2019 Rugby Championships.

Round Two Review

Are we any the wiser after the second round of the Southern Hemisphere’s showpiece, the Rugby Championships?

Did we learn anything from the experimentation and pre-World Cup preparations that are embodied in the 2019 Rugby Championships?

I would suggest, in the main, there was not much of real import to learn.

We did learn that after the second round of the competition, South Africa top the log with 7 points and a positive points difference of +18. New Zealand are second on 6 points and have a +6 points difference. 

Australia are 3rdwith 4 points and a negative -12 points difference, while the Argentineans lag with 2 points and a -10 points difference.

With just one round of matches left in this truncated 2019 competition, that tells us that, realistically, it is between South Africa and New Zealand for the trophy. If both win their next outing, it would need the All Blacks to add a try scoring bonus point while the South Africans do not get the bonus, for the two to be tied at the top of the table. The Kiwis would also have to wipe out their points difference deficit of 14 points to overhaul the South Africans. Steve Hansen has said that winning the trophy is not on their agenda at the moment, but this might be mere smoke and mirrors, if I were a Wallaby I would be just a little wary about the game in Perth.

Australia would need to beat New Zealand in Perth, with three tries more than the New Zealanders, and by a monstrous score to wipe out their negative points difference if they hope to overhaul either of the two teams ahead of them. They would need a full five point haul, including the try scoring bonus point, in order to win the trophy, while both New Zealand and South Africa would have to lose. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

Argentina, sadly have no chance of overhauling anybody. They could draw level with South Africa, if they can beat the Springboks and bank a try scoring bonus point. Again, not impossible, but highly unlikely.

What else did we learn?

We learned that the Springbok and All Black “A” teams still have little to choose between them. We learned that both teams are still ring-rusty and short of a gallop or two. The unofficial “A” teamers all had a couple or three weeks off from actual game play, a week more than their “B” team colleagues, and it will take time to get that match-fitness going. Combinations are still rusty, and cogs and gears need oiling. Neither team are anywhere near World Cup ready.

We learned that the two coaches, Steve Hansen and Rassie Erasmus are playing some serious poker, with their cards held close and giving nothing away.

We did learn that both countries have plenty of depth available.

The lessons learned in Brisbane were a little different. We learned that the Aussies can win, if they can get some dominance up front. We learned that they do have an alternative flyhalf who can manage a game well. 

We also learned that their bench is perhaps their weakness which could become a serious issue if one or more of the first choicers get injured. They may have to bring back some more of their foreign legion.

We learned that the Super Rugby season is catching up with the Puma/Jaguares, fatigue is kicking in, and we know that they have almost no depth at all. We learned that they miss Augustin Creevy, even if he is not the captain anymore.

Sadly, in both games we learned that the refereeing still leaves much to be desired.

Saturday 27thJuly

New Zealand v South Africa

Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington .                                                       .                                                   
Referee Nic Berry (Australia)

Before we go and investigate something that I found rather interesting in the local media, let me begin my review of this game by saying that this was an enthralling, entertaining Test match between two great rivals, but it was also a Test between two teams that are clearly not fully prepared for Test Match rugby. Ring rust was again evident across the park as both teams fielded almost entirely different line-ups to those that started the first Rugby Championships Tests last week.

Added to the ring rustiness was an obvious effort to reveal nothing at all of the respective teams’ preparations for the World Cup later this year. 

We saw none of the All Blacks’ new, much discussed and anticipated, dual-playmaker attacking set-up. We saw no practiced moves, ploys or tactics from either side. We saw no tricky lineout variations or drives. We saw no support running plays, we saw no inside passes and cuts or cut-backs. We saw just one attempt at a kick-pass. These were two teams that were holding their cards very close to their chests.

All we saw was simple, direct rugby.

Simple, direct rugby played with that huge intensity and focus seen in all Tests between South Africa and New Zealand. Always.

But it was cat-and-mouse stuff, probing for weaknesses, and finding the pressure points, looking for the crack in the wall, and the like, but nothing new, nothing extra, and nothing to send a clue of either side’s preparations and readiness for the World Cup. 

