Another fantastic Rugby Championship has come and gone and although the All Blacks have conquered yet again that doesn’t necessarily paint the full picture of what unfolded over the tournament as a whole.
We have also witnessed the resurgence of the Springboks after a faltering start, Argentina’s stock has risen and Australia have disappointed yet again.
Los Pumas are so close to being the finished article but time and time again they seem to burn out as the tournament wears on.
They started with a loss in Durban against the Springboks although they played well in patches before humbling the same opposition in Mendoza a week later. Their style of play in that match was reminiscent of the French teams of the early 1990’s. They rarely played off ten as Nicolás Sánchez tends to ship the ball one man out and look to create wider out.
It’s simple but effective rugby. Run at gaps and either offload or funnel through and support either side of the ball carrier.
It even worked against the All Blacks as they game them a scare in New Zealand before the Kiwis pulled away.
The back three are the real stars of this show though. Bautista Delguy, Emiliano Boffelli and Ramiro Moyano have scared the living daylights out of defences as they have made clean breaks a plenty and scored some try of the tournament contenders.
In Australia they were nothing short of superb. The score line flattered the Wallabies in the end and this looked like the start of something special.
Unfortunately, back in Argentina, they seemed to go off the boil.
The loss against New Zealand will not be re-watched too often on replay but then they had a renaissance for 40 minutes against Australia.
31-7 up at half time and cruising to finally finish off the bottom of the table. Then it all fell apart as Australia made one of the biggest comebacks in history to beat the exasperated Argentinians and leave them with the wooden spoon yet again.
Star Man – Nicolás Sánchez
It was tricky to ignore the back three, Matias Moroni (outside centre) and Pablo Matera (Blindside Flank) for this decision but the Argentinian fly half edges it for his all around game that has seen him rewarded as the top scorer for the overall Championship.
His play making ability and expert goal kicking has been complimented by try scoring in this championship and is now well installed in the World Class bracket.
Overall Grade – C+
This may be a slightly generous grade for a team that finished bottom of the pile but for the first three quarters of the tournament they were an absolute pleasure to watch.
The ability is there and so is the confidence to try new ideas on the pitch but maybe their concentration for the whole lesson needs improvement to really get near the top of the class.
There is clearly something not quite right in the camp Down Under.
Michael Chieka has either lost control of this team or the players simply aren’t good enough at the moment.
With names like Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Israel Folau, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale within your ranks then I don’t think that it is the latter.
Losing to New Zealand is no disgrace in the modern age of rugby but to lie down and let them walk all over you in the second half of matches will deservedly draw criticism.
There was a scrappy win over South Africa in Brisbane before one of the worst performances in their recent history.
You can not detract from how good Argentina were that day on the Gold Coast but Australia were abysmal. There is no other word for it.
Silly mistakes and a lack of accuracy cost them dearly in Port Elizabeth as South Africa avenged their earlier defeat in the Championship before their dead rubber against Argentina.
If the Gold Coast performance was bad then the first 40 minutes here would be enough for you to hope you are about to wake up from a bad nightmare any minute.
To say they were defensively useless and insipid in attack is being kind.
To their credit, a fightback was mounted and a win was eventually snatched from the jaws of defeat but it only served to paper over some canyon sized cracks in the Gold and Green setup.
Star Man – David Pocock
It is difficult to name a star player but Pocock does stick out like a sore thumb in this Australian pack.
He is made of sterner stuff and never takes a backwards step.
The Number 8 was given vicious treatment by the All Blacks that went unpunished but he just kept coming back for more. It must be frustrating for him at times playing in this team as he keeps his head whilst other’s around him lose theirs.
Overall Grade – C
I know that is a lower grade than the team that finished below them in the table but more is expected of Australia than it is of Argentina.
At times they looked like they didn’t really want to be there and that some subjects interest them more than others due to the effort that is needed to complete the task.
Judging by their attendance in the last two games in Australia it also appears that they may have alienated themselves from their friends as well.
Such potential but such waste in the same class.
Champions yet again but maybe sitting top of the class all the time is leading to complacency.
They started the Championship like a fire cracker. Australia were blitzed into oblivion as star pupil Beauden Barrett set the standards as high as they have ever been.
They then managed their workload perfectly in beating Argentina.
The superstars were rested but a less than comfortable victory followed anyway. The strength in depth of this team is scary.
Most of their third-choice players would walk into any other international team.
Then the unthinkable happened; they lost……at home……….in Wellington.
Things like this are very rare to be fair but no one expected this in a month of Sundays. The Springboks had just been beaten by Argentina and Australia on successive match days and the All Blacks were playing untouchable rugby.
