Rugby Championship 2017: Round Five Review

Springboks and Wallabies share spoils once again in Bloemfontein thriller

South Africa and Australia played out their second consecutive draw in this season’s Rugby Championship with a 27-27 stalemate at Bloemfontein’s Toyota Stadium.

Having produced the same result in a 23-23 draw in Perth in round three, neither side has been able to come out on top over the other in 160 minutes of action.

As well as securing back-to-back draws against their opponents, the result also meant that New Zealand retained their rugby championship title before they took to the field in Argentina, a matter of hours after the conclusion of the match in South Africa.

A see-saw encounter which saw the lead change hands multiple times – particularly in the second-half – saw both sides accumulate their points in identical fashion with three tries, three conversions and two penalties each.

Michaeil Cheika’s side arrived in the rainbow nation on a high following their first win of this year’s tournament against Argentina in round four, whilst Allister Coetzee’s Springboks side were desperate to redeem themselves to home support following a heavy defeat in New Zealand.

In front of a raucous crowd, unsurprisingly it was South Africa who dominated possession and territory in the first few minutes, yet despite their early pressure it was the visitors who opened the scoring just under ten minutes in.

With Wallabies captain Michael Hooper having expertly secured a turnover near half-way, Australia were soon awarded a penalty which was kicked to the corner. From the resulting line-out, a South African player knocked the ball on which led to a scrum that saw a well-worked move finished off by Israel Folau, as Bernard Foley’s quick inside pass released the full-back to charge into a gap in the Springbok defensive line and run in underneath the posts for the first score of the match.

With the hosts wary of letting their opponents build up a head of steam like the All Blacks did in the previous round, South Africa quickly responded to their early set-back with a sustained spell of possession that eventually forced the Australian defence back into their own half.

After choosing to turn down eminently kickable penalty shots at goal and instead kick to the corners in pursuit of a try-scoring opportunities, the Springboks were eventually rewarded for their persistence with a try as Ruan Dreyer brought an end to repeated surges from the South African forwards to stretch his way over from close range and with Elton Jantjes’ conversion level the scores.

With the second quarter of the first half seeing both sides cancel each other out in attack it was up to the goal-kickers to take charge, with Bernard Foley and Elton Jantjes trading penalties before a strong spell of Australian pressure in South Africa’s half resulted in the visitors winning a scrum penalty from which Foley knocked the kick over to give the Wallabies a slender 13-10 lead.

The remaining five minutes of the half saw an ugly exchange between the two sides as Australian full-back Folau’s high tackle on Springboks wing Dillyn Leyds saw South African skipper Eben Eztebeth charge in and take out Folau off the ball. With replays clearly indicating Folau had pulled Leyds over by his hair, the Wallabies No.15 was lucky to get away with conceding just a penalty and not being yellow carded, and despite being camped in their own half for the remainder of the half the visitors survived with their lead intact.

Still rattled by Folau’s indiscretion the second half began much like the first half ended with South Africa pinning the Australian defence back, and it took just three minutes for the hosts to strike back as some wonderful passing from first Jantjes and then Jan Serfontein released flanker Siya Kolisi out wide with the forward showing a good burst of speed as well as strength to charge through the tackle of Kurtley Beale before giving a pass to winger Leyds who in turn just about managed to fling a scoring pass out to Serfontein to round off a superb South African attacking move.

With Elton Jantjes adding the extras from the tee, the hosts now had a four-point lead to preserve, yet it didn’t take long for their opponents to respond.

Having kicked possession away after taking the restart, there seemed little danger for the Springboks with the Wallabies in possession in their own half, but when Australian fly-half Foley spotted a mismatch in the South African defence on half-way he made the break evading the Springbok defenders to race into the South African 22 before firing a pass out wide to supporting wing Marika Koroibete who ran in for a maiden test try, that was converted by Foley.

The frenetic start to the second-half continued just a few minutes later as South Africa came charging back with another try, as some direct running from the Springboks back-line saw them pin Australia back before good handling from Malcolm Marx and Serfontein created space for winger Courtnall Skosan to come racing through and show impressive leg strength in powering over the try-line with two Australian defenders in tow.

With Jantjes continuing his good from with the boot the Springboks once again had a four-point lead with the hour mark approaching, and went about increasing that from the restart as Malcolm Marx found space to break at pace down field into the Australian 22 only for a promising move to come to nothing as the South Africans were pushed out wide and off the field by a resilient Australian defence.

Australian nerves were soon calmed as their team benefitted from a number of South African penalty infringements to move their way into South Africa’s 22, and after the Wallabies forward pack inched their way towards the try-line through a number of phases, Foley and Koroibete combined once more out wide, with the latter crashing his way over from the former’s fizzing pass.

As Foley added to the Wallabies points haul with another conversion, just sixteen minutes had passed since half-time yet in that time the lead had changed hands four times and with the final quarter to come many amongst the Bloemfontein crowd were expecting plenty more action.

Any supporters hoping for more of the same however were soon disappointed as the action quietened down with both sides unable to keep up the direct fast-paced running game that had yielded those early tries.

Going into the final twenty minutes with a three-point lead, Australia were desperate to keep going at the South African defence and came tantalisingly close to a fourth try when repeated phases of quick ball nearly put centre Tevita Kuridrani in at the corner only for the Brumbies back to be tackled just short of the line before South Africa won a turnover penalty.

Another breathless quarter followed with both sides attacking at will from everywhere on the pitch, yet when South Africa won a penalty just inside the Australian half with ten minutes to go the responsibility fell upon fly-half Jantjes to bring the scores level again.

Stepping up just a few metres from the half-way line the kick was by far the toughest of the match but Jantjes showed great composure and calmness under pressure to nail the kick to the delight of the home support.

With a score of 27-27 going into final ten minutes, both sides went for it in attack only for a combination of handling errors and good defending to undermine each side, and when South Africa won a penalty just outside the Australian 22 with barely two minutes left on the clock it looked as if Jantjes would be the hero, only for his kick at goal to sail wide in the last meaningful act of a thrilling contest.

Much like in Perth both sides will rue missed opportunities and be disappointed not to grab a win that they will have seen there for the taking. Australia may have just edged things at the set-piece, but in a match that ebbed and flowed throughout it was no surprise to see each side concede a similar number of penalties and turnovers. The match itself was a great watch for the neutral with the game played at a high intensity throughout, lots of running rugby and great physicality.

As hosts and having just edged possession and territory South Africa will perhaps be more disappointed at the failure to add to their two wins from the start of the campaign but Coetzee will have been pleased with the response from their All Blacks drubbing as his side stood up and showed immense character to come back from behind several times.

Having come into this match with the momentum created by that first win of the championship against Argentina, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will be frustrated his side have failed to build upon that win having led a number of times during the match but in Marika Koroibete he may have found the finisher Australia has been looking for out wide.

Going into the final round, South Africa will be gunning for revenge against champions New Zealand in Cape Town, whilst Australia will travel to Argentina looking to make it two from two against Daniel Hourcade’s Pumas side.

 

Champions New Zealand make it five from five in Buenos Aires

New Zealand celebrated their fifth Rugby Championship title in six years with a comfortable 36-10 over winless Argentina.

Having seen South Africa and Australia draw in Bloemfontein a couple of hours before kick-off in Buenos Aires, Steve Hansen’s side marched out at Estadio Jose Amalfitani with the 2017 title already secured and marked the occasion with a ruthless first-half display that saw them rack up four tries and go in at the break with a 29-3 lead.

A scrappy second-half saw both sides cancel each other out with both sides scoring a try each, but by that stage the damage had already been done.

Having dispatched South Africa with ease in their previous game, Kieran Read and co arrived in South America in ruthless mood and it didn’t take long for them to get their game up and running once again.

Whilst Beauden Barrett’s early penalty was cancelled out by a penalty kick from opposite number Nicolas Sanchez, New Zealand quickly retook their lead with the opening try of the match six minutes in.

Returning to the All Blacks team for the first time since the second test defeat to the Lions in July, winger Waisake Naholo showed little signs of rustiness as he benefitted from quick handling and offloading from Sonny Bill Williams and Damian McKenzie to break over the gain-line and race into the opponents 22 before giving a scoring pass out wide for skipper Read to cross over.

Beauden Barrett’s missed conversion may have given the hosts some hope of getting swiftly back into the match and although quick turnover ball nearly resulted in Pumas centre Matias Orlando powering his way over the try-line, New Zealand soon went about increasing their lead.

A lack of discipline from Argentina saw New Zealand awarded several penalties that pushed them further and further into Argentina’s half and after a few scrums from New Zealand inside the Pumas 22 came to nothing in attack, Damian McKenzie reacted quicker than most in taking a quick-tap penalty that caught the Argentinian defence unawares as he weaved his way over to touch down underneath the posts.

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade had seen his side fall apart to concede five second-half tries in their previous match against Australia, and there were clearly signs of a hangover from that match as just a few minutes after McKenzie’s score the All Blacks ran in their third try.

Another impressive Kiwi scrum just inside Argentina’s half eventually resulted in Aaron Smith firing a pass out to half-back parter Barrett on the wing, where the Hurricanes stand-off showed his full repertoire of skills in shrugging off one tackler, fending off another before slipping a sublime backhand pass to wing Naholo who bounced off a last-ditch Pumas tackle to walk in for his seventh test try.

With the Pumas unable to hold on to the ball for any sustained period of time and their defence once again struggling to deal with runners from deep, it looked as if it would be a long night as Barrett converted Naholo’s try to push his side into a 22-3 lead with just twenty minutes played.

Things soon went from bad to worse for the hosts when Tomas Lavanini was yellow-carded for an apparent shoulder charge on All Blacks centre Williams although replays indicated that the decision may have been a harsh one.

Unsurprisingly New Zealand went about making their one man advantage count by pinning their hosts back in their own half and despite initially showing some impressive defence, another moment of magic from Barrett saw the world champions score yet again.

Receiving a loose pass from centre Anton Lienert-Brown just inside Argentina’s half Barrett displayed more exquisite show-boating in reviving the move with a pass between his legs to team-mate McKenzie, who using his quick feet scythed through the Pumas defence before unselfishly passing to Read who had an easy walk in for his second try of the half.

With McKenzie running from everywhere and Barrett pulling the strings from 10 with more silky skills it looked a matter of when and not if New Zealand would add to their first-half scoring spree, but for once in the half Argentina produced some resilient defence to hold the men in black at bay.

As the first-half drew to a close the Pumas looked to end the half on a high and despite repeated penalty infringements from the All Blacks eventually resulting in openside flanker Matt Todd being shown a yellow card, Argentina could not find a way through with the New Zealand scrum coming out on top to win the penalty and end the half with the visitors leading by 26 points.

With Argentina now coming out for the second-half with a one-man advantage, Daniel Hourcade’s side went about getting back into the contest but a combination of poor execution and handling from the Pumas and determined defending from the All Blacks meant New Zealand’s line stayed intact during Todd’s absence.

Just as soon as New Zealand had returned to their full quota however they were back down to 14 as a high tackle from captain Kieran Read was penalised with the All Blacks no.8 perhaps lucky to see just a yellow card for what looked like a very reckless challenge on Matias Orlando.

With their opponents down to 14 men for the second time in the match, the hosts were not about to let a second chance go to waste and after a few frenetic phases of play that saw the Argentina attack move from one side of the field to the other, Juan Manuel Leguizamon just about managed to touch down from close range amongst a whole heap of bodies, before Sanchez added the extras to bring his side within twenty points of the All Blacks with just under half-an-hour to go.

Any hopes among the home crowd that this try would spark something of a comeback were soon thwarted however as New Zealand reasserted their dominance with possession and territory to go looking for the score that would seal victory.

The visitors thought they had it as well after an hour, as Waisake Naholo gave a pass out wide to replacement hooker Codie Taylor who cut inside before displaying great handling skills to give the pass back out wide to Naholo to touch down, although with replays showing Naholo’s initial pass to Taylor was forward the try was correctly chalked off by the officials.

With the All Blacks controlling proceedings pretty comfortably from there on in, the final quarter became something of a non-contest with the Pumas unable to get enough ball to launch any noteworthy attacks, and when referee Jaco Peyper’s patience finally run out at scrum-time Argentian prop Ramiro Herrera became the fourth player to go to the sin-bin.

By now for Argentina it was a case of preventing their opponents from scoring any more tries and as the game became scrappy and handling errors crept in New Zealand’s play, it looked as if the hosts would hold firm and shut out the All Blacks for the second-half.

Enter David Havili.

Fresh off the back of a thrilling season for Super Rugby champions Crusaders, the full-back came off the bench in the final ten minutes for his test debut and quickly showed the Buenos Aires crowd what he is capable of by launching a devastating counter-attack that so nearly saw fellow replacement Ngani Laumape go in at the corner.

The Pumas defence may have just about managed to scramble across to prevent the try, but they were merely delaying the inevitable as with the last play of the game that man Havili darted in from close range following another solid All Blacks scrum for a try on debut to wrap up a comfortable 36-10 victory.

By no means a thriller like the match in Bloemfontein, the match in Buenos Aires was a scrappy affair lit up by moments of individual magic from Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie in particular. With two yellow cards each for either side both coaches will have been disappointed with the indiscipline shown throughout.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen will have been left frustrated by his side’s failure to take their chances in the second-half in another game where the All Blacks struggled to maintain their intensity and execution for the whole 80 minutes, although with so many changes amongst the pack from the South Africa game he will have been delighted with his forward pack’s work at the scrum.

For Argentina and coach Daniel Hourcade the pressure continues to mount. One of their poorest displays of the championship, they were second-best in the scrums, missed far too many tackles and were largely unable to create much in attack, all of which allowed New Zealand to coast to victory in the end.

Having already been crowned champions New Zealand will travel to South Africa with a few minor things to work on from this win as they go looking to make it six from six in the championship for the second season running. Argentina head west to Mendoza for a fixture with Australia hoping to grab that elusive win and avoid going through the entire championship without a win or point to their name.

 

Player of the week 

Damian McKenzie (New Zealand)

Marika Koroibete made a big impression on his first start for the Wallabies, whilst Beauden Barrett produced some moments of real class to unlock the Pumas defence, but diminutive full-back McKenzie was the star of round five.

Influential in attack throughout, the Chiefs full-back lit up the match with his quick feet, elusive running and expert handling.

Rewarded for his quick-thinking from a penalty in the first-half with a try, he also helped set up two more in a half where he cut the Pumas defence to shreds, and produced a key try-saving tackle in the second-half to show his defensive game is also improving in what was by far his best display in his fledgling test career.

Featured Image c/o Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

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