From that perspective only, it was a kinda bland Test.

Not that a Test match between the All Blacks and South Africa is ever bland. 

This was a most enjoyable tussle between two sides who both wanted to win the game, and were not going to give an inch.

For the second time in two years, it was the All Blacks that will come away from Wellington just a little worried.

If referee Nic Berry had acceded to Duane Vermeulen’s suggestion that he consult the TMO and take a look at the replay immediately after he had awarded a critical penalty to New Zealand in the 73rd minute of the game, after a clear and obvious knock on at the ruck, there would have been no three-pointer for Richie Mo’unga to convert, and this game could very easily have gone the way of the South Africans. (Where was the touch judge/assistant referee, and what was he doing to miss that knock?)

It was that close. 

However, there is no point of “what iffing” the game. The 16-16 draw was a fair result, with both sides able to take much from it, without having given anything away.

My talking point from this game?

I was interested by a headline on News24.  The headline says: Scoreboard says DRAW, stats paint a different picture!”  They go on to say that the game might well be a draw, but the stats indicate that one team dominated the 80 minutes completely.

If we look purely at the final numbers, the “raw data” as some of my more numerically enlightened friends might say – then there is no doubt that the All Blacks dominated the game. Just.

After all, they carried the ball 141 times and gained 395 meters with the ball in hand, while the Springboks carried it just 99 times and gained just 245 meters with the ball in hand. (These are Sanzaar’s stats, they measure meters carried as the number of meters made up or down the field. The ball carried sideways does not accumulate to the ground gained with the ball in hand. If we use actual running meters, the All Blacks made 813, and the Springboks 493.)

The All Blacks beat 22 defenders, and the Springboks just 10. The hosts made 7 clean breaks and the visitors just 3.

New Zealand passed the ball 207 times, more than double the South African total of just 103.

Offloads were pretty even, with the Springboks making 10 and New Zealand 13.

The above are all those game stats that are considered to be “attacking” statistics.

On defence, the Springboks had to make 155 tackles, and missed 22, while the All Blacks made just 91, but missed 10.

So – in pure numbers – that “raw data” so beloved of the numerically superior and the bean counters, New Zealand dominated the game.

But did they?

Let’s analyse those numbers just a little bit.

The All Blacks carried the ball 141 times and gained 395 meters – that would thus be an average of just 2,8 meters per carry. If we look at meters gained versus actual running meters, 813m, then the All Blacks went sideways of backwards with the ball for 418 meters! In contrast the Springboks carried the ball just 99 times and gained just 245 meters, but in per carry terms, they made 2,5 meters per carry. Their total running meters, 493m, tells us that they went backwards or sideways for 248 meters. Not much “domination” there then?

Switch to the defence, and we see South Africa making 155 tackles and missing 22, or a tackle success rate of 88%. New Zealand made 91 tackles and missed 10, so a success rate of just on 90% – pretty much of a muchness then?

The important rating- the one that tells us how the game was played is the rating of dominant tackles. 21 of South Africa’s 155 tackles were rated as “dominant” tackles, just 5 of the All Black tackles received a “dominant” ranking. “Dominant” is measured by tackling the ball carrier backwards and achieving subsequent dominance in the contest for the ball.

Possession was close too, 56% to New Zealand and 44% to South Africa.

Where exactly did the New Zealanders then dominate the game?

Territory? Nope, it was just 54% to 46% in New Zealand’s favour. Although they had far the better of the second half, one must not forget that South Africa had almost all the territorial advantage in the first 40 minutes..

Scrums were pretty even, South Africa lost one, but were only penalised in the scrum once, while the All Blacks were penalised twice.

Lineouts too, were pretty even. South Africa overthrew the ball twice, but only had one ball stolen on the throw, while the South Africa stole two of the New Zealand put ins.

The Rucks?

New Zealand took the ball into the ruck 116 times, and lost the ball twice. South Africa took the ball into the ruck 77 times, and lost the ball twice. The number of rucks set, in modern rugby, is a factor of the number of carries into contact, and given that the All Blacks carried the ball more often, they would then automatically (logically) set up more rucks. Once again, a close look tells us that the rucks were pretty much honours even.

