It was a week to remember in the Rugby Championship with the undermanned and under siege Wallabies battling to a 23-18 victory over the Springboks in Brisbane and the All Blacks and Pumas playing out a nine-try thriller in Nelson, eventually won by the world champions by a flattering margin of 46-24.
There was some gutsy defence, especially by Australia, some stunning attacking play by the Pumas, Ramiro Moyano’s solo try among the year’s best, and the usual smattering of New Zealand brilliance.
South Africa had a night to forget in their disappointing loss but two of their pack still made our 15 which is dominated by five All Blacks and five Pumas with three Wallabies completing the selection.
Here is our XV from round three:
This is a tight one between the Puma and Ben Smith, who also had a great game, but Boffelli edges it thanks to his well taken try in the second half.
Superb game from the 21-year-old as he kept the All Blacks busy all day, making nine runs for 47 metres, two clean beaks and beating four defenders.
The All Blacks looked to have real issues when Ngani Laumape when off injured but Lienert-Brown was unstoppable off the bench, 11 runs for 62 metres, one clean break and five defenders beaten.
First game back in the starting XV for over two years and the Leicester man did not disappoint. Took his try well at a crucial point in the game, eight tackles with no misses and 15 points with the boot.
His solo try was one of the best in years as his blistering pace outfoxed Richie Mo’unga and TJ Perenara, his overall stats were just as good – 10 runs for 106 metres, three clean breaks and six defenders beaten.
Outstanding performance from the Pumas fly-half. He kicked well as usual but with ball in hand he was devastating, 13 runs for 43 metres, three clean breaks, five defenders beaten and even three off-loads.
With Aaron Smith rested the ‘Canes No9 took his chance with a superb overall game. 76 passes, three runs, 21 metres, one clean break, two well taken tries and one try-saving tackle on Delguy.
Another peerless effort from the All Blacks skipper. In good position for his try, he made six runs for 20 metres with one clean break, as well as defending strongly, making 10 tackles with two missed.
Took his chance in the starting line-up with both hands; and made a huge impact with and without the ball; a massive 18 tackles with just two missed, while he broke through the Pumas defence at will with 15 runs for 63 metres, three clean breaks, five defenders beaten and a barnstorming try
On a disappointing night for the Boks the captain was one of few bright spots; eight runs for 47 metres, two clean breaks and seven defenders beaten. Also made seven tackles without a blemish.
The Pumas workhorse put in a full 80-minute shift in both defence and attack; he took the ball up all day into a black wall with 16 runs for 17 metres, also made 12 tackles with just one miss.
A tight call between Arnold and Franco Mostert, but the Wallaby’s efforts saw his team over the line so he gets the nod; did the hard yards with nine runs for 11 metres, plus six tackles and just one miss.
The introduction of ‘Tongan Thor’ into the match on 48 minutes changed the game as he single-handedly transformed the Wallabies’ scrum, exhausted the Boks defence with three bullocking runs.
In Dane Coles’ absence the Crusaders’ rake continues to shine; he scrummaged well (as usual), was a hand-full in attack with seven runs for 41 metres and two clean breaks, plus 11 tackles.
The Boks destroyed the Wallabies scrum early and much of that was down to Kitshoff, as usual he also had a busy game in the loose with six runs and 11 tackles without a miss.
The battered and bruised All Blacks listed Sonny Bill Williams as a possible starter against South Africa next week after he spent three months sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Concussion-prone Ryan Crotty was also declared fit to go, and lock Patrick Tuipulotu earned a recall on news that Brodie Retallick and Ngani Laumape would be out for several weeks after being injured in Saturday’s hard-fought 46-24 win over Argentina in Nelson.
Retallick could be out for up to six weeks with a shoulder injury while Laumape, brought into the squad as injury cover, faces missing three weeks with a damaged knee.
But coach Steve Hansen said Crotty and Sam Cane had recovered from head knocks suffered against Australia early in the Rugby Championship, while Rieko Ioane – recovering from a hamstring injury – and Williams were also in the frame for selection.
Williams, who missed the first two Tests against France in June following knee surgery, played 58 minutes of the third Test before injuring his shoulder and has been out of action ever since.
