Bite and spite in a mighty fight
A rather spiteful second week of the Rugby Championship, was it not?
The Pumas are a different beast when they are in front of their home fans, particularly when they are “up country” in their rugby heartland. They play with a passion and flair sometimes missing when they are away from home, but on this occasion clearly overstepped the mark in the return match against the Springboks.
In the end their indiscipline cost them the match, and it may well cost them a couple of players for the foreseeable future. Referee Steve Walsh seemed to be close to losing control altogether, although he was plagued by communications problems with the TMO and his assistants.
It’s not like the Pumas needed to do it, because they managed through more fair means to disrupt a Springbok team that might have been afflicted by a malaise similar to the Crusaders and the All Blacks over the past year or so: the inability to play really well two weeks running.
The Argentine offloading in the tackle was outstanding and forced frequent inroads, but they paid the ultimate price for their indiscretions and the Boks got the points, which is what really matters.
The Springboks now have a week off before entering the most difficult phase of their campaign, when they will no doubt hope to win at least one of their matches in Brisbane or Auckland.
It would appear the job has not been made any easier by the recall to France of six of their players for club duty, which threatens at least to bring an extra dollop of travel fatigue to the already demanding schedule and at worst raises the possibility of injury.
Added to the unavailability of Fourie du Preez and, and…. well, you know where I’m heading on this one, so I won’t bang that drum again, other than to say if Jurie Roux really does believe this is a one-off situation, then he is an optimist of the highest order.
French club owners care for nothing but the fortunes of the club they pour their fortunes into.
Most of the fallout from the All Blacks-Wallabies rematch has been verbal, with the Wallabies claiming an unfair deal from referee Jaco Peyper.
They were certainly beaten up in the penalty count, receiving just eight (plus a free kick) to the All Blacks' 16. Stephen Moore appeared to score an early try that would have given them a real boost after a promising start, only for Peyper to opt out of a referral to the TMO and go back to a penalty – allegedly despite being told it was worth a look by one of his assistants.
And he might have shown the All Blacks a yellow card soon after, when Aaron Smith made a desperate tackle and then fought for the ball close to his own line without clearly releasing the tackled player. Ma’a Nonu was lucky not to get at least penalised for a shoulder charge.
So the Aussies probably have a right to feel a bit aggrieved about all of that, but even so, to suggest the result might have gone the other way is a stretch.
Much as the Wallabies improved on Sydney, they struggled mightily to contain the All Blacks when they kicked into attacking mode, while it is also worth noting (as I’m sure the Springboks will) that two of the three tries conceded by the parsimonious All Black defence over the past fortnight, most have come directly from All Black errors rather than Wallaby creations.
And neither were the Aussies lilywhite, frequently straying offside at ruck and maul time in their efforts to unsettle Aaron Smith, who again outplayed a jaded-looking Will Genia.
It has also been pointed out that a few months ago Ewen McKenzie was a disgruntled Reds coach levelling the same complaints of cynical play at the Brumbies team that now makes up a large chunk of his Wallaby side.
The fact is that winning teams are always going to be accused of “bending” the rules and let’s get real – most teams will give away a penalty to avoid conceding a try. It’s up to the ref to sort it out. So while I have no qualms about saying that the Wallabies did not get the rub of the green on Saturday night, there is also a degree of straw-clutching going on here.
True also, that this was not a great performance by the All Blacks, but they were still too good when it really counted. It took a late intercept by Israel Folau to draw the scores closer, and the ABs might have added to their two tries had the remarkable Ben Smith not been called back for a pass that must have been only fractionally forward.
After a wobbly start they pinched a succession of throws off the Wallaby lineout, and crushed them at scrum time.
Which brings me, finally, to an issue about the new scrum engage process.
With the halfback required to put the ball in straight, the hookers are now required to strike for the ball, which most – if not all – of them have never really had to do in their entire careers; Stephen Moore admitted as much ahead of the Wellington test.
The trouble is, with the hooker required to use his legs to “hook” and not push, the danger is it will become an 8 versus 7 shove. The Wallaby scrum was under constant pressure, which is not entirely new, but they also had to feed half a dozen scrums to the All Blacks' one.
And is having the referee calling “in, half” merely signalling to the non-feeding team that it’s time to start pushing? Halfbacks are having to put the ball in straight into a scrum that is often moving, and in the wrong direction.
Proof again that whenever you change the laws of this wonderful, but complicated game, you are opening the proverbial can of worms.