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It's all setting up quite nicely...





And so the first leg of the Rugby Championship is behind us, the first brace of back to back games, and it’s the Springboks who sit atop the table courtesy of a superior points ratio.

The All Blacks not only missed out on a bonus point in Dunedin, they were just a few minutes away from their first home defeat against Australia since 2001.

Stung by the criticism from their first test defeat, the Wallabies came out all guns blazing in Dunedin, despite losing big Adam Coleman in the lead-up to the test.

It’s an interesting curio that over the final 20 minutes of the Sydney test and the first 20 in Dunedin, they scored seven unanswered tries and 45 unanswered points against the world champions, and still lost both games.

The opening flurry of points in Dunedin was about great opportunism by the Wallabies, who capitalised on lapses as the All Blacks attacked.

Sonny Bill Williams, either through bad passes, crook timing or just faulty hands dropped the ball four times in attacking positions inside that opening stanza.

For the second test in a row, young Damien McKenzie threw a rash pass that was intercepted, a sign that for all his brilliance he is having to make some adjustments to the more exacting standards and tighter margins for error in test rugby.

The Bernard Foley try was sparked by a sharp break from Will Genia, who caught the All Blacks off guard as he darted away from a Wallaby scrum in rapid reverse.

Suddenly it was game on, and it took all of the 80 minutes for the All Blacks to get the job done.

The Wallabies deserve great credit for a much-improved defensive effort, although they still fell off 32 tackles. Kurtley Beale had a sensational test, threatening on attack and very solid on the tackle.

Two areas let them down though, and denied them their shot at a much-needed win.

One was their goal kicking. Bernard Foley had one of those off nights that have punctuated his career, landing just 2 from 6 against the 5 from 5 of Beauden Barret.

And the scrum was making those “beep beep beep” noises right through the first half, forcing a reshuffle at halftime, and suggesting that again, the Wallabies didn’t get their run on 15 right.

That’s an area the Springboks will surely target for the Perth test. The Bok scrum has looked good so far, and should have a decided advantage.

But the Wallabies deserve a lot of credit for their spirited, determined performance, and it just a shame that much of the media focus has yet again been distracted by the now routine post-match tirade by their coach.

Michael Cheika brings a lot of passion to his work, but the theatrical, and at times uncouth behavior in the box, and the predictable stream of complaints and excuses post match are starting to wear thin.

This was an occasion to be proud of his charges and positive about their fighting performance, instead he went on another rant about the referee that guaranteed the headlines would again be more about him than his team.

The main target of this week's eruption was the incident involving Brodie Retallick and Ned Hanigan, which Cheika saw as a deliberate attempt to inflict an injury, but which the referee, TMO and citing commissioner believed was simply a player trying to get up off the ground with someone lying on his back and then taking a tumble.

Frankly the debate becomes pointless because people will see only what they want to see. Like every game, there were decisions that cut both ways.

In the end, the All Blacks again demonstrated their ability to get out of a tight spot, and there was something majestic about the way they constructed their final try. Central to it was Kieran Read, who, after making a couple of defensive errors, took it on himself to come up with something special, winning the restart after Australia’s go-ahead try and then busting through the defence to set up the Barrett winner.

They’d made a lot of mistakes in the test, turning the ball over an unacceptable 17 times in an effort to play at break-neck speed, with Sonny Bill Williams the chief culprit.

They rarely kicked the ball in general play in a departure from a successful formula in recent years, and that is something they will have to revisit when they face the Springboks.

They did dominate the scrum for little reward and had two no-try decisions go against them, one quite understandable (Ben Smith), the other less so after Owens gave every indication he’d seen a touchdown by Retallick, only to go to the TMO with predictable results.

It wasn’t a great performance from the All Blacks, and yet they found a way to win.

There is talk, as always after a less than convincing AB display, that their clichéd “aura of invincibility”, whatever that is, is starting to wane, but we can also wonder whether the Wallabies, in the cold light of day, will be more encouraged by their effort than downhearted by the outcome.

To quote a line from an (in)famous cricket match, they may have dropped the Bledisloe Cup…for the 15th straight year.

Sunday morning we had a bonus double header to watch over our bacon and eggs, with the New Zealand women's team overpowering England to win their fifth World Cup title, quite an achievement against fulltime professional opposition.

Then it was over to Salta and a test that demonstrated the continuing maturing of the Springboks and the confusion that is besetting Argentina rugby.

The sloppy start with the business over the anthem set the tone for the Pumas, who again showed poor discipline both in their general play and their conduct. Tomas Lavanini should come with a health warning. A guy who could be right up there with the likes of Retallick, Etzebeth and co as a world-class lock is wasting his talent with his inability to control himself.

The Pumas were encouraged by Graham Henry a few years back to adopt a more attacking game plan and initially it paid off, but they, like the Jaguares, now seem trapped in a mindset where they feel they have to play a high-risk game, and it is killing them

18 turnovers, an 11-6 penalty count against, a red and three yellows is not going to win anyone a test.

They need to rethink things because they have the potential to play as well as anyone.

Meanwhile the Springboks are ticking along in ever encouraging fashion.

They could have done without Andries Coetzee being yellow carded but other than that their discipline was excellent, conceding just six penalties. They are being patient and judicious.

The set piece is really impressing, getting the better again of a Pumas pack that is losing its reputation for power scrummaging.

Standouts in this game were Jesse Kriel, Jaco Kriel and Siya Kolisi.

Critics of Kolisi point to him not winning enough turnovers, but this is to ignore a change in which the contest at the breakdown has evolved.

It can no longer be the function of one dedicated player to dominate the tackle/breakdown area the way the likes of Richie McCaw, George Smith, Heinrich Brussow and David Pocock did. It’s now a joint venture, and besides, Malcolm Marx is doing such a great job in that area it allows Kolisi to play to his strengths, which are his defence, his support play and an outstanding running game.

He is forming a good duo with Kriel, and it’s just a matter of Warren Whitely coming back to complete the picture.

Elton Jantjies will benefit from the faith being paid in him, and after missing a couple of early kicks came right, but a decision will soon have to be made as to whether Raymond Rhule can do enough on attack to balance out his deficiencies on defence. It’s painful to think what might happen if Reiko Ioane is given some ball to run at him when the teams meet in three weeks time.

We will then get an even greater idea of whether, and by how much the gap is closing.


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