With back-up lock Luke Romano already down with a calf strain, Tuipulotu got his recall after last playing for the All Blacks in November last year.
The towering lock scored three tries in a provincial match over the weekend in what was his first game since injuring a shoulder in May.
The All Blacks’ six-tries-to-three win over Argentina kept them well in front in the Rugby Championship, with 15 points from three bonus-point wins.
South Africa, Argentina and Australia have one win each, with South Africa second on the table courtesy of two bonus points.
This will go down as one the most courageous victories in Wallabies history.
Here’s our report card from the battle of Brisbane.
Powerful bench: With the Springboks leading 18-17 at half time and holding the physical upper-hand, the introduction of some youthful power from Wallabies replacements Folau Faingaa and Taniela Tupou turned the game Australia’s way. Tupou especially made a huge difference at scrum-time with Australia’s pack winning some big scrums in the closing stages.
Siya Kolisi: The Springbok captain was an inspiration for the tourists and the most dangerous runner on the park. He made a game-high 33 metres from eight runs, with one clean break, seven defenders beaten and even one offload. Kolisi was constantly lurking on the fringes waiting for that half gap to exploit. Defensively he also did a job with seven tackles made and none missed.
Backline cohesion: With such a patchwork Wallabies side, plus three late changes, there was always going to be a settling-in period but with a week to practice the backs should have had more fluidity. Kurtley Beale played a lot more direct than the man he replaced (Bernard Foley) usually does and with that knowledge Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua and Marika Koroibete should have been camped on his shoulder to exploit any opening.
Springboks mistakes: If the loss to Argentina in Mendoza was embarrassing, it’s hard to imagine how South African coach Rassie Erasmus will describe this one. The Boks were totally in control in the first half and dominated overall possession (56 per cent) and territory (60 per cent). A combination of poor attacking (11 handling errors to just four from the Wallabies) and defensive mistakes allowed the Wallabies to snatch it.
2 mins: Wallabies start brightly. A good break from Lukhan Tui down the left sets up a ruck just metres out from the Boks’ line. Australia stay patient and Michael Hooper dives over for the opening try.
15 mins: Too easy for the Boks. They set up a lineout close to the Wallabies line, then go for the rolling maul and stroll over. Bongi Mbonambi comes up with the five-pointer.
29 mins: Now it’s the Boks’ turn to attack close to the Wallabies line. South Africa stay patient and after the forwards suck in the defenders Faf de Klerk goes wide with a pinpoint pass to Makazole Mapimpi, who dives over.
33 mins: Madness from the Boks. A lineout close to their line and Mbonambi goes for the long throw. It skids away from Kolisi on the slippery Brisbane turf and straight into the arms of Matt Toomua who collects and slides under the posts.
39 mins: Wallabies have a defensive scrum five metres out but the Boks turn on the power and win a penalty, which Elton Jantjies lands. Important points just before half-time.
44 mins: Will Genia breaks and sets up play on the Boks’ line. Jack Maddocks is stopped inches short and the ball comes the other way to Rob Simmons who knocks on. Big chance missed for Wallabies.
48 mins: Another scrum five metres out and the Wallabies throw everything at the South African line but somehow the Boks hold on. Eben Etzebeth takes an intercept to clear the danger.
54 mins: A Toomua penalty goal puts the Wallabies in front but three points are scant reward for 88 per cent possession since half time.
61 mins: The Wallabies time to defend on their own line and the Boks look set to score but Elton Jantjies grubbers it through and it’s too long – the ball dribbles into touch.
66 mins: Incorrect call on Folau Fainga’a for a crooked throw – his second in a row. But from the resulting scrum the Wallabies win a penalty as Tupou dominates. Toomua nicks another three points.
77 mins: Francois Louw looks like he’s scored for the Boks but it’s called back for a tiny knock-on in the lead up by the TMO. Wallabies clinging to their lead.
80+ mins: It comes down to the last scrum five metres out, right in front of the Wallabies’ posts. The Boks go to the right and De Klerk’s pass is intercepted by Foley. Beale boots it into touch. Wallabies celebrate