The 2022 Rugby Championship continues to throw up surprises, as Argentina recorded a second history-making win in two years, only this time they defeated the All Blacks on their home patch.
The Pumas’ stunning 25-18 victory in Christchurch followed the Wallabies’ impressive 25-17 triumph over the Springboks, who only improved that scoreline with two late tries to Kwagga Smith.
The weekend’s results mean Argentina sit atop the Rugby Championship ladder on nine points, leading Australia – who are also on nine points – by virtue of a better for-and-against.
The All Blacks are third with five points while the world champion Springboks sit last a point further back.
Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the weekend.
WHITE’S THEATRICS NOT WHAT RUGBY NEEDS
There were two incidents that had Springboks fans fuming during Saturday’s loss to the Wallabies.
The first was Marika Koroibete’s try-saving tackle on Makazole Mapimpi, which jolted the ball free from the South African’s grasp and resulted in Australia being awarded a scrum.
There has been much debate about that tackle, but the replays clearly showed Koroibete’s left arm was extended at impact and given the fact there was no high contact it was a perfectly legal attempt.
Poorly executed? Perhaps, particularly when you consider we teach our kids about head position; in this instance, it would have been better if Koroibete’s head was behind Mapimpi instead of in front of it, but such was the speed the Wallabies winger was travelling and the South African’s own stutter, that one can’t be too critical of the technique on this occasion.
What followed almost immediately after however, was a far more detrimental sight for rugby and something that should have no place in the game.
From the ensuing Wallabies scrum, Springboks No. 9 Faf de Klerk clipped opposite number Nic White on the chin with a flailing arm as he looked to knock the ball free from the Wallaby’s grasp. While there was no doubt that de Klerk had made high contact, White’s reaction was way over the top as he fell backwards in the hope that referee Paul Williams would award a penalty.
Williams did not make that call initially, but upon consultation with TMO Brendon Pickerill the Kiwi whistleblower then not only awarded the Wallabies a penalty but also sent de Klerk to the sin-bin.
Under the laws of rugby, you could understand why Williams deemed a yellow card was necessary, although the level of force was debatable.
What is not up for debate, however, is that White’s egregious acting performance should have no place in rugby. Some might suggest it is gamesmanship, a player doing whatever they can for the betterment of their team, but White’s Oscar-worthy effort was the exact kind of feigning that rugby has long thumbed its nose at football for.
Any Wallabies fans looking to jump to White’s defence would do well to remember a similarly award-winning acting performance from France captain Anthony Jelonch in the third Test in Brisbane last year.
On that occasion it was Australia on the wrong side of the decision as Koroibete was red-carded for a high tackle, despite there being no actual contact with the head.
We of course want any high contact penalised to the degree of seriousness it requires, and White may well have received a penalty once the officials had halted play anyway. But to make a mountain out of a molehill like he did is not what rugby is about.
White is enduring a comeuppance of sorts, however, with the Australian now the focus of several social media memes, one of which has he and de Klerk superimposed over Chris Rock and Will Smith respectively, following their infamous Oscars confrontation.
The Wallabies No. 9 also came in for some gentle ribbing from a group of travelling Springboks fans at Adelaide airport on Sunday – the Australian’s embarrassment was obvious.
WALLABIES EXECUTE AT LAST — JUST NOT AT THE LINEOUT
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has for so long bemoaned his side’s inability to be “clinical” when it matters, to nail their try-scoring opportunities when they are on offer.
On Saturday Australia at last were able to do just that, while also righting another of their problem areas: a history of slow starts.
After tapping back the opening kick-off, the Wallabies quickly strung multiple phases together before Fraser McReight split two Springboks defenders to score a try after just 62 seconds.
While they were forced to defend for much of the second quarter, when Australia again created opportunities in the second half they executed almost perfectly, firstly through Koroibete who finished off the good work of Tom Wright and Len Ikitau, and then through a wonderful set-play straight out of the Brumbies’ playbook that resulted in McReight’s second try.
What was not working for the Wallabies, however, was their lineout. Australia could manage only a 53% return on their own ball, two of which were only just scrambled by throwing to the front of the lineout.
There is no doubt the Springboks have one of the best defensive lineouts in world rugby, with Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and even Duane Vermeulen all able to pressure opposition ball.
