play in the same league as Pieter-Steph du Toit.
The Boks gave their coaches comfort as to depth, but also on attack. Tries were scored with power, pace, precision, and pluck. Libbok did look like he could play understudy to Handre Pollard in case of injury.
But the lineout needs adjustment. Even the wins were wobbly.
Ironically, it was a Jean Kleyn steal which gave the Wallabies the space to score early. Even if it is true that Bongi Mbonambi and Joe Dweba were throwing to mostly unfamiliar targets, the timing and aim was off and must be corrected to have any chance of deposing the All Blacks, whose set piece looks lovely and who will not be as charitable as the Wallabies were on the break, kicking the ball away.
Truly, that is about it. Fix the lineout and the Boks are a dangerous team.
The Pumas basically have to adjust all their lines, starting with the set-piece where they were penalised five times in the scrum and lost an important number of lineouts.
No less important is to adjust or develop a defensive system, since the All Blacks managed to penetrate the defence line in different places and especially channels two and three where they were consistently beaten.
It seems to be too late to change the subject of Santiago Carreras in the driver’s position, which has been insisted on since Mario Ledesma’s time as Head Coach, and has not given satisfactory results in my opinion.
The talented player is being forced to play in a position that does not suit him or the team and is being wasted as an impact player by not using him in the position where he and the team shine the most. But the reality is that Los Pumas do not have a natural fly-half that stands out, and that Nicolas Sanchez cannot physically endure the entire game.
Perhaps they should opt for a natural fly-half that plays more simply and is more consistent. A player who fulfils his function even if he does not stand out, but the position falls naturally to him. Obviously with only four more games to debut in the World Cup it is something risky and dangerous, but I don’t know if it is more dangerous to continue with what they have been experiencing with Santiago Carreras in the position.
The players and the team were seen to be out of the rhythm required to play against the powers of the South. The players showed their usual courage but rugby is not just a sport of strength and grit, it is also a sport of speed and tempo that is precisely what makes The Rugby Championship teams stand out.
A lot of work ahead with little time to do it if we add a long trip and a significant jet lag, to face an Australian team that arrives wounded from the game in Pretoria and will attempt to change their course in front of their people.
I can’t go into the depth I did about defensive positioning on Tuesday and not mention it again today.
Eddie Jones told me years ago for a magazine article, and I brought it up with him again when Harry and I had him on the pod a few weeks ago, that any new coach coming into a job ‘there’s always 50 things wrong, and you’ve got to find the three things that solve the 50 things’.
Well never mind the 50 things, Eddie; you’ve found the one thing that might hopefully improve the three things.
The Wallabies line defence was surprisingly good for a team conceding forty points, but this week, that line defence has to be replicated the other 98 metres upfield.
Players in the right position. Strong, definite communication. Effective organisation. Movements up, back, and laterally in sync. Complete trust in the jersey next to you, and no brain farts to bring all of this undone.
And there’s numerous other adjustments needed: a better plan and significantly better execution of the kicking game, a kick-chase that creates contests where there might not have been one, and an active breakdown presence chief among them.
But it all starts with defence. Get that right, and the Wallabies will give themselves the platform to play from that they never, ever had in Pretoria.
The standout issue after last weekend is the pay (or lack of) that New Zealand is getting from its bench, and for the most part I would suggest it is largely selection/strategy issue.
For example, I have found it odd for some time to carry Dalton Papali’i on the bench when your starting side has both Sam Cane and Ardie Savea on the field.
Same with Richie Mo’unga when you start both Beauden Barrett and Damian Mackenzie.
Considering the strength of the Springbok 23 named for this coming weekend and in particular their absolutely stacked bench, I hope to see a rethink of how the bench is structured versus our starting side and what they can bring to what promises to be a smash mouth affair.
In short, a bit more size and power, please.
It’s clear both the All Blacks and Wallabies have changed tactical lanes this season. With starkly different outcomes.
The All Blacks kicked less ball away against Argentina and asked Jordie Barrett to take the short route to the try line. That had the immediate effect of bringing Shannon Frizell and Sam Cane into the play more, mostly in front-foot situations.
