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New Zealand Rugby

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RESPECTFUL RIVALRY: Today's All Blacks flank motor neuron disease suffering Springboks great Joost van der Westhuizen in Johannesburg.

RESPECTFUL RIVALRY: Today’s All Blacks flank motor neuron disease suffering Springboks great Joost van der Westhuizen in Johannesburg.

On a sun-drenched afternoon at Johannesburg’s Witwatersrand University, Joost van der Westhuizen’s smile shone brightest.

Confined to a wheelchair, but his fighting spirit there for all to see, the former Springboks captain savoured the chance to meet the All Blacks on Tuesday (NZT Wednesday).

Preparations for this weekend’s test against the Springboks were briefly put aside as the All Blacks took time out from training to pay their respects to one of the world’s greatest halfbacks.

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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

This weekends rugby was dominated by the championship.

Credit again to the best team in the world, The All Blacks for completing yet another win and dominating the important parts of each match to win the trophy.

The were put under some pressure by the Argentinian scrum early on but still found a pathway to success and their superior conditioning allowed them to come right back at the dominant pack in the second half.

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Ma'a Nonu

Ma’a Nonu

All Blacks star Ma’a Nonu has been linked to French club Toulon as the European champions ramp up recruitment ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Respected French newspaper Midi Olympique claims Toulon are close to finalising a two-year deal with the veteran New Zealand midfielder.

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RUGBY RETURN: Sonny Bill Williams will play NPC rugby for Counties Manukau next week, 12 days after his Roosters side was knocked out of the NRL finals series.

RUGBY RETURN: Sonny Bill Williams will play NPC rugby for Counties Manukau next week, 12 days after his Roosters side was knocked out of the NRL finals series.

Sonny Bill Williams has put an end to all the speculation and will make his return to rugby for Counties Manukau next Wednesday.

The Counties Manukau Rugby Union have confirmed Williams will make his much anticipated Steelers’ debut – and return to rugby after a two-year stint for the Sydney Roosters in the NRL – against Auckland in a national provincial championship match in Pukekohe next Wednesday night.

The union will officially announce today that the 29-year-old will play in the Steelers’ final two matches of the season – against Auckland and Tasman – despite his contract with the NPC side only starting next year.

But unless injuries strike, Williams won’t make his comeback for the All Blacks until the end of year tour to the United States and Europe.

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The Rugby ChampionshipNow that the excitement of the crazy last 10 minutes at Newlands has subsided, maybe it’s time for a reality check for the Springboks and their supporters – regardless of what happens at Ellis Park this coming week, the All Blacks remain top of the southern hemisphere pile and there is still a lot of work to be done before their position will be properly challenged.

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Israel Dagg

FULL GALLOP: All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg finds clear air during their 34-13 win over Argentina to clinch the Rugby Championship for 2014.

Launching pads don’t get much better. With the pressure now off, the All Blacks board a flight to Johannesburg today with strut, swagger and no inhibitions.

Yesterday’s four-try 34-13 win over the Pumas clinched a third successive Rugby Championship title but, more importantly, saw the All Blacks regain their attacking groove.

After two weeks battling New Zealand rain they threw off the shackles in La Plata and now have the freedom to craft a gameplan without worrying about any tournament permutations.

To further enhance their 22-test unbeaten run they will be intent on harnessing that flamboyance for a blockbuster clash of styles rematch with the Springboks.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

The formidable presence of No 8 Duane Vermeulen could be missing from the Springbok arsenal when they play their final Rugby Championship match of the year against the All Blacks at Ellis Park next Saturday.

Vermeulen left the field late in the second half with a rib injury, and with Schalk Burger having already come onto the field for Teboho Mohoje, that meant that a lock, Victor Matfield, had to take up position on the side of the scrum.

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SpringboksSPRINGBOKS

Meyer Praises fit, gutsy Boks

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Saturday applauded the fitness and never-say-die attitude of his team in defeating Australia 28-10 in the Rugby Championship at DHL Newlands.

The Springboks scored three tries in the last ten minutes to seal a bonus point victory.

