2018 Rugby Championships

Argentina 34 vs Australia 45

Saturday, October 6

Venue: Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

TMO: David Grashoff (England)

 

I am not a mechanically minded person at all. In fact, when it comes to matters mechanical, I am very close to being a complete retard. The mysteries of the internal combustion engine will forever remain unsolved and completely foreign to me. I cannot for the life of me get to grips with the fact that a small explosion in a confined space that drives a piston up and down somehow translates into forward motion for the vehicle to which that piston is attached. I do not understand how my washing machine works, as long as it does what it is supposed to do, I am happy. I have no idea what kind of magic causes stuff to heat up in a microwave oven…..

If the truth be told, I am still struggling to come to terms with my digital watch.

Which is why I am known for dealing with strange knocking noises in the engine of my car by simply turning the radio volume up until I cannot hear the engine knock any more. Problem solved.

Which brings me, oddly enough, to the rugby Test match between Australia and Argentina last weekend.

Australia, somehow, managed to produce the best bit of rugby they have played all year. In fact it was probably the best 40 minutes of rugby they have played in the last three years.

While the Wallabies suddenly started playing some rugby for a change, the Argentineans showed how overly-reliant they are on just one player. When Nicolas Sanchez left the field the entire Puma game started to fall apart.

Sadly, I missed the Wallaby comeback. I had promised myself an early night and that I would not watch this Test live on television. I would record the game and watch it in the morning, after a good night’s sleep. I was not 100% true to myself and my promise of a good night’s sleep, my curiosity and love for the game of rugby meant that I actually stayed up to watch the game. At least, I watched the game right up to the halftime whistle, and then abandoned it to go to bed.

The Aussies did not start the Test playing rugby. I am not sure what they were doing, but it was not rugby. It was the poorest 40 minutes of Test match rugby I have ever seen from a Wallaby outfit. When the half-time whistle sounded, Argentina were 31 – 7 ahead, and the game looked to be over as a contest.

Not that the Argies had been that good, it was the Wallabies that were that poor!

There seemed to be no point in staying up to watch any more of an abject display of incompetence. It had been a terrible 40 minutes already and any more would likely spoil the rest of my night.

I awoke on Sunday morning to the most beautiful Langebaan day imaginable. The lagoon was turquoise-blue, barely a breath of air disturbed the leaves on the trees, and not a cloud in the sky. My first coffee of the day is always the best one, the heart-starter that shakes off the vestiges of sleep and sets me up for the day. That caffeine hit is my one serious indulgence in chemical warfare since I quit smoking 20 years ago. I knew I had some work to do; my report on the wonderful Test in Pretoria; an analysis of the stats from that game, an hour or so watching the replay of my recording of the game, with the remote in hand, watching specific moments again and again with the benefit of slow motion replay. And then I had to watch the rest of the Argie/Aussie affair.

As I sipped at my coffee I switched on my television and went straight to the News24 headlines app to catch up with what had happened in the big wide world.

The Americans were confirming the appointment of a man to their Supreme Court bench, a supposedly impartial bench of 9 judges, yet the man who was being confirmed had shown his totally partisan alignment with the right wing during his tearfully public ranting at the Senate confirmation hearing. A politically slanted rant that would surely disqualify anyone from such a public office anywhere in the world save for the most dysfunctional country in the world.

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has little or no impact in my village on the West Coast of South Africa. If it were not for the fascinating spectacle of a country ripping itself apart at the seams it would be a matter of complete indifference to me.

I skipped to important stuff, the Sports headlines, and there it was: The shock of the day!

The Wallabies had, somehow, managed to beat the Argentineans in Salta!

Now that was real news!

Quite how they had managed to turn the game around would have to wait. I wanted to finish my report on the Springbok/All Black encounter before I sat down to watch the second half of the Test in Salta.

As soon as I had clicked the “upload” button on my screen and my scribblings about the Test in Pretoria were published for those who suffer from insomnia to use as a form of sleeping potion, I returned to watch the second half of Australia playing against Argentina.

As I watched the final 40 minutes of the 2018 Rugby Championships unfold, I found myself asking all sorts of questions.

What had Michael Cheika done or said during the half-time break to galvanize this Wallaby team into becoming something resembling a rugby team? (Hindsight tells us that he delivered a rollicking rant at his team in the changeroom, we can see the pictures, but we do not have the privilege of listening to his explosion!)

Whatever he said, it must have touched a nerve in all those men wearing the Wallaby jumper. They were a different team when the second half kicked off. A completely different team.

One has to ask, why did it take until the second half of the last match of the Rugby Championship for the Wallabies to start playing the game as if they were real rugby players? Where was their composure, where was their focus, where was their intensity, where were they in the first five games of the competition?

We may never know what Michael Cheika said to his players, but we have to ask why it took a volcanic eruption by the coach to get the Wallabies to start playing rugby? Where had the pride and passion been up to that moment?

Where had the team’s captain and the leadership group been during the previous 5 games and, more especially, in the first 40 minutes of this final Test of the competition?

Where had the thinkers and motivators been? Who had decided on the game plan for that first 40 minutes? Who decided to change it?