The telling stat is that the All Blacks were turned over in the tackle and other contact points no less than 17 times, while the Springboks were turned over 12 times.

So, while all the stats do suggest that the All Blacks “dominated” the game, the analysis of the critical stats tells us a different story.

Possession, passes, carries, offloads, and the like tell us part of the story, but we have to look at what the opposition allowed you to do with that possession, in all those carries. What effect did all those passes and offloads have on the game?

When you are carrying the ball forward for an average gain of just 2,8 meters per carry, the between-the-lines story is that you are not really going anywhere with the ball you have! If you are taking it backwards or sideways for 418 meters, it is indicative of running with the ball under defensive pressure. Why else would you go sideways or backwards?

If you are tackled on or behind the gainline, your possession begins to look a little less impressive. And if 21 of the 155 tackles made on you are rated as dominant, then the story begin to emerge of a superb defensive effort by one of the teams. (Or, if the truth be told in this Test, both of the teams!)

Compare with 2018

I will take you back to Wellington 2018, when South Africa beat New Zealand in the self-same Cake Tin where Saturday’s Test was played. 

In that Test the Springboks made all of 291 tackles, with just 34 missed, an almost unbelievable 91% completion rate in the pressure-cooker environment of that day.

On that day the All Blacks had to make just 87 tackles, missing 9 for a success rate of 91% matching that of the visitors. 

In 2018 the All Blacks made 212 carries for 1091 running meters, to the Springboks  61 carries for 418 running meters. (I do not have the meters gained per carry stat.) The All Blacks passed the ball 236 times and the Springboks just 63. There were 10 linebreaks by the New Zealanders and just 2 by the South Africans. The 2018 All Blacks took the ball into the ruck 163 times ad lost the ball 4 times. The Springboks set just 42 rucks, and also lost 4 balls……………

In fact, statistically, the All Blacks dominated that 2018 game far more than they dominated the 2019 game. Yet the All Blacks lost that game!

I could go on and on, making statistical comparisons and drawing all kinds of conclusions from the numbers, yet the fact remains that the Springboks have beaten the All Blacks in Wellington, and then drawn a game with them a year later, in the same venue.

And if we set the stats aside for a moment and look at how the game was played, it was again a case of the South Africans putting enormous pressure on the All Blacks when they had hold of the ball, and forcing them to play the game off the back foot. It is becoming apparent that the All Blacks are vulnerable when they have to play off the back foot, and they do not like it at all.

Rassie Erasmus might be right when he says that South Africa were lucky, but I would suggest that the luck came from a never-say-die spirit that he has engendered in his team since he took over the reins. There are Springbok teams in the very recent past that would simply have surrendered after Mo’unga’s 73rdminute penalty, but not the 2019 vintage!

Clashes between these two teams are almost traditionally tense affairs. Springboks and the All Blacks have a way of reserving their very best for games against each other.

Let me remind you, the last four Tests between these two teams stretching back to Cape Town in October 2017, have been decided by a combined five points.

Now that is a truly interesting statistic!

Player Ratings

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux 5

Rusty, very rusty, not his usual sparkling self, although his experience was invaluable. Covered well on defence, kicked a couple of good touch-finders. Some of his tactical kicking was short of pin-point accurate. Made a massively important tackle on Beauden Barrett. Did not “find” his two wings to form an effective back-three unit.

14 Cheslin Kolbe 8

Sheer guts! The tiny fellow outplayed and outmuscled the much fancied Reiko Ioane, was safe under the high-ball, his defence was exemplary, and he scrambled across wonderfully. Gave the All Black defence a hard time too. That chip kick for Herschel Jantjies’ try was a thing of beauty. Perhaps the most significant aspect was his sheer bravery and commitment to the cause. Took the knocks and came back for more.

