Best of the Weekend: The Rugby Championship kicks off in style

All Blacks blast Bledisloe

A Bledisloe Cup match rarely needs any extra storylines to make it an exciting contest, but with Ewen McKenzie taking charge of Australia for his first game, and Richie McCaw returning for his first international match since his sabbatical, all eyes were on Sydney for the opening fixture of The Rugby Championship. Unfortunately for McKenzie however, he was unable to get off to a winning start, as New Zealand cantered to a 47-29 victory, securing a vital bonus point in the process.

The All Blacks got off to perfect start, putting the Australian defence under pressure right from the off, and capitalised when a slick offload from Aaron Cruden reached winger Ben Smith, who was able to go over in the corner for the first try of the tournament. Momentum then looked as if it was about to swing in Australia’s favour, as they took advantage of indiscipline from New Zealand, kicking four penalties and taking a brief lead, but it was far too short lived for McKenzie’s liking, as the home side conceded two tries in as many minutes. Cruden turned from provider to scorer, as he charged down a clearing kick, collected the ball and ran over unopposed for the All Blacks’ second try, before talismanic skipper McCaw was on hand to dive over in the corner for New Zealand’s third. The game seemed to be slipping away from Australia, but scrum half Will Genia pulled his side back into contention, scoring a superb solo try, as he received the ball inside his own half, and proceeded to beat three All Black defenders with a combination of searing pace and neat footwork, ensuring that the hosts trailed by just six points at the interval.

Australian hopes were further ignited early on in the second half, as a successful penalty kick brought the Wallabies to within three points of the visitors, but these hopes were soon shattered by a rampant New Zealand attack. A sniping run from Aaron Smith set up the veteran Conrad Smith for a try, who showcased his footwork with a decent step, before Ben Smith scored two more tries, completing his hat trick, and putting some well deserved gloss on the score line. Winger James O’Connor managed to grab a late consolation try for Australia to finish off the game, but it had no affect on the final outcome. Both teams will now be eager for the reverse fixture in Wellington next week, with the All Blacks looking to maintain their form, and Australia keen to vindicate themselves after a heavy defeat.

South Africa cruise to win in Soweto

South Africa did Nelson Mandela proud at Soccer City, as they dismantled the visiting Argentina side, blowing them away in a record 73-13 victory. The win, perhaps rather obviously, saw the Boks pick up a winning bonus point and move themselves level with New Zealand at the top of The Rugby Championship.

Both sides started the game scrappily, making frequent handling errors as they attempted to shake off the rust, and they traded penalties, with both Morne Steyn and Felipe Contepomi showcasing their accuracy with the boot. Eventually South Africa managed to string together a number of phases, and when pressuring the Argentinean defence, were awarded a penalty try for a deliberate knock on from Eusebio Guinazu, who was yellow carded as a result. The Boks made the most of their man advantage, and added a further 10 points before the interval, with JJ Engelbrecht collecting a good chip kick from Willie Le Roux and going over for a try, before Steyn added a late penalty, sending South Africa into the break 26-6 up.

An early second half try from Adriaan Strauss erased any doubt about the outcome of the game, and a yellow card minutes later to Argentinean forward Leonardo Senatore, sparked a frenzy of try scoring for South Africa, with Willem Alberts, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Duane Vermeulen and Bismarck du Plessis all crossing the whitewash for the Boks as the game winded down. Argentina will fly home extremely disheartened, and although they were missing the iconic Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, they will know they should still have performed to a much higher standard than they actually did.

There was very little competition this week for Will Genia, whose superb individual try for the Wallabies certainly deserves the Try of the Week accolade.

With both games decided fairly early on, and no one player singling himself out with a heroic moment, Nelson Mandela is the Hero of the Week. The South Africa game was played on the inaugural Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day, and their performance did justice to the great man, who has done so much for his country, and consequently, the game of rugby.

The Villain of the Week was the vuvuzela. The vuvuzela choruses, something we all thought would remain confined in our recurring nightmares of the 2010 Football World Cup, were at their irritating best on Saturday. Outside of the vuvuzela, you could take your pick of Argentinean players for the award, most of whom would also have been worthy winners given their lacklustre performance.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

4 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: The Rugby Championship kicks off in style

  1. The vuvuzela is what adds to the atmosphere for many. Remember that there were also soccer games on the weekend, which is a soccer thing, but many stayed on for the rugby.

  2. Personally, I can’t see how the incessant blare of thousands of vuvuzelas adds to the atmosphere – unless the desired atmosphere of many is to feel as though they are watching a game of rugby from inside a wasp nest. Understand they are more generally associated with football, but I really wouldn’t like to see them play any part in the rugby-watching culture.

  3. I thought the South Africa/Argentina result was shocking, but the two yellow cards and not having Juan Fernández Lobbe and Marcos Ayerza helps.

    I’m really frustrated with Argentina. They should be better, but something holds them back. I don’t know if it’s the lack of depth, they are tired from their long seasons, or the amount of traveling they have to do.

    1. SY – I don’t think having a number of key players scattered around Europe helps. This part of the year should really be pre-season for them, hardly the optimum time for facing the world’s top sides. In addition, some of the other guys are playing club rugby in Argentina itself, which is several levels below the Super 15, Top14, Heinken Cup etc etc. Some of the tries they conceded were utterly embarrassing – De Villiers’ interception in particular.

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