Where had the Wallabies been, collectively, right up to that half-time rant?

It was very obvious that the Wallabies had changed their game plan in the second half. The expansive lateral play and constant attempts to take the ball wide of that woeful first half were replaced by a direct, basic game plan, taking the flat ball hard and straight to the Argentineans, and running good, close-in support lines. It was simple, basic stuff without the frills and practice-ground tricks and angles for which the Wallabies have something of a reputation.

The tempo of the Wallaby game increased beyond recognition. They carried the ball with purpose and pace, while they attacked the Argentinean space with similar purpose and pace when defending. They started to make their tackles, they focussed on the man with the ball, and they showed some real intent in shutting down the time and space the Pumas had with the ball.

They rattled the Pumas, who had lost their playmaker-in-chief and general Nicolas Sanchez late in the first half and were clearly missing his direction and influence on both attack and on the defence. The Pumas’ own defences started to fall apart and their attack lost all direction and purpose. In fact they started to look like the 1st half Wallabies!

Where had this Wallaby game plan and this Wallaby team been during 2018? (Or 2017 for that matter….)

Which brings me to the mechanical mysteries that I had mentioned in the first paragraphs of this match report.

Much as I turn up the volume on my car’s radio to hide the sound of something that might or might not have gone wrong, the audio equivalent of papering over the cracks in a wall, will this rousing performance paper over the very real cracks in Australian Rugby?

Has this solitary performance somehow secured Michael Cheika’s future  as the Wallaby coach, as well as the future of his assistant coaches? Will this short 40-minute period drown out the noise of the series loss to Ireland and the visibly flawed 2018 Rugby Championship campaign and unworkable game plan? Will this 40-minute period paper over the selections that so many have questioned?

Will Rugby Australia step in to help Cheika with additional coaching and support staff resources? Will they rethink the current coaching structure, which certainly seems to be flawed?

As I said, watching the Wallaby second half performance provided few answers, but did ask a lot of questions.

Turning to the Argentinean performance. The immediate visible reality of their performance is their total reliance on Nicolas Sanchez as their general both on attack and when organising the defence. From the moment he left the field, their Pumas started to look like a lesser team. Yes, they continued their scoring momentum right up to the end of the first half, but that was on the back of a woeful display by the Wallabies, even a local school selection might well have scored a couple against the Wallabies at that time.

The second reality that the Argentineans have to face is their lack of overall depth. As a country with some 60 000 registered rugby players they do punch well above their weight division in terms of their 9th place World Rugby ranking. Their biggest problem, however, is that their top players either play for the Jaguares in Super Rugby, or earn a living playing elsewhere in the rugby universe. With so many quality players playing in England, France, Italy, and Japan, the depth of their squad is compromised. The bulk of the team are Jaguares players, with just a few of the foreign legion being available for national selection.

The over-reliance on just one local team to provide the bulk of the national playing squad provides for a serious lack of player resources as a season progresses. Whereas the likes of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa can and do rotate players in and out of playing squads in order to provide for rest periods and recuperation from minor injuries, the Pumas are forced to field the same players, week in and week out. An injured player is ofe=ten irreplaceable.

This was evident in the final 40 minutes of this Test as the Argentineans started to run out of gas. Despite playing at home with a supporting crowd larger than any the Aussies could muster back in Australia, the wheels were slowly but surely deflating. The loss of Sanchez, and then fatigue, took its toll on the Pumas, just as the Wallabies found something extra in their desperation, perhaps in the anger of the coach too, and produced the goods.

For the record, the Wallabies scored through Michael Hooper, Izack Rodda, Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty (2) and David Pocock, while Argentina’s try-scorers were Pablo Matera, Emiliano Boffelli, Matias Orlando and Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias in a game of the much cliched two halves.

A dream opening 40 minutes for the Pumas gave then a 31-7 lead at the break, thanks to four tries, with Australia’s entire game a woeful display of poor rugby.

The second half changed the Puma dream into a nightmare. It started when Gonzalo Bertranou’s box kick was charged down and Rodda crossed under the posts, with Foley’s conversion making it 31-14 on 45 minutes.

From there on it was all Australia, as Folau’s try made it 31-21. Then Dane Haylett-Petty’s try out on the left touchline piled on the pressure.

A 60th minute penalty conversion by Gonzalez Iglesias was eradicated as David Pocock crashed over three minutes later, with Foley’s conversion giving the Wallabies a 35-34 lead in the game.

That lead stretched to eight points as Australia’s sixth try was scored by Dane Haylett-Petty scoring. Foley added a penalty of the game on 75 minutes, to close out the game.

It was an unlikely result after a truly terrible first half.

And it has answered very few questions………..

The scorers:

For Argentina:
Tries: Matera, Boffelli, Orlando, Gonzalez Iglesias
Cons: Sanchez 3, Gonzalez Iglesias
Pens: Gonzalez Iglesias 2

For Australia:
Tries: Hooper, Rodda, Folau, Haylett-Petty 2, Pocock
Cons: Foley 6
Pen: Foley
Yellow Card: Latu

The teams:

Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere

Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Rory Arnold, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Matt Toomua, 24 Tom Banks