“We played great rugby at times in the first half, but their defence was great. We became a bit frustrated because of that, but in the second half the fitness levels and impact from the bench was massive for us; I told our conditioning coach Basil Carzis as much afterwards,” Meyer said.

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Richie McCaw

FIRE STILL THERE: During the All Blacks’ last four tests, the captain Richie McCaw proved his leadership qualities stand above all others.

Johannesburg’s Witwatersrand University. Two years ago Richie McCaw stood here in the middle of a huddle and gave his team both barrels.

They were hot, jet lagged, exhausted. Training was flat. With a few expletives thrown in, McCaw told them he didn’t care. He motioned to his head; now was the time to be mentally tough.

In this moment McCaw encapsulated his importance. His men, for the record, responded the following day with one of their best performances on South African soil, thumping the Springboks 32-16.

That McCaw is still producing those same speeches when necessary, still passing on the same mental edge, still walking them through the finer details the day before a test, is reassuring.

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ArgentinaNew ZealandLos Pumas (6) 13 / 34 (20) All Blacks (Final Score)

The Argentinian Pumas and New Zealand All Blacks did battle in The Rugby Championship at

Estadio Único Ciudad de La Plata, Buenos Aires at 00:10 Sunday SA Time (19:10 Saturday ARG Time, 22:10 GMT, 10:10 Sunday NZ Time).

This was the live match discussion Article.

The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & CSN on TV in SA.

*******************

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

If there was a World Cup without the All Blacks, we would have a great chance of lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen.

I say this because perhaps we may have been a little harsh in our criticism of the Wallabies in relation to our neighbours across the ditch.

The Wallabies are in a predicament, along with South Africa and Argentina. The three of us contest a competition against a side who right now are clearly the best rugby-playing nation.

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SuperBruLet me start off this week’s SuperBru thread by saying “Thanks for nothing, Sharks!”

Typical of the Cell C Sharks, play like plonkers for most of the Currie Cup, but then turn it on just in time to mess up everyone’s GSP.

After losses to the Steval Pumas and then at home to the GWK Griquas, not many gave them a chance at Loftus. Well done to the Sharks though, but it must be added that the Blue Bulls looked like plonkers on Saturday.

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Colin Meads

The great Colin Meads

Richie McCaw will add another line to his long list of achievements on Saturday by matching Colin Meads as the most capped All Black ever.

The New Zealand captain will equal Meads’ record of 133 All Black appearances in La Plata against Argentina, in what will be his 132nd Test.

McCaw’s only non-Test appearance for the All Blacks came in 2009 when he captained the side against the Barbarians.

By contrast Meads, whose New Zealand career lasted 14 years from 1957-71, earned just 55 caps for his country, but featured a further 78 times for New Zealand.

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New ZealandFive starting changes evoke visions of a drastic overhaul and yet there is strength in key areas for the All Blacks this week.

Beauden Barrett’s combination with Malakai Fekitoa attracts most interest in Sunday’s test against the Pumas in La Plata for its rookie status.

There will be nerves about Fekitoa being thrown in the unfamiliar second five-eighth role to fill Ma’a Nonu’s absence, but Barrett and centre Conrad Smith should do enough to guide him through his third test start.

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Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson

The All Blacks had a mantra through the last World Cup, one that has continued to serve them well.

“Expect the unexpected and deal with it” was a change of philosophy after years of striving to leave no stone unturned in the quest for a perfect preparation.

Somewhere along the way they realized that planning to have the best players in the best shape, and the team functioning tickety-boo on the day was unrealistic. It became more about embracing pressure and expectation, and being able to adjust when things inevitably go wrong.

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John McFarland

Springbok defense coach John McFarland.

In the years of the old Tri-Nations competition competed for by South Africa, New Zealand and Australia it was universally agreed that the Springboks were at a disadvantage because of the travel schedule.

That may not have changed now that the premier southern hemisphere competition has morphed into the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.

