The Rugby Championship
There was nothing surprising about Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn focusing on the scrum as he prepared to depart with the squad at the weekend for what will be a testing Australasian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
The scrumming was not the only area of concern for the Boks during the June internationals and in the two Championship matches against Argentina.
But it was an aspect that fell short both against Wales and the Pumas, and those who know the South African rugby psyche, will understand the ripple effect that the scrumming humiliation at the hands of Argentina in Salta would have sent through the team.
There’s obviously a lot of debate about the ITM Cup and its place in New Zealand rugby after the changes that mean there are games on almost every day of the week.
Stepping aside from my role as a Sky commentator, I really enjoy it. When there is a game on a Wednesday or Thursday night, I will sit down and watch it. After playing amateur and professional rugby – I was selected for the All Blacks from the NPC – I think it’s an extremely valuable competition. I don’t think there is anything in the world which replicates that provincial rivalry.
Keven Mealamu says he isn’t done yet, not by a long shot.
As another round of hand wringing about the country’s lack of depth at hooker kicks off, Mealamu has reiterated his desire to be part of next year’s World Cup campaign.
Dane Coles’ looming absence from part, or all, of the All Blacks’ trip to Argentina and South Africa later this month for the birth of his partner’s child has again highlighted the dearth of options available to coach Steve Hansen.
Bay of Plenty’s Nathan Harris was the next cab off the rank, but after that it was anybody’s guess.
“We’ve been bringing people in and out of the environment,” Hansen said.
Sam Cane could have been excused if he sneaked off to find a heavy punching bag in Napier yesterday to vent some frustration.
It was hard not to feel a little sorry for the 22-year-old openside as the All Blacks assembled ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against Argentina.
That’s because around about the same time the All Blacks were being welcomed by 1200 fans at Napier Airport, Cane’s Bay of Plenty teammates were preparing to play Taranaki in a national provincial championship match in New Plymouth.
The thought of an extended run a game of rugby must consume a player who has seen just 40 minutes of action this year, but, unlike 10 of his All Blacks teammates, he was not released for provincial duties.
Will Skelton is eager to do battle with the “big boppers” of South Africa after turning in 80-minute audition for the Sydney Stars in their loss to Melbourne Rising at Leichhardt Oval.
Whether the rugby equivalent of a fight scene from Jurassic Park — 140kg Skelton duelling with South Africa’s lumbering monsters — occurs at the start or the end of the Test in Perth remains to be seen, but the big lock did what was asked of him by seeing out the entire match.
It wasn’t a pleasant Sunday for the Stars — pumped 45-13 by Melbourne — but Ewen McKenzie said if Skelton was to be considered to start against South Africa, the impact player needed to display a capacity to play 80 minutes.
The Waratahs’ super-sub hadn’t done that in more than three months but came through comfortably.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer expects higher standards in Australia than his side achieved against Argentina.
Although they beat the Pumas at home and away, neither of the wins were convincing with torrential rain slowing them down in Pretoria before they got out of jail in Salta.
Meyer admitted that he was not satisfied with their two performances thus far, and added that they will have to lift their standards if they are to get the better of a competitive Wallabies outfit.
On merit, history suggests Sonny Bill Williams will play second fiddle to Ma’a Nonu again.
The only time Williams genuinely cracked the All Blacks was when Nonu had a wretched run with injury. He was No 1 by default. At the last World Cup he was a bit-part player at best.
In terms of the exemption he was granted to be picked for the end of year tour without having to play in the NPC for Counties Manukau, I’m not in favour of it.
Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Victor Matfield en Marcell Coetzee ín. Damian de Allende, Handré Pollard, Bismarck du Plessis en Lood de Jager uit.
Moenie verbaas wees indien Heyneke Meyer dié verrassende skuiwe maak in sy Springbokspan wat die Wallabies Saterdag in Perth in die Rugbykampioenskap pak nie.
All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu has been passed fit to face Argentina next weekend in the latest round of the Rugby Championship.
Nonu was absent from New Zealand’s 51-20 mauling of Australia two weeks ago at Eden Park.
The Hurricanes midfielder picked up a shoulder injury in the 12-12 draw with the Wallabies the week previously, but his return to full health is important.
Ryan Crotty, Nonu’s replacement in Auckland, has been ruled out for four weeks with a facial fracture, meaning Nonu could come straight back in.
I always find it interesting how people think they need to reinvent the wheel. They think they can make it work better when in fact it is spinning around just nicely as it is.
The wheel I am speaking of is the Waratahs combination at five-eighth and inside centre, and the fact that it wasn’t used for the Wallabies for the opening two games of the Rugby Championship.
Publicly Kurtley Beale was happy about his selection at five-eighth and I am sure he was in his preferred position, but I wonder if privately he ever thought, “have I spent enough time in the role?”
Round 2 of The Rugby Championship and Round 3 of the Currie Cup is done and dusted!
No real surprises with the results, except the huge margin the All Blacks smashed the Wallabies by, and the fact that the Bokke hardly scraped their way to a 2 point win.
The Springboks have struggled in Argentina the past three years, but most pundits thought the Bokke would at least still be closer to a 10 point margin better than the Pumas, even on a bad day.
The awful truth about the Wallabies’ hammering last weekend is that by 2015 the All Blacks could roll out an entirely different back line and dish it out all over again.
Wallowing in pessimism? Perhaps, but look at the stockpile of talent that wasn’t even in the 23 in Auckland that, in theory, they could select next year.
Willem Alberts has been ruled out of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship tour to Australia and New Zealand and will be replaced in the 30-man squad by Warren Whiteley.
Alberts missed both Test victories against Argentina because of a hamstring injury and he underwent a fitness test on Thursday afternoon.
Although his hamstring is recovering well, he experienced some nerve irritation in his lower back and was sent for scans.
Springbok fullback Willie le Roux says he has settled in the role coach Heyneke Meyer has entrusted him with.
Le Roux has become a popular player in South Africa since making his Test debut against Italy in Durban in 2013.
His attacking influence has given the Springbok backline an expansive approach as he’s played a playmaker’s role in a number of tries scored over the past year. He’s also scored seven tries in his 17 appearances.
Test captain Michael Hooper says the Wallabies will hear a few home truths when they come back together for the first time since one of their worst losses to the All Blacks.
Hooper, who scored one of the Wallabies’ two late tries at Eden Park last weekend, described the side’s performance as ”terrible” and way off their best.
After a few days to stew on the 51-20 drubbing – he still has not watched a replay – Hooper said the Wallabies had to bounce back.
Jonathan Kaplan has questioned whether the Springboks understand the nuances at scrums and breakdowns.
Despite winning 33-31 in Salta at the weekend, the Bok front row suffered humiliation at the hands of Argentina, with the reputations of Jannie du Plessis and Gurthro Steenkamp taking serious body blows.
Kaplan noted this when he analysed the Boks’ performance on his website, www.ratetheref.co.za.
The open letter written by Pat McCabe.
It has truly been an honour to represent the Brumbies and the Wallabies over the past five years.
While my playing career has not ended the way I would have liked, I consider myself extremely fortunate.
Fortunate to have met and shared experiences with special players and coaches.
Not until we get into the next group of games will we have some perspective and context in which to put the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks’ forward strength will be tested when they take on the Pumas and their physicality will be tested against the Springboks.
A win in either away game will put the Bokke in a powerful position, the Wallabies will have to bounce back from their thumping defeat at Eden Park or face an exit from calculations, and we will find out how many of their bullets Argentina has fired already.
For all the criticism I levelled against Argentina for their negative play in the Loftus Versfeld test, in stark contrast, they deserve a world of credit for their impressive display in Salta.
In theory, the second-ranked Springboks should have destroyed the side placed 12th in world rugby. However, in practice, three main factors determine the outcome of a match:
They are, your own team’s performance, the performance of the opposition and, last but not least, the standard of officiating delivered by the assigned referee on the day.
When on song, the Bajada is basically pornography to us flat eared folk who have done battle in the front row.
And on Saturday against the Boks, it was at its titillating best!
There are two defining characteristics of the Bajada – a scrum technique used by the Argentinians … One is that all the power is directed into the hooker, meaning that they scrum as an imaginary arrow pointing inwards from either side of the 8th man.
The other, and perhaps more important characteristic of the Bajada, is the ‘coordinated push’, which sees them act on a three part call.
There are two things that we can take from the second round of the Rugby Championship 2014.
- The All Blacks are clearly not ‘on the slide’. In fact if anything they are on the up and up and all the 12-all draw did was to inspire them to dick punch the Wallabies in their faces, hard.
- The Pumas’ ‘Bajada’ scrum is a thing of beauty, unless you are the Springboks, then it is a thing of nightmares.
The Waratahs are hopeful of locking in off-contract playmaker Kurtley Beale within a fortnight.
Coach Michael Cheika said he wasn’t taking anything for granted, but was reasonably confident of re-signing the 43-Test back for another season.
“It looks like it’s going better, so hopefully something’s going to happen there in the next week or two,” Cheika said.
Australia has announced a 30-man squad for its next two Rugby Championship matches, including the return of New South Wales Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Coach Ewen McKenzie said Wednesday that Polota-Nau will not be considered for selection in Australia’s match against South Africa in Perth on 6 September.
Argentina head coach Daniel Hourcade has named his touring squad for the Rugby Championship fixtures in Australia and New Zealand.
The majority of the squad that tackled South Africa over the last two weeks remain, with the addition to the touring party of Juan Imhoff, Benjamín Macome and Santiago Iglesias Valdez.
The only major absentee is Pablo Matera, who suffered a partial dislocation to his shoulder against the Springboks in Salta. Argentina will return to their training base in Pacheco on Thursday before flying out on Friday, arriving at in Napier the following day to prepare to take on the All Blacks.
The Brumbies have watered down head coach Stephen Larkham’s comments that hardman Pat McCabe has retired, saying the 26-year-old’s playing future hinges on a meeting with the Wallabies’ doctor.
McCabe fractured his neck in the Wallabies’ 51-20 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, with Larkham telling ABC radio on Wednesday morning the 24-Test winger had decided to hang up his boots after consulting with a specialist.
Victor Matfield is over his injury problems and will rejoin the Springbok squad when they get together for the Australasian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, while Marcel van der Merwe has been called up for the injured Frans Malherbe.
Furthermore, Willem Alberts has also been drafted back into the squad, pending a fitness test on Thursday when the squad gets together in Johannesburg. Both Alberts and Matfield were part of the initial 30-man squad, but missed out on the victories over Argentina in Pretoria and Salta because of injury.
Willem Alberts says he’ll be ready to play for the Springboks in their Rugby Championship encounter against Australia in Perth on 6 September.
Loose forward Alberts and lock Victor Matfield were on Monday recalled to the Springbok squad for the trip Down Under. Both missed the home and away Tests against Argentina because of injury.
Matfield suffered a knee injury during a cleaning drill, while Alberts withdrew shortly before the game in Pretoria as he picked up a hamstring tear during the captain’s training run.
Now for some better news after the desperately close shave in Salta, Springbok fans: even Australians seem to believe South Africa will beat the Wallabies in Perth on Saturday 6 September.
The Sydney Morning Herald website has a poll up asking the simple question of the Castle Rugby Championship clash: “Who will win between the Wallabies and Springboks in Perth?”
After the mauling the Springbok scrum received at the hands of the Pumas in two consecutive tests there have been calls from armchair critics for coach Heyneke Meyer to make changes, but in the naming of his 30-man squad for the Australasian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship came confirmation that his hands are tied.
Possession, Position, Pace – the Three P’s of rugby preached on a regular basis through his career by the great Otago man Charlie Saxton, and still applicable in this modern era.
But on Saturday night at Eden Park the All Blacks might have been more about the three “A’s”.
Accuracy, Attitude, and Anger?
“Wat my gelukkigste dag ooit in die Springbok-trui moes wees, was toe my donkerste dag van my rugbyloopbaan.”
Só het ’n teleurgestelde Juan Smith Maandag gesê wat met sy aankoms in Suid-Afrika ook onder kritiek moes deurloop, omdat hy nie die volkslied in Saterdag se toets in die Rugby-kampioenskap teen Argentinië in Salta gesing het nie.
Die 33-jarige Smith was die eerste keer sedert 2010 weer vir die Bokke in aksie, en het nie die terugkeer gemaak waarop hy gehoop het nie.
“Die opbou na die toets was baie emosioneel gewees. Ek moes tydens die sing van die volkslied op my lippe byt dat die trane nie rol nie,” het Smith gesê.
Lood de Jager, the ‘next big thing’ in the Springbok second row, has been ‘missing in action’ of late.
De Jager, after a series of stand-out performances for the Cheetahs in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, made his debut in the Green and Gold against Wales in Durban during the Incoming Series and currently has five Test caps to his name.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers is clear that his team need to take a massive step up before they face the Wallabies in Perth in their next Castle Lager Rugby Championship game on 6 September.
The Bok captain arrived home from the great Salta escape – where the Boks needed a penalty four minutes from time to beat a plucky, aggressive Argentinean team – knowing that the weight of public outrage at the result would be waiting for his team.
But De Villiers is a pragmatist, and, as he points out: it wasn’t the greatest of performances, but a win is a win.
The Wallabies will have plenty of down-time over the next week to ”mentally relax” after their humiliation by the All Blacks at Eden Park, captain Michael Hooper has said.
The 22-year-old flanker was one of the few Australian players to stand up during the 51-20 onslaught, which kept the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested between the two nations, in New Zealand hands for a 12th consecutive year.
Frans Malherbe will miss the rest of the Rugby Championship after sustaining a serious injury to his right ankle in Salta.
Malberbe helped to stabilise the Bok scrum when he replaced Jannie du Plessis in the 46th minute, but was forced to leave the field in the 79th.
The tighthead prop will consult with a specialist in Cape Town upon his return to South Africa, when a call on further treatment and his replacement will be made.