Australia have pulled off the great escape in Argentina, pulling off their biggest ever comeback win to defeat the Pumas by 11-points in Salta and avoid the wooden spoon. But it was hardly an inspiring victory.
The All Blacks pulled off their own escape act when they shocked the Springboks in the dying minutes to avenge their shock loss in Wellington, but the Springboks can take heart from the loss.
While it’s another wooden spoon in the kitchen draw for the Pumas, their opening half against the Wallabies proved just how threatening they can be.
Read on as we break down some of the big talking points from Round 6.
SOUTH AFRICA 30-32 NEW ZEALAND
The Springboks are back … well almost
The Springboks dominated all aspects of their Rugby Championship fixture against the All Blacks, but just didn’t have the composure in the final 10 minutes to beat world champions.
However, the Boks’ performance — albeit suffering a defeat — should give them a lot of confidence ahead of the November tour to Europe.
The Springboks have come a long way with Rassie Erasmus this year after a period when they looked like second-rate citizens to the All Blacks. The win over New Zealand in Wellington was massive, while they dominated the All Blaccks for the most part of the Test at Loftus Versfeld.
Unfortunately, inexperience in the last 10 minutes cost the South Africans dearly, especially as their bench hasn’t been given enough exposure throughout the Rugby Championship to perform. Erasmus needs to give his fringe players a lot more game time ahead of the World Cup during the November tour.
Players in key positions, such as scrumhalf and hooker, can’t play 80 minutes of rugby in each and every Test.
Never say die All Blacks confirm their superiority …
When you have the All Blacks on their knees, you have to make sure you keep them there. The Springboks were unfortunate not to do that on Saturday.
South Africa dominated the All Blacks in the first half, as they had the better of the territory and possession. But the 6-6 halftime scoreline kept the New Zealanders in the game, despite the Springboks enjoying the bulk of the scoring chances.
The Boks came out firing in the second half, and took a 30-13 lead in the 60th minute. However, the All Blacks switched gears in the last 18 minutes of the match, scoring three tries to clinch the encounter.
The New Zealanders showed that quality in the last quarter and executed brilliantly to come from behind and win following the Wellington disaster. They are still the team to beat at next year’s World Cup.
Questions surround Wallabies
The Wallabies managed to pull off an historic comeback when they came from a 24-point halftime deficit to secure an 11-point win. However, despite how inspiring the victory was for players, coaches and fans, there are still so many questions surrounding their outfit.
Within the first four minutes the Pumas were up two tries and looked certain to run in plenty more as the Wallabies defence fumbled, flopped and crumbled under the pressure of hard running forwards and the straight line running of Argentina’s backline. Only 20 minutes into the game the Wallabies had already missed 14 tackles, by the end of the half they’d missed 20. Had the Pumas rolled in grease ahead of the game?
It’s a stat that would horrify any coach at the end of a match, let alone at halftime.
It was hard to determine what the defensive setup was.
Too easily the Pumas ran their forwards straight up the line, pulling in two or three defenders, before they swung the ball wide and watched as their wingers made 10 to 15 metres before a single Wallaby player had touched them. The Pumas were consistently on the front foot and making easy work of embarrassing the Wallabies.
It was the opposite for the Australians, who continued to throw the wide cut-out pass to their wing. They drifted sideways without a single straight line runner and were either forced into touch, forced into a poor offload, or simply put in an ineffective kick down field. Even when they managed to make a break, support players were so far behind they were futile at the break down and the Pumas had recovered the ball again.
While a halftime bullocking from Michael Cheika appeared to switch the side on, it’s not something they can rely on every week. Yes, the Wallabies came out firing in the second half and forced the Pumas into capitulation, but any other side, the All Blacks especially, would have locked the game down by the 30th minute. While we can’t forget the Pumas are a threatening side, and making plenty of inroads with Mario Ledesma at the helm, they’ve still got plenty of work to do.
The Wallabies confounded everyone with what they were able to produce after the break, even captain Michael Hooper said the side were “confused” by their performance.
Michael Cheika says the Wallabies’ second half performance against Argentina showed the personal importance the Test held for his side.
Finally, Australia were playing the simple game plan they should have been playing from the beginning. Keep the ball in hand, draw the defence in field with hard hitting forwards and then spread it wide to the overlap. It wasn’t until the 48th minute of the game that we finally saw a straight line ball runner, and Folau pulled it off with perfection. Slipping right through the gap and dotting it down.
But why weren’t they running these lines earlier? Why were they persisting with floaty, cut-out passes that had been shut down by the Springboks the week before?
Most importantly, does this victory save Cheika? Or is time up for the under fire coach?
Cheika still feeling the heat
In an interview with The Australian, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said Michael Cheika’s job isn’t under threat, but his coaching assistants may face the chopping block with Rugby Australia expecting Cheika to present his thoughts on the last two Tests.
It may be heartening for Cheika to hear this, but with just two wins from six matches in The Rugby Championship and only three wins from nine games this season, one record come-from-behind victory surely isn’t enough to keep his job safe.
The Wallabies second half was something to behold; finally, everything clicked. The defence held strong, the attack was fluid and they began to rain tries. But that can’t overwrite the abysmal performance they served up in the first half. Or the collective performance they made in The Rugby Championship.
While the Australians were able to steer clear of the wooden spoon, the fact the Wallabies were even coming so close to finishing last is disheartening.
With Australia’s next clash being against the All Blacks in Japan, Cheika’s reprieve could be short lived, especially if the Wallabies produce a similar first-half shocker against the world’s best.