13 Lukhanyo Am 4

Seemed out of his depth. His defence was just a little iffy, with a couple of moments where he missed his alignment with the rest of the rush defenders. Did make a couple of good tackles on Goodhue, but was at fault when Barrett joined the line and broke through. Rather predictable with the ball in hand, and missed a couple of passing opportunities when he preferred to die with the ball rather than ensure continuity of play. 

12 Damian de Allende 6

Some may decry his lack of penetration and sparkle on the day, which is more than a little misguided. His job definition on a day where the Springbok game plan was predicated on a direct, low risk game, was clear – get the ball over the gain line, and he did exactly what his coach asked him to do. His job was to a) Stop SBW – which he did very effectively, and b) Take the ball over the gain line, and he did that too. Yes, it was very predictable – but so was the entire Springbok effort. He did his job. Period.

11 Makazole Mapimpi 4

Another who seemed to be out of his depth. His penchant for drifting in on defence caused plenty of headaches out wide. The defence plan may work when the understanding with his fullback and opposite wing is well oiled and practiced – the pendulum that can cover his inward rush – but it was not there on Saturday, and it forced some serious scrambling to cover the hole he left behind him. Should not have allowed Goodhue to get close to the posts, but gave up the chase. There just seems to be an air of desperation at times. Got no chances with the ball in hand, and did not go looking for work either.

10 Handré Pollard 7

That final equalising kick under the most severe pressure anyone could experience on a rugby field tells it all. The cool, calm approach, and almost nerveless kick tells of a man who has the BMT for the critical moments. However, the earlier missed kick could have made all the difference if it had stretched the Springbok lead out to 9 points, it could well have changed the flavour of the game…. Some strong carries, one memorable barge into Kieran Read that the All Black captain will not want to watch on the replay video. A couple of passes seemed to be a little rushed, and one over-cooked cross-kick. It was a slightly rusty performance, but certainly good enough on the day.

9 Francois de Klerk 6

His usual, busy, bustling, accurate game. With some accurate box-kicking from the base. He was his usual unpredictable self, and caused the All Blacks plenty of problems until he left the field.  

8 Duane Vermeulen 6

Rusty. Period. Perhaps weighed down by the captaincy role, he was not quite the Thor we expected. Made some good carries, made some good tackles, but appeared just a little off his best. A lost ball in contact led to the All Black try just before the break. Found some rhythm and form later in the game, making some very good tackles.

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 7

This guy is simply unbelievable. Roamed the field doing what he does best. Smashing tackles, huge cleanouts, some good carries. Stayed in the game for the entire 80, and seemed never to tire for a moment. Perhaps not as influential as he was against the Aussies, but it was not that kind of game. Was right up with play when the game-saving try was scored. Yet another exceptional performance.

6 Kwagga Smith 6

Not the kind of game where he can have a massive impact – the game was too tight and direct from his skills and running in broken play, yet he did exactly what he needed to do. Some good carries and some good breakdown work. Worked hard over the ball, and was a nuisance on the All Black ball. Closed down the space around Richie Mo’unga and SBW very well. Perhaps a half-a-kilo too light for such direct games, but worth his place in the side.

5 Franco Mostert 7

One of the grafters in the really hard stuff. His work rate was exceptional as he stayed in the game right to the end. Good under the kick-receipt, good in lineouts, great on the fringes.  

4 Eben Etzebeth 7

Not quite fully match-fit, he was tiring after a full-80 against the Wallabies and then a long haul flight to New Zealand and 50 minutes of a hard, direct, physical clash with the old enemy. While he was on the field he put the frighteners on a couple of All Blacks, carrying with powerful intent, made some big crunching tackles, and imposed himself across the field. A good lineout steal, and a very good take of a kick-off. Not at his best yet, but is getting there!

3 Frans Malherbe 5

Not  his most visible day in a green & gold jersey. Did his job in the scrums, but seemed rusty and unfit, “sucking in the big ones” as the Aussies like to say. Needs to get match-fit and needs to do more than scrum. 

2 Malcolm Marx 5

Yet more evidence of ring rust. Nowhere near the presence expected of him both in open play and over the ball on the ground. Made some good hits, but seemed short of a game or two to get his gears all working. Lineouts iffy. Did what he had to do in the scrums, but we are used to so much more……..

