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Jamie Lyall - The Roar
This externally-sourced opinion piece does not reflect the views of Australian Rugby Union.
When it comes to elite rugby, where margins between success and failure grow ever more slim, and the historical notion of haves and have-nots has been steadily eroded to the point of outright abolition, inclement weather conditions serve a dual purpose.
Just as the rain that pounded the turf and the gales that snarled at the poncho-clad spectators in Sydney and Pretoria can negate the perceived dominance of the favourites, so too can they emphasise the tactical nous of those best equipped to handle them.
In other words, it becomes a case of who can master the squall.
It feels odd to gaze southwards from beyond the equator through more than 160 minutes of Rugby Championship action that yields but a solitary try.
In both the opening Bledisloe Cup clash of 2014 and the Springboks’ bruising win over Argentina, blood and boot trumped flair and flamboyance.
Touches of brilliance from game-breakers Israel Folau, Ben Smith, Willie le Roux and Marcelo Bosch were conspicuous by their absence.
The upshot: a pair of close, but largely forgettable games of rugby.
Having enjoyed two-thirds of possession and territory, the Wallabies ought to feel aggrieved at their failure to seize the opportunity presented by Beauden Barrett’s late yellow card. But their urge to force the play, and move the ball wide too quickly, backfired on numerous occasions, as it was always destined to with the pill slippery and the conditions underfoot treacherous.
By and large however, Ewen McKenzie’s squad show signs of progression on their steady ascent from formidable foe to dominant force. They haven’t quite nurtured the ruthless streak of champions that comes only with the experience of winning big matches. In that regard, the recent success of the Waratahs should pay dividends.
Silly penalties and mistakes at crucial times, coupled with crooked feeds, kicks that drifted out on the full and a smattering of rash decisions was their undoing.
New Zealand’s patient pragmatism, fuelled by the calmness of conviction proved more successful. They kicked more accurately from hand and conceded fewer turnovers. While they did not thrive in the downpour, the All Blacks adapted to the conditions with greater effect than was evident in the oft-frantic play of their antipodean rivals.
At the centre of the scrap, the notoriously whistle-happy Jaco Peyper lived up to his reputation, but at least appears to have surpassed whatever mental barrier prevented him from punishing the Kiwis’ breakdown transgressions when he refereed the second Bledisloe fixture a year ago.
It was a similar story on the Highveld, as the Boks and the Pumas slogged it out amid a deluge that made Sydney seem positively sun-kissed by contrast.
Errors and aquaplaning were the order of the day; aches and tenderness will surely dominate tomorrow after a brutal arm wrestle between the two teams in world rugby who sport the biggest biceps.
Naturally, handling suffered, and hanging, hopeful punts dictated proceedings. The Loftus crowd were treated to a total of 78 kicks from hand, with starting scrum-halves Ruan Pienaar and Martin Landajo responsible for 18 after the former’s well-taken try in the opening minutes.
Since their Rugby Championship inception in 2012, I have found Argentina a frustrating side to watch, lurking somewhere in the no man’s land between also-rans and nearly-men.
Their rugby is personified by rugged warriors like skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, and loosehead Marcos Ayeerza, fearless souls who on their day are a match for any of their Test counterparts.
In the half-backs, Landajo and Nicolas Sanchez are two fine ball players, Marcelo Bosch adds class from midfield, while across the back-three, Manuel Montero and Joaquin Tuculet can and do hurt defences.
The pieces of the puzzle are there. Yet while the Pumas are plainly capable of hurting and beating the Southern Hemisphere’s big three, when the chips are down they fall perennially short of precision, guile and execution.
Like the Wallabies, they enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball and the field position, but squandered the chances that came their way. McKenzie’s men are on the rise; Daniel Hourcade’s need reinvigorating. While these crucial qualities elude both, so will the Bledisloe Cup, and a maiden tournament victory.
Fan article written by Jamie Lyall, originally published on www.theroar.com.au. Submit your own article to the Roar for potential publication on www.rugby.com.au