But the Wallabies must work out a way to at least win more than 75% on their own throw. That may be best achieved by recalling Dave Porecki to the run-on side, the Waratahs hooker a more accurate thrower than Folau Fainga’a, who offers far greater impact around the paddock.
KWAGGA MIGHT ADD ENERGY, SPEED TO SPRINGBOKS
It’s fair to say the Springboks were largely out-of-sorts for much of Saturday’s Test in Adelaide, with fly-half Handre Pollard, in particular, enduring a forgettable afternoon under the Australian sun.
That was until, at least, Kwagga Smith came on in the second half and immediately added some energy the visitors had been lacking. While Etzebeth and de Jager had combined in some nice interplay during the first half, the Boks’ try-scoring chances were fleeting.
And it may be that to combat the speed of McReight around the paddock, the Boks could look to Smith for a start in Sydney; certainly the back-rower’s seven runs for 51 metres were a far greater return than du Toit’s two solitary runs that yielded 16 metres.
Such a change would obviously affect the Springboks’ lineout, but it is clear it is time for a shift in thinking from South Africa given they are winless in Australia since 2013.
Pollard, too, could be in the firing line. While his two early penalty misses were bad, the ease at which Koroibete went around him to score – the fly-half left clutching thin air – was even more concerning.
KIDWELL’S BLUE-AND-WHITE WALL RULES CHRISTCHURCH
After confirming Ian Foster’s future through to next year’s World Cup, the All Blacks were expected to take a significant step forward on Saturday without the threat of the axe hanging over their coach’s head.
And it certainly looked like that would be the case as they scored two tries in the first half to put the squeeze on the Pumas, only for the metronomic goal-kicking of Emiliano Boffelli to keep the Pumas in the contest.
But the devil of the first-half detail was in the All Blacks’ two tries, with the first coming via the rolling maul and the second after an overthrown Pumas’ lineout when a quick shift allowed Jordie Barrett to join the line at speed and then put Caleb Clarke away for a run to the line.
Clarke’s try was one of only two clean breaks the All Blacks made in the entire 80 minutes, the Pumas’ incredible defence further evidenced by the fact they made an almost unbelievable 96% of their 200 tackles.
For that, defence coach and former New Zealand rugby league international David Kidwell deserves many of the plaudits. Just three weeks ago, the Pumas shipped 45 points on home soil against the Wallabies, before limiting the Australians to just 17 a week later and then 18 against the All Blacks on the weekend.
Brought into the fold by head coach Michael Cheika ahead of their 2-1 series win over Scotland, Kidwell appears to have his head around the differences in a rugby defensive line, one that must factor in a breakdown, but then added technique and tactical expertise from his many years in rugby league as a player and coach.
“It was pretty awesome, we’ve been building week by week, the guys have been really good and this is the [result of] the hard work that they’ve been doing for weeks now,” Kidwell told Sky Sport.
“It’s all about the collection in the [defensive] line, and we try and get that moving as one…all about connection and making sure we’re tackling well. That’s pretty simple but it’s the philosophy that I’ve bought to Argentina.”
Sometimes, clearly, the simplest of plans work best.
CHEIKA PRAISES PABLO WITH CHEEKY ROBERTSON REFERENCE
Pablo Matera might want to pack up and move to Christchurch once he retires from rugby, so good has the city been to him in the last six months.
After lifting the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title with the Crusaders, Matera on Saturday played a leading role in his side’s history-making win in the Garden City.
While he won’t return to Christchurch for the Crusaders’ title defence, it’s clear Matera has a real affinity for the city and will be ever thankful for the opportunity to work under Scott Robertson, whom the locals were calling for louder than ever after the All Blacks’ defeat on Saturday night.
Certainly Cheika has seen the difference in his world-class back-rower, and the Australian says that’s as much down to Robertson as anyone.
“The Crusaders and Scott Robertson have made a really huge mark on Pablo,” Cheika said.
“He came here to learn more about rugby. He didn’t come here for money or anything like that. It shows the quality of the franchise and the coaching here.
“He’s come back a heap better player – mentally and technically. I think it will be bittersweet for him – he’s been proud like it’s his own city. He’s been taking us around and doing stuff. We’ve had two chaperones this week, himself and David [Kidwell].
“Obviously he’ll be very happy to win here. Obviously I’ve got a massive amount of respect for the Crusaders and what they’ve done in Super Rugby, and the quality they have. Pablo has had a great experience here and that’s helped us as well.”