At least that is the view of Bok defence coach John McFarland, who believes that the South Africans have it tough in being the only side in the new competition, which now also includes Argentina, who have to play three consecutive matches away.

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Corne Krige

Corne Krige

Naturally there has been plenty to discuss since New Zealand defeated the Springboks in Wellington and Australia grabbed their second win of the Championship over Los Pumas.

One man though has stolen the headlines since Aaron Cruden’s ill-advised late night drinking session caused him to miss the flight to Buenos Aires.

His two-match suspension is completely the right call in the eye of Krige, who described his actions as “bordering on criminal.”

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Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett

After being effectively handed the All Blacks’ No 10 jersey for the next two tests against Argentina and South Africa by Aaron Cruden’s surprising time-keeping lapse, Beauden Barrett’s biggest priority in the short term is his goalkicking.

That part of his game was lacking in his first and only test start at first-five – against the Pumas in Napier recently – when he kicked only one from five shots at goal, a poor return which could have been costly.

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New ZealandMajor adjustments are not a familiar theme with the All Blacks but that’s exactly what the backline confronts in Argentina this week.

Under Steve Hansen, a consistent selection policy has prevailed. Players must earn their respective chances, or wait for injury to open the door.

This week Aaron Cruden’s ill-advised bender and a lack of depth at second five-eighth will force two serious changes to the inside backs.

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Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith

Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith

Conrad Smith has spoken highly of his midfield partnership with Ma’a Nonu after the pair equalled the world record for caps as a midfield combination in New Zealand’s 14-10 win over South Africa earlier this month.

Sadly, the broken arm suffered by Nonu during the first half in Wellington means they will have a long wait before getting the opportunity to improve on the 55-Test landmark shared with Irish centres, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.

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Andrew Mehrtens

Andrew Mehrtens

Everything changes now for Beauden Barrett.

There’s a lot for the young All Black to get his head around as he receives an unexpected opportunity to make his move at No 10.

Aaron Cruden’s unfortunate night out in Auckland on Saturday, and his subsequent omission from the All Blacks’ trip to Argentina and South Africa, might end up hurting twice as much.

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Tom Taylor

CALLED UP: Tom Taylor gets another shot with the All Blacks after Aaron Cruden was left out of the team following a boozy incident.

Canterbury’s Tom Taylor has been called into the All Blacks after Aaron Cruden was dropped following his boozy night out in Auckland.

Taylor made a composed starting test debut against the Wallabies in Wellington at first five-eighth last year, kicking four penalties and a conversion in the 27-16 win.

He will provide back-up to Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade in the pivotal role over the next two weeks as the All Blacks attempt to secure their third straight Rugby Championship title in La Plata and Johannesburg.

Taylor last played for the All Blacks in November in the 54-6 rout of Japan in Tokyo and has since struggled for form this season, being used in almost every position in the backline by the Crusaders.

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Aaron Cruden

Aaron Cruden

Aaron Cruden’s pocket as well as his pride will take a hit in the wake of a boozy night in Auckland, while he can also expect to face a New Zealand Rugby Union misconduct hearing.

The All Blacks flyhalf has expressed his “embarrassment” and “shame” after missing the All Blacks flight to Argentina and subsequently losing his place in the squad for Rugby Championship tests against the Pumas and South Africa.

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Aaron Cruden

Aaron Cruden photographed with two bar staff at The Zookeeper’s Son on Saturday night.

First-five Aaron Cruden will miss matches against Argentina and South Africa after a late night drinking incident.

Aaron Cruden was found keeping his head down at his Hamilton home today – over 10,000 kilometres away from his All Blacks team-mates – after he was kicked off the trip to Argentina for having a late night drinking session in Auckland.

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Ben Smith

Ben Smith appears capable of successfully filling just about any position in the All Black backline.

Ben Smith’s talents might be appreciated more if he rebranded his image and called himself Benji Smith.

A couple of things became clear about Ben Smith last week.

The first is that he’s probably the most natural and best-equipped footballer New Zealand has produced in the professional age.

The second is that he’s in danger of that fact never being widely acknowledged.

