NEW ZEALAND 41 - SOUTH AFRICA 13
Six tries to one; that tells the whole story. The ability of the All Blacks to win good ball from tight and loose, to dominate in the scrums and lineouts when the tryline is in sight, to run forcefully with and off the ball, to skilfully manipulate the opposite backs so that the attack is directed whenever possible at the gap and, if at the player, the amazing performance then of the ‘offload’ when the tackle has been made, is awesome. Coles’ distribution left me speechless. He is a hooker and gave the final pass for the first three tries. This style of play left the Boks ‘bewitched, bothered and bewildered’.
By the time the tackle is made, the ball is no longer there. It’s off along the line with a mesmerising series of slick passes. Then, the impact players, Julian Savea and Ben Smith attack a parlous defence with a demonstration of side-stepping and brute power to gain the goal line. And I haven’t even mentioned Kaino, Cane and Read, who run like backs. How often do we see a tight forward from the All Blacks hang wide, even Joe Moody for heaven’s sake, who will take the diagonal kick or pick up scraps to score? Answer? All too often.
Look, let’s acknowledge the improvement of the Boks, who played with great fire and resolution in the first half to turn at 15 – 10 down. I detected much more imaginative running, making the extra man, using Goosen to good effect (he runs like lightning and is strong) and it was great to see Habana looking for gaps from the blindside. It led to a brilliant try after handling by Whiteley, who had a great game, Goosen, du Toit and Koch, who passed well to send Habana in. Unfortunately, this brilliance flattered to deceive. At half time I was encouraged but nervous. It’s a cliché to stress, once again, that rugby is an eighty minute game, but that’s the truth of it. After the ridiculously amateur kick-off to start the second half, Jantjies hung his head, and the die was cast. He had given the All Blacks a scrum on the halfway line, a golden opportunity to attack on both flanks.
I believe, both from playing the game and coaching and observation, at least six times out of ten, the attacking side should score or get close from a centre-scrum. Hell, the opportunities are boundless. I could almost see Ben Smith drooling as he timed his entry into the line with near-perfect timing. The use of dummy runners, the fullback coming in, the reverse pass to a flank: all these are easier from a centre- of- the- field scrum. The All Blacks’ passing is so skilled, so natural, so effortless, so fast and true.
Now the Boks were on the back foot and stayed there. Marx came on for Strauss and immediately gave a series of poorly directed throw-ins at lineouts. Nerves? Whatever. The opposition scored from two of those unforced errors. Pressure forced mistakes time and again and the likes of Perenara pounced. The relentless attacks ensured an easy victory. Our defence fell away in the last twenty minutes. Has our defence coach spent the necessary hours analysing All Black attacking moves in the red zone? If he has, it did not show in practice.
I read somewhere or heard on television that the coach was considering bringing in a ‘kicking coach’. Do they mean to tell me they haven’t thought of that till now? Of course not. The proof of the pudding is.......poor or no grubbers, ineffective chips, no consistent diagonals, touch kicks missed often, goal-kicking erratic. I hope by a ‘kicking coach’ they don’t just mean a Neil Jenkins-type who concentrates solely on place-kicks. We will see.
I’ll say it again: rugby is a scrumming, mauling, rucking, jumping, handling, passing, tackling and so on game. But it’s essentially a ‘thinking game’. And a ‘thinking game’ requires the above and the vital necessity to acknowledge and implement the skills of kicking a rugby ball. It seems blatantly obvious to anyone who watches with a degree of analytical acumen or am I overstating my case? I don’t think so.
AUSTRALIA 36 - ARGENTINA 20
I enjoyed the match between two sides desperate to impress and improve. But, silly mistakes by the visitors saw 21 points on the board for the Wallabies after only ten minutes! The Argentines fought back heroically with great spirit and verve but playing ‘catch-up’ with a deficit of twenty-one, makes victory nigh impossible. Sanchez is a delight to watch, Cordera, a real talent and Leguisemont very effective. In the end the Pumas just could not win back enough points.
For the Wallabies, MacMahon played with ‘Ardie Savea—like’ ferocity, Genia was back to his brilliant best and Hooper performed magnificently. Foley slotted in well at inside centre. Haylett-Petty was terrific both on defence and attack.
(For the Boks, where to now? The only way is up and forward. Let’s hope some careful and critical assessment of performance leads to sensible selection.)