They still should have won though. All credit to the South African defence and opportunist attack but Barrett had one of the worst kicking performances that you will ever see. The loss wasn’t purely down to him as the usual accuracy of the home side also deserted them. Numerous bad passes and decisions were made across the park before a last-minute decision to not take a drop at goal also backfired on them when Damien Mckenzie had the ball stripped from his grasp on the siren.
They were back on track in Argentina with a routine win that also sealed the Championship before the much-anticipated return match at Loftus Versfeld with the Springboks.
I had to laugh at some pundits saying that this match was a dead rubber because the day that these two going toe to toe doesn’t mean anything will be the day I stop watching rugby because their will be no point in supporting this beautiful sport anymore!
Again, New Zealand weren’t at their best but they won an extraordinary contest. They made numerous handling errors and conceded a lot of penalties but when they had a chance they took it.
They didn’t get many opportunities so it was a good job their accuracy radar was on the money. They looked down and out with just eight minutes to go but when are the All Blacks ever down and out?
Although not their greatest performance of the Championship, this will certainly be the win that they remember the most.
Star Player – Rieko Ioane
His finishing is frightening. He has pace to burn, he can defend and he can make yards even with back-foot ball.
He finished joint top try scorer with Beauden Barrett on five but his tries came when New Zealand needed them the most at the business end of the tournament.
It will be a fascinating battle between him and Waisake Naholo to see who breaks the most records.
Overall Grade – A- Sometimes when you have been top of the class for so long it can become a bit boring and it’s nice to get the kick up the backside that you need.
Although they will have wanted the perfect six from six they can still safely say that they are the best team in the world right now.
The lack of cohesion and disjointed performances towards the end of the term will only benefit them in the future but if they want to carry on being the teachers pet then they will have to start watching over their shoulders and work that little bit harder.
If there is one set of fans and players that are the most emotionally drained right now then it’s the Springboks.
What a rollercoaster they have been on in the last 8 weeks.
Hopes were high after the June tests against England and they carried on the winning habits with a win against Los Pumas at home but the week after in Mendoza they were outclassed and outplayed by an inspired Argentinian attack. The Boks had nearly all of the ball but couldn’t turn it into points as the home side waltzed through cavernous holes in their back line.
On to Australia and there was no improvement. Handing the Wallabies tries in the first seconds and before half time put pay to a potential and achievable victory which left the Green and Gold’s staring down the barrel of a wooden spoon before even playing the All Blacks.
In Wellington we witnessed one of the most remarkable rugby matches of modern times. There was a few slices of luck along the way but the Springboks pulled off the unimaginable and beat the Kiwi’s in their own back yard.
The performance was packed with heart and desire, the likes of which we haven’t seen from them in years. They won and they deserved it. Pieter-Steph du Toit’s tears after the game is an image that will live very long in the memory for years to come.
The following match day they didn’t really hit top gear against Australia, especially in the second half, which was frustrating as they had started so well and looked to dominate. That said, consecutive wins against the All Blacks and the Wallabies are not to be sniffed at.
There was now a real excitement within the camp and also in the fans again. Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria sold out in record time following the match in New Zealand and now a country was expecting another epic.
They weren’t to be disappointed either. The only difference to this game and the one in Wellington in the end was that New Zealand won it when South Africa deserved to and really should have.
Rassie Erasmus’ substitutions late on may be something that swung the game back in the Men in Black’s favour but as hurtful as this loss will have been it is clear to see that the Springboks are back where they need to be and competing at the very top end of World Rugby.
Star Man – Aphiwe Dyantyi
A star has been born.
He was a bit green over the June tests as he made some defensive blunders and forced play sometimes but he already looks like a veteran of 50 caps, not the solitary nine that he actually has.
His finishing is clinical and he has pace to burn like other international wingers but this young man has an intelligent rugby brain to match it.
He is patient in defence now and looks for work in the midfield when the game dictates that standing on his wing won’t reap any reward.
The Lions winger can also read the game well as his intercept try against Australia proved.
Siya Kolisi and Handre Pollard pushed him close but they were not as consistent as Dyantyi
Overall Grade – B
This grade changed numerous times throughout the Championship but there has to be a tip of the cap to their attitude and aptitude in changing public perceptions.
House Master Erasmus was a cause for concern in the early days but it is clear he has the respect of his students now and his way of teaching has been embraced.
Their challenge now is consistency. This grade will mean nothing if they travel north in November and ruin all of the hard work that they have put in this term.
What are your thoughts on the Championship and how would you have graded your respective nations?
Please comment below
Photo Credit: David Molloy via freeforcommercialuse.org