The Springboks of course will relish that challenge, so it shapes as an intriguing contest; can the All Blacks find the sweet spot between physicality and super-fast ball movement?
The Wallabies on the other hand, kicked far more ball away than is customary; a lot of it in the attacking half.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t accompanied by the requisite amount of pressure needed to create scoring opportunities.
I expect we’ll see two tweaks this week; the ratio finessed a wee bit, so as to allow the Wallabies’ ball runners to take the Pumas on more, and the kicking to be more meaningful and contested.
Libbok has been raising his hand all year, having taken his Stormers to the brink of a second consecutive title in the United Rugby Championship.
The only issue was whether he could steer the ship against proper opposition in a Test.
He was masterful. His timing was on, he looked relaxed, and his kicks at goal were sweetly struck.
Pollard is the Bok ten, in mothballs. Damian Willemse is the backup (as well as the alternate starter at 15 and 23, flipping with Willie le Roux).
But Libbok is in the wings.
If the question refers to a player from our team, the player I liked the most was Mateo Carreras.
It does not surprise me since I have been following him in his path in the Premiership where he enjoyed a phenomenal year.
The winger did his homework in a very good way: He was very good in the air, he was solid in defence, and in the few opportunities to attack he always managed to gain meters. He is a very complete player who is very focused for 80 minutes and if he is one hundred percent physically, I don’t see how he could be left out of the list of 33 that will go to the World Cup in France.
The other player who seemed to me to have done a good job, despite the yellow card, was Rodrigo Bruni in the position of no.8 with several meters gained as well as with good tackles.
The player who impressed me the most from the other teams, always talking about the not so well known like Jordie Barrett who played a fantastic game, was the Springboks no.6 Marco van Staden who seemed to multiply himself all over the field of play in offense and defence as well.
It’s certainly true that not many Wallabies improved their standing at Loftus, with is perhaps why the efforts of Carter Gordon and Nick Frost stood out like they did.
Gordon’s last ten minutes showed lots of promise, albeit in the context of being the last ten minutes of a contest long-previously decided.
But I find myself locked on Frost for a second straight week, because he showed everything I said that I wanted to see last week.
First and foremost, it was great to see him named to start alongside Will Skelton, and the pair were probably the best Australian players on the park, well and truly hold their own against a quality South African lock pairing.
He disrupted the Boks lineout and stole a couple of their throws, and defended pretty well too.
Depending on what Eddie Jones names to face Argentina at some point Thursday, there will be more questions about where Jed Holloway sits in the grand scheme, but right now, it feels like Frost is very much in the box seat.
Josh Lord, by quite some margin.
This is a bloke I have had my eye on for some time and was no surprise to see him in and around the All Black environment for the last few seasons. To pull out such a good performance after such a frustrating injury run and little Super Rugby was quite astonishing.
His set piece strength is a huge bonus, particularly in the defensive line out and is a perfect animal to be taking to a World Cup.
I have no doubt he will be New Zealand’s fourth lock and in an area that was of concern not so long ago in terms of depth, the All Blacks now seem to have a quality and dependable stockpile.
So late returning from injury that he didn’t play a meaningful role in the Chief’s Super Rugby title push, Josh Lord was looking at a stand-by role for France.
But all of a sudden, after Lord’s wholly convincing turn against a high-quality Pumas second row, it is now Tupou Vaa’i who needs to pull his socks up, or else get his Sky subscription in order for the World Cup.
For the Wallabies, none of the playing 23 from Pretoria can feel comfortable enough about their contributions to say that they’ve put themselves forward for a bigger role than expected. And it’s fair to say that in the case of Suli Vunivalu, he’s already played a bigger role than what most people imagined he would.
Perhaps the ‘bigger role than expected’ will come from players on the way back from injury, lucky enough to have missed this match – players like Langi Gleeson or Matt Philip?
OVER TO YOU:
What are the adjustments your team needs to make already?
And which player has already put their hand up to play a bigger role this year?