Now that the Rugby Championship is over and the dust has settled, it is worth taking a look at the participants and discussing how they fared in the competition. How did each country develop as the competition wore on and where does each go from here?
It seems fitting to start off with the champions. Coming off the back of a gruelling Lions series and the end of the Super Rugby season, one can’t help feeling these players are fatigued. The Bledisloe Cup dead rubber next weekend won’t help matters much in that regard, but trust Steve Hansen and his coaching staff to ring the changes and use the game as an opportunity to build more depth.
The All Blacks depth was tested this year, with injuries and other circumstances plaguing their campaign, but credit must be given to them for the way they handled these problems. The likes of Liam Squire, Nepo Laulala, Damian McKenzie, and Kane Hames, all stood up to the challenge and played their parts well. Winning all their games was no mean feat, and they had to dig deep several times to get the results to go in their favour.
Most people tend to forget that this is a team in transition, which makes what they have achieved even more remarkable. New Zealand still needs to work on building depth in their midfield and their discipline needs to improve to stop giving away silly penalties. They also need to shore up their defence around the fringes as they were found wanting in that area occasionally during the tournament. The All Blacks should pick a relatively inexperienced squad for their November tour and keep exposing young, up-and-coming players to the game at this level. They are right on track (as always).
Next up we have the Rugby Championship runners-up Australia. Their campaign has been a mixed bag with two draws, two wins, and two losses. There has been some good progress made though, with stalwarts like Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, and Israel Folau rediscovering their form, and players like Sean McMahon, Marika Koroibete, and Izack Rodda stepping up on the big stage.
There is a lot of youth on this team, but one senses that there is at least some direction and clarity in the way they want to play. Plenty of work is needed on their defence though, particularly with their tackle technique. They were going far too high in the majority of their collisions and losing that battle on too many occasions. Dane Haylett–Petty was a big loss too, but his return along with that of David Pocock will help steady the ship.
The Wallabies finally have a midfield combination that works well and they are close to putting together a string of good victories. Head coach Michael Cheika is a divisive character but one thing is certain in that he needs to limit his press conference shenanigans. Australia are a team on the up and will provide very interesting viewing in November to see how they compete with the Northern Hemisphere heavyweights.
The Springboks played a massive part in an entertaining match on Saturday against New Zealand. We saw shades in that contest of what could become a great team, but there is still plenty of work to do for the men in green and gold.
South Africa has several issues that need to be addressed. The game plan they used against New Zealand was far too direct and while it may have paid dividends against a tired All Blacks team, it is doubtful that it will yield the same results against the Northern Hemisphere teams they are about to face. They need a pivot who attacks the line and must develop a back line that can create opportunities as their midfield is too one-dimensional and their back three, while being decent finishers, struggle to create opportunities on the counter attack. They need to bring in different personnel in those areas.
It is not all doom and gloom in the Rainbow Nation though as the performances of Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx and Stephen Kitshoff were very impressive throughout. Warren Whiteley’s return will help solidify the spine of the team and add more stability, which will hopefully lead to better results. The end-of-year tour is a great opportunity to develop some young talent and the opportunity to do so must be capitalised on if this team is to move forward. The jury is still out on the Springboks, and their November tour will give us a greater understanding as to where they are.
Once again propping up the table, Los Pumas are fast becoming the most frustrating team in World Rugby. They have good players and can do so much better than their performances suggest.
The issues of mindset and motivation come into play here. They are a team that is fuelled by emotion, which only serves to impede clarity, judgement, and on-field decision making. Their discipline is terrible because of all this fire in their bellies. Their once formidable scrum is not as imposing as before, and they have no clear game plan either. What they are, is very strong at the breakdown and on the fringes in both attack and defence.
They need to bring in a coach from a different country because they have gone as far as they can with the current coaching staff. A different perspective on how the game should be played would be a much needed shot in the arm and hopefully push Argentina out of this period of stagnation they are stuck in. The November Tests are an opportunity for them to rebuild and look at some different options in terms of personnel.
How do you think the Southern Hemisphere nations are looking now? Let us know in the comments!
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