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Taine Randell

Taine Randell

Last week we reached the one year landmark before next year’s World Cup.

The All Blacks’ run since their breakthrough success on home soil has been nothing short of extraordinary. They’ve lost only one game in that time and over the last two years alone forged a 21-test unbeaten run.

Twelve months is a long time in rugby. Just look at the turnaround of the Highlanders this season. So much can happen in that time. Predicting what will happen is almost impossible, but here goes.

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Steve Hansen

TOTAL FOCUS: Steve Hansen knows a thing of two about leadership.

The All Blacks may have been grounded in Auckland overnight after their flight to Santiago was cancelled, but their ambitions remain sky-high as they look to keep alive an unbeaten run dating back to November, 2012.

Former coach Sir Graham Henry created a few ripples when he suggested the world champions could do with some adversity ahead of their defence of the global crown next year in England.

Henry spoke of the benefits that come from regathering the forces following a defeat and wondered aloud if the All Blacks, who have lost only one test under Steve Hansen, might be the better for the introspection that follows a loss.

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The great Peter Cranmer makes a break against Wales in 1935

The great Peter Cranmer makes a break against Wales in 1935

International coaches – and selection panels before them – traditionally prize solidity at centre, and nowhere more than in England.

Which is not to say that they’ve not had great creative centres; Jeff Butterfield, Jerry Guscott and Will Greenwood had talents that would have been welcomed in any team in the world.

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

The school term has finished and the report cards have been dispatched.

This makes it as good a time as any to deliver a summary on how the Wallabies have fared since Ewen McKenzie took over the top job 14 months ago.

Record wise, the Wallabies are on an impressive run, winning 11 of their past 12 games, but the goal has to be to win against the top nations, South Africa and the All Blacks.

They have achieved one of those two desired outcomes.

Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons I have observed during the opening stages of the McKenzie era:

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Steve HansenAll Blacks coach Steve Hansen can see where his predecessor, Sir Graham Henry, is coming from.

But Hansen wants his team to continue improving without the need of a loss as a wake-up call.

Henry, with Hansen as an assistant, steered New Zealand to the World Cup title in 2011.

However, 12 months out from the start of their defence, Henry is worried they might get too used to winning and believes some adversity, namely a loss, might have benefits.

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Super Rugby TropheeSuper RugbyCrusaders vs Rebels to get the season underway in Christchurch on 13 February.

Defending champion Waratahs to start at home against the Force in Round 1.

Anzac Centenary weekend sees all 10 Australian and New Zealand teams in action across Round 11 (two derbies and three Trans-Tasman clashes).

Waratahs host the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium in a Round 15 re-match of the record-breaking 2014 Super Rugby Final.

All five South African teams are in action on home soil during Rounds 1-3.

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SuperBruOnly 4 points separated the All Blacks from the Bokke in Wellington, but, as expected, New Zealand were the victors.

Australia managed a 7 point win against the Pumas so there were no surprises for Round 4 of the Rugby Championship.

There we many positives to be taken out of the game from a South African perspective, the biggest being the form of Handré Pollard playing in his first real big Test.

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Sparse Crowd

Empty spaces – Yet another sparse crowd has the ARU concerned.

On a humid morning in February, Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver took the microphone and made the extraordinary declaration that 2014 was the year of the Waratahs.

Not a ball had been kicked, no one knew which Kurtley Beale would turn up in round one and, though they boasted the best and most expensive playing roster in the country, this was the Waratahs, after all.

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Brendan Venter

Brendan Venter

While local rugby supporters should feel genuine pride after the Springboks went toe-to-toe with the All Blacks away from home, the reality is that, in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The chasm between the top two sides in world rugby appears to be narrowing. However, if Heyneke Meyer’s men are to scale the summit, I believe their work ethic off the ball must improve markedly.

While I’m not questioning the players’ character and commitment, I would challenge each of them to analyse the game objectively and ask themselves: Did I chase the kicks hard enough, did I defend with sufficient integrity when the All Blacks played the ball wide and was my discipline sound?

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