1 Steven Kitshoff 6

Solid in the scrums and made his usual contribution when carrying the ball into contact. Needs to look for the offload a bit more frequently, as his carrying has become a bit predictable and thus defendable. Made his presence felt at the breakdowns, with one great turnover..

Replacements:

16 Bongi Mbonambi 6 (On for Malcolm Marx, 70th minute)

Did his job, scrummed solidly, carried well, tackled hard. Lineouts still a bit wobbly. 

17 Tendai Mtawarira 6(On for Steven Kitshoff, 58th minute)

There are still some miles in the old warhorse. Did his job in the scrum, did his job around the park. Some good defence, a couple of good carries. 

18 Trevor Nyakane 7 (On for Frans Malherbe, 56th minute)

Fresh legs had an immediate impact in the scrum. Some good work on defence too. One of his better days at the office.  

19 Rudolph RG Snyman 5 (On for Eben Etzebeth, 50th minute)

Seemed a little overwhelmed by the occasion and did not find his “A” game. Seemed rusty. Made a silly mistake at the kick off to concede a penalty. Carried well, but short of his imposing self.

20 Francois Louw 6 (On for Kwagga Smith, 67th minute)

A critical turnover on defence, made his tackles, and brought the calmness of experience in those last 15 minutes.

21 Herschel Jantjies 7(On for Francois de Klerk, 44th minute)

This kid is not fazed by the Big Time – simply stepped in for Faf de Klerk and carried on where he left off last week. Handled the big game pressure well, scored the game-saver at the end.

22 Frans Steyn 5 (On for Damian de Allende, 56th minute)

Nothing new, nothing special, seemed to be a bit slow at times. No real impact. Did nothing wrong. 

23 Jesse Kriel 5 (On for Lukhanyo Am, 50th minute)

Brought nothing new to the team when he came on, but missed a couple of tackles and got his timing wrong on defence. Mostly just very ordinary.

New Zealand:

15 Beauden Barrett 7

Some may suggest that he is a natural fullback. I would say that he is a natural footballer and could play anywhere – wing, midfield, fullback of flyhalf. Barrett is an allrounder, and it was evident in his game. He set up Goodhue’s try, and always threatened with the ball in hand. But does he do any different when he plays flyhalf? I think the All Blacks missed his game management at 10.  Those two missed penalties detracted from a mostly strong display.

14 Ben Smith 5 

Did his job on the wing. Made 34 metres on 10 carries, but did miss a couple of tackles. I do think he is still better at 15, although he did not let his team down.

13 Jack Goodhue 6

Good all-round game. Good finishing of the try in the 1sthalf, carried well, ran very good support lines. Was strong into the tackle, and solid on defence. A good day at the office.

12 Sonny Bill Williams 5

Seemed very rusty, which is not unexpected after the time he has spent out of the game. Did what was asked of him, but was wholly contained by his opposite number, De Allende, and the Springbok loosies. Made 7 tackles, but did not bring much on attack.

Some early errors and made just 16 metres in 10 carries. A perfect wide pass in Goodhue’s try. 

11 Rieko Ioane 4

Woefully short of the form and focus that makes him an automatic choice for the All Blacks. Contained, rattled even, by opposite Cheslin Kolbe. When he did get the ball, his hands let him down. 

10 Richie Mo’unga 5

For me the jury is still out on his starting role. The All Blacks’ strategy of playing two playmakers was not exploited, and he was well contained and disrupted by the Springbok defence, which resulted in a somewhat rattled, hesitant first 40 by the Crusaders’ playmaker. Certainly does not like playing off the back-foot or under defensive pressure. Two charge-downs suggested that he had not upped his pace to Test match level. Found his feet a bit in the second half as his forwards fought back and started to give him some front-foot ball. Not sure that he should not be used as a late-game impact payer rather than a starter.

9 TJ Perenara 5

Rusty and a bit slow out of the starting blocks, he got better as the game wore on. Very good over the ball and effecting the steal. His passing was not up to scratch.

