Australia and South Africa kicked off this season’s Tri-Nations in Sydney, whilst New Zealand faced a Fijian side fresh from the Pacific Nations Cup. Here are the best bits:
South Africa’s back-ups prove second rate against Australia
The expected result came to pass at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday morning, as Australia were the far superior side against the visiting Springboks. At one point they were a remarkable 39-6 points ahead of the opposition, running in 5 tries and with James O’Connor racking up 19 points.
Australia needed this performance to silence the critics from the shock Samoa defeat the week previously, but the result was never going to be the same given the influx of Reds players still brimming with confidence from their Super Rugby success against the Crusaders. This was evident in the build-up to the first two tries, when first Quade Cooper tore through the middle of the Bok defence leading to the phase where Ben Alexander ran in the first try in the corner, and next when the truly magnificent Will Genia pinpointed a mis-match and then fed Digby Ioane making that two tries within 60 seconds.
This dominance was enough to fill the Wallabies with enough confidence to pursue with their expansive game, and Rob Simmons showed maturity beyond his years making the big calls in the successful Wallaby lineout. The All Blacks may be the most complete team on the planet, but Australia are the most thrilling. This team with Genia, Cooper, Kurtley Beale and the rest will tear any other side to shreds. They missed the required physicality last week against Samoa, but that came back in with the addition of James Horwill, Simmons and David Pocock into the pack. If Benn Robinson returns from injury, and Scott Higginbotham and Anthony Faingaa come into the side, then I would back them to win the World Cup.
For the Springboks it’s hard to find any positives. They were far too weak in the tight five without Victor Matfield and co, but their backline had more than enough class to trouble Australia and yet failed to come up with the goods. Morné Steyn’s poor form with the Bulls continued, with South Africa coming to life with the substitution on to the field of Patrick Lambie. The youngster should start against New Zealand, and for me has to be their number one 10 going into the World Cup, partnered by Fourie du Preez at half-back. Personally much was hoped for from Ashley Johnson, but the Cheetahs number 8 failed to leave an impression on the match. In a way, Bjorn Basson’s fumble when breaking clear in the second half summed up their game.
Fiji put in brave performance but not enough for the All Blacks
There was to be no repeat of the shock result earned by Samoa against Australia the week before at Carisbrook, as New Zealand brutally dismantled Fiji, cruising home by 60 points to 14. The Pacific Island side simply didn’t have the required defensive framework to provide the All Blacks with a real test, and their two tries were just reward for their hard work around the park. Dominiko Waqaniburotu’s great run down the left hand touchline created an excellent try for scrum-half Nemia Serelevu, and substitute Vereniki Goneva showed some neat footwork and pace to score Fiji’s other try. It was certainly a brave effort, but by no means good enough to trouble the All Blacks, for who the biggest positive will have been the performance of pivot Colin Slade.
Incidentally, Slade is the winner of this week’s Try of the Weekend award, for his quality chip and chase behind the Fijian defence which led to the All Blacks second score of the game against Fiji. Watch it here.
Hero of the weekend is Australia hooker Stephen Moore, for scoring the most un-hooker like of tries against South Africa. The line, the step and the finish would have made an international centre proud.
The Villain has to be Stuart Dickinson, the referee in the match between the All Blacks and Fiji, for allowing Piri Weepu’s try despite Mils Muliaina quite clearing being offside when he gathered the scrum-half’s chip over the top. It lead to a try for Weepu, as if Fiji didn’t have it hard enough.
What were your thoughts on the matches? Are Australia back on track?
by Ben Coles.