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All Blacks box clever and 5 more talking points from the Rugby Championship weekend

The big three were pretty impressive.

WE’RE IN FOR a grand finale to the shortened Rugby Championship. Australia’s 9 – 34 win away to Argentina has them level on 9 points with New Zealand. As ever, the All Blacks trip to South Africa gave us a game that will live long in the memory.

If you have time, you should watch that one in full, but here’s the highlights.

Source: F4Gee/YouTube

South Africa’s staying power

If rugby matches were just a little bit shorter – say, 72 or 73 minutes – then we would be looking at a South African outfit nearing the peak of their powers and sitting top of the Rugby Championship table with eight points. And with their two rivals going head-to-head while they face Argentina next, the Springboks would have the lids off the trophy polish and the straight batters out to dampen World Cup hype.

South Africa New Zealand Rugby Championship Source: AP/Press Association Images

Instead, the ‘Boks have two losing bonus points after getting overpowered and, this weekend, out-thought as they tried to close out victory. However, it’s still far too early to write off Heyneke Meyer’s side as an easy touch in the final minutes. For a start, just staying with them for those first 70 minutes is a monumental task.  The All Blacks rode their luck against the early Bokke onslaught and just managed to keep pace thanks to two brilliant scores.

All Blacks always seem to find a way

The magical breaks of Lima Sopoaga (leading to Ben Smith’s try) and Dane Coles are what we expect from New Zealand though. What they don’t get enough credit for, is how they think their way around the field.

Right from the first minute, the visitors in Ellis Park shunned the challenge of a direct contest with South Africa’s line-out. They either quick-tapped penalties or shovelled the ball back in to play before a rigid set-piece was called. The result was a 10/10 return off their own throw.

mccaw

The most important one of the 10 was Codie Taylor’s 73rd minute throw: the second-cap hooker was given an easy call to float the ball in at shoulder height. Flip van der Merwe and Eben Etzebeth followed the concentrated All Black threat of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick lifting Kieran Read, leaving only Ruan Pienaar standing between Richie McCaw and victory.

Australia timing their run

How ’bout them Wallabies?

It’s a World Cup year, so it only seems right that the green and gold are finding – if not exactly wonderful form, then – a winning habit.

On paper, Argentina have all the tools needed to pick apart Australia, yet they continue to put an all round game together, including some powerful late scrums, to prevail.

Argentina Australia Rugby Championship Source: AP/Press Association Images

With five minutes remaining, it looked as though Michael Cheika would have to settle for a straightforward, hard-fought win. Instead, their innate belief and the relentless Israel Folau claimed a bonus point that allows them to into their home ground on 8 August as New Zealand’s equal. The Wallabies are well-prepared for the Pool of Death.

Sopoaga provides real alternative at 10

As debuts go, they don’t get a whole lot tougher than South Africa in Johannesburg. The 24-year-old didn’t have a perfect day, but against the second best team in the world he never looked out of place.

Playing in tandem with his Highlanders half-back Aaron Smith doubtless help him to bed in, but for the most part, he out-shone his 38-cap team-mate. Along with his excellent break and ‘free throw-style’ offload for Smith’s try, the debutant displayed a maturity beyond his experience and he grew more confident from the kicking tee as the Test wore on.

smith try

While Colin Slade has been an almost ever-present fixture around the All Black camp since before the 2011 World Cup, Sopoaga already looks a more complete and assured option than the Canterbury man. Beauden Barrett is still Dan Carter’s nearest challenger for the number 10 jersey, but you never know what can happen in a World Cup (Eh, Stephen Donald?)

South Africa centres

South Africa may have run out of steam in both of their fixtures, but they can take plenty of positives from this Championship on to the big tournament. None more so than the application of their young centres.

Jean de Villiers should be fit in time for England after building up minutes with Western Province after recovering from a horrific knee injury. However, whether the captain can make the starting line-up is now far from certain.

kriel try

The combination of Damian de Allende, 23, and Jesse Kriel, 21, was always an exciting one, but we couldn’t have predicted how effective it would be. Both midfielders have been revelations in the opening fixtures, tackling, jackling, scoring and (in De Allende’s case) boshing all comers.

That the duo did it not only against New Zealand, but against the game’s most experienced midfield partnership Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, deserves serious respect.

Openside case closed for Wallabies

David Pocock has been in sensational form this season, so Michael Hooper has been fighting an uphill battle for the gold number seven shirt for a while.

Source: new viral7/YouTube

He made that hill even steeper for himself on Saturday night, punching a Puma as Dean Mumm ran in a game-breaking try. Hooper has been cited. His case will be heard on Wednesday could miss Australia’s World Cup opener against Fiji if the disciplinary committee adjudge his strike to warrant a top end sanction.

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Sean Farrell

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