8 Kieran Read 5

Strangely out of sorts, not just as a player but as captain too. Does not seem to be match fit at all. Handling let him down, though he was safe on defence. Zero impact with the ball in hand. 

7 Matt Todd 7

Sometimes seemed as if he was the only All Black forward who was Test ready. Massive defence, with 18 tackles, and was a presence over the ball. Did his job. Not much impact in the attack and when carrying, but that was probably because of the way the game was being played by both teams.

6 Shannon Frizell 5

Did what was expected, but nothing more. More solid than spectacular. Made his tackles, but that was about it. 

4 Brodie Retallick 5

Largely anonymous throughout his time on the field. One huge hit in the build-up to Jack Goodhue’s try. Did his job in the line-outs. Not his best performance in the black jersey.

5 Sam Whitelock 6

Like his counterpart Mostert, he was invisible, but for all the right reasons. He was doing his job down in the dark mysterious underworld of rugby. Stood up in the second half with some very good support play.

1 Joe Moody 4

Probably the most rusty of them all – his time out of the game showed. His scrummaging was just average, while his general play was poor. His hands let him down. Was running out of fuel towards the end of his spell. 

2 Codie Taylor 7

Did his job, and did it well. Overshadowed Malcolm Marx in general play. Made his tackles, and made them count, the second highest tackle count in the AB lineup. Quiet in the loose, but it was that kind of game. 

3 Owen Franks 5

Did his job in the scrums, but not much else. Seems short of gas.

Replacements:

16 Dane Coles 6

Imposed himself out wide, with some very aggressive carries and clever hands. Dropped an uncharacteristic pass. Brought some dynamic impetus to the game. He may be starting games sooner than expected. 

17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi 5

One good scrum, and then nothing much else. Made four tackles, and carried the ball a couple of times. Seems a little out of his depth. 

18 Angus Ta’avao 6

Brought some dynamism around the park, although his scrummaging was just average. Looked fit.

 19 Vaea Fifita 4

Did not show anything of his potential. Seemed to be hanging back just a little. Wasn’t able to make much of an impact on attack and didn’t really get stuck into defending. Probably did not like having to play lock for Retallick.

20 Dalton Papalii

3 minutes was not enough time for a rating. 

21 Aaron Smith 6

He made a statement when he came on and the All Blacks seemed to kick up a notch. Got the ball out to his backs quickly to get them onto the front foot. Should still be their preferred starting 9.

22 Anton Lienert-Brown 5

He prefers an open game with plenty of broken play opportunities, and this was not that kind of game. Looked creative and interested, but did not really get the flow going in his direction. Some good stepping carries. Nothing much happened, though. 

23 George Bridge 5

His 19 minutes were so much better than the 61 from Ioane, but still did not really make an impact. Made the most of his chances with 3 carries for 18 meters. Might have done enough to get a start next time out.

Australia v Argentina

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.                                                  .                   
Referee Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

As tight and enthralling as the game in New Zealand might have been, so dour and uninteresting was this error-riddled affair in Brisbane.

Yes, the Wallabies won a Test at last. So there is something for their loyal fans to celebrate.

But the brutal reality of this game was that it was a poor game of rugby, riddled with no less than 60 handling errors – 29 by the Wallabies and 31 by the Pumas. This was a game where the ball was in play for 34 minutes, there were 23 lineouts, 20 scrums, and 172 rucks. If we take no account of the time the ball is in play in the scrum or lineout, and just look at handling errors and rucks, we see a handling error every 30 seconds, and a ruck every 11 seconds. Small wonder then that only 31 000 people turned up to watch. They got over 60 000 in there before! The rest of Brisbane had no need for a cure for insomnia!

Oh, there were some bright moments.

Christian Lealiifano’s return to top flight rugby was pleasing for both Wallaby fans and rugby lovers across the world. It was good to see him back, and he certainly made the Aussie backline look much better than they had looked a week ago when Bernard Foley was calling the shots.

The entire Wallaby effort was built on a dominant scrum as they simply ripped the Pumas apart at the set-piece. 

