Bledisloe Cup remains in New Zealand
New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup for the second time in as many weeks, as they powered to a 27-16 victory over Australia in Wellington. The win might not have been as comprehensive as their 47-29 victory from the opening round, but the home side were in control for the vast majority of the game, and despite a plucky effort in the opening 30 minutes, Ewen McKenzie will not be best pleased with the response of his side from their opening day loss.
The All Blacks started the game poorly, making a number of unforced errors, and falling 6-0 behind to an Australian side who were displaying a good amount of offensive fluency. Errors were however rife with the Wallabies in the contact area, with ineffectual tackling allowing big breaks from both Ben Smith and Israel Dagg, but the visitors were let off the hook by their scramble defence. Eventually however, New Zealand were able to punish Australia for their lackadaisical tackling, and a superb display of offloading rugby saw Ben Smith take advantage of an overlap and go over in the corner. Fresh off his hat trick against Australia last week, Ben Smith put himself into the perfect position to replicate this feat in the second half, scoring New Zealand’s second try minutes before the break, reaping the rewards of an excellent break from Steven Luatua, which had the Australian defence reeling.
New Zealand came out in the second half with a nine point lead, and had to be at their best to protect it, with Australia putting them under heavy pressure on their own try line, but the well drilled All Blacks’ defence held firm. A disintegrating scrum and wayward kicking game from the visitors saw New Zealand stretch the score line to 24-9, until an excellent interception try from Israel Folau brought the Wallabies a brief glimmer of hope. Unfortunately for Australia, Folau’s try did not prove to be the spark needed for an unlikely comeback, and New Zealand comfortably saw out the final minutes to make it two from two so far in The Rugby Championship.
Although the All Blacks were unable to secure a winning bonus point, they will be encouraged by their performance, especially when you consider they were playing their fourth-choice fly half in the form of Tom Taylor. The Australian camp will be less content however, as they will feel they let a rare opportunity to win in New Zealand slip through their fingers, after an efficient and determined start to the game, and their hopes of challenging for the championship are now all but over.
Springboks survive scare in Mendoza
Although history and The Rugby Championship table will show that South Africa beat Argentina 22-17 in Mendoza, the Pumas were certainly the moral winners, regaining their pride, after having been humiliated a week earlier in South Africa. The game was just as tight and compelling as the 16-16 draw between the two sides last year, with the only difference being that South Africa were just able to find an extra gear late in the second half.
The home side came out firing, eager to prove their doubters wrong after last week’s heavy loss, and did just that, racing into an early lead, with Juan Manuel Leguizamon peeling off a maul deep inside South Africa’s 22, and powering through Springbok tackles on his way to the try line. A try from Bjorn Basson levelled the scores later in the half, but Argentina’s dominance in the first half was rewarded when Marcelo Bosch broke the attempted tackle of Jannie du Plessis, to go over for the Pumas’ second try of the game, and ensured the home side went into the interval 17-13 up.
An early Morne Steyn penalty in the second half brought the Springboks to within just one point of Argentina, and seemed to spark the South African offence into action, but they were met by a fierce Argentine defence, who looked unrecognisable from the side which had capitulated just seven days ago in Soweto. With eight minutes left in the game, the Pumas’ defence finally succumbed, with Marcos Ayerza penalised for collapsing a maul, and Steyn duly kicked the penalty, giving South Africa a precious two point lead. Despite a determined effort from the home side, they were unable to regain the lead, and a relieved South African side picked up the win.
The win means that South Africa join New Zealand at the top of the table with nine points, and their hopes of challenging the All Blacks for the trophy remain well and truly alive. Argentina’s remaining fixtures against Australia will now take on added insignificance, as it looks as though they will be challenging the Wallabies to avoid the acrimony of finishing bottom of the pile.
Ben Smith’s fourth try of the tournament was certainly a worthy winner of Try of the Week, as the All Black back line strung together three perfectly timed offloads, before finding Smith on the overlap for the try.
With Australia controlling the momentum in the first half of their game against New Zealand, Aaron Smith made a great covering tackle, which not only prevented a certain try, but also helped swing momentum in the favour of his side, and helped them go on to win the game. For this reason he is the Hero of the Week.
The Villain of the Week is Marcos Ayerza, for his obvious collapsing of a maul late in the game, which allowed Steyn to put his side into a winning position. That being said, if the allegations of gouging from Mariano Galarza, or biting from Leonardo Senatore, prove to be true, Ayerza’s transgressions will pale into insignificance in comparison.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images