Certainly, the Wallaby scrum was much better this week, but I do believe that was as more a result  of an exceptionally poor performance by the Puma scrum without Augustin Creevy in charge.

This was Will Genia’s farewell match in Brisbane as he has announced his retirement from international rugby after the World Cup, and he gave his usual assured performance as he bid farewell to his old home field..

Marika Koroibete found a bit of form and was far more involved in the game than many of his teammates, and it was his line break that led to Hodge’s try – the only bright moment in a dull half of rugby.

By far the stand-out performance of this game (Please note that I did not say “outstanding” I said “stand-out”) was the display by referee Ben O’Keeffe.

The 2019 Super Rugby competition was blighted by some of the most incompetent refereeing seen in many a year of professional rugby. On Saturday we saw one of the worst Test level refereeing performances it has been my misfortune to witness in many decades!

Ben O’Keeffe is one of the referees nominated to take charge of games at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Based on what we saw on Saturday, he should not be in charge of an u/13 girls netball match.

Once the Wallabies had noted that he had absolutely no interest in policing the side entry into the rucks, they went to town – they came in from every angle on the compass, unchallenged and unpunished, making it well-nigh impossible for the Argentineans, already playing without Augustin Creevy, to compete for the ball on the ground. In one incident Marika Koroibete actually arrived at the ruck from the Argentinean side of the field, stopped to observe proceedings standing next to the ruck, and then joined in. He had not retreated past the offside line, nor did he join from behind. He had not even come from his own side of the field of play! 

This was allowed to happen at ruck after ruck, after ruck.

O’Keeffe similarly ignored the offside line at the ruck, allowing players to launch their defensive rush from a meter, sometimes more past the offside line.

As for his policing of the scrums, this was closer to a joke than reality. Time after time the two Aussie looseheads, Sekope Kepu and then James Slipper went to ground, hinging from the waist and getting an elbow or more onto the playing surface without comment or punishment. He either reset the scrum muttering platitudes, or he let the scrum continue despite the pileup of bodies on the ground. Yet the moment the Pumas went to ground they were penalised! 

When James Slipper angled in to scrum at an almost 90 degree angle, it was the Pumas who were pinged for “walking around”.

When the Wallaby front row lifted the Argentinean front row clear off the ground, it was the Argies who were pinged for “standing up” and “not staying in the contest” – the first explanation is a clear breach of the requirements of the scrum law, and contrary to the prescript of Law 9, Foul Play, where Law 9.19.c says “a front row player must not intentionally lift and opponent off their feet or force and opponent upwards out of the scrum.” A penalisable offence for the lifter, not the lifted! 

His second explanation cannot be found anywhere in the Laws or the Law clarifications issued by World Rugby. There is no such thing as “not staying in the contest” – a penalisable offence in Ben O’Keeffe’s opinion, but also much beloved by South Africa’s Marius van der Westhuizen. Law 19.25 says: If a scrum collapses or if a player in the scrum is lifted or is forced upwards out of the scrum, the referee must blow the whistle immediately so that players stop pushing.”The scrum must be reset. There is no provision for penalising the team that is lifted from the ground!

Not that O’Keeffe’s refereeing was the reason for the Argentinean defeat. It quickly became obvious that the Pumas were playing at a lower intensity level than the week before at home against the All Blacks. They appeared fatigued, a moment too slow to react, a half-a-second off in their timing, struggling to stay in the game.

In last week’s preview I spoke of the problems of a team drawn from just one club, and the fact that there was almost no reserve depth available for the Pumas. If their game against the Wallabies is anything to go by, they may be in some seriously deep water by the time the RWC comes around.

If I were a Wallaby supporter, I would be thinking, wondering, what lies ahead? If the Wallabies, with complete scrum dominance, lineouts that are working well, and home ground advantage, were struggling to put a clearly out-of-sorts Argentina away, what lies ahead when the All Blacks arrive in Perth in two weeks’ time?

I will not be doing a play-by-play or a player-by-player analysis of this game. I will leave that for the Aussie media and fans.

And that dear friends, is all I have to say about Round Two of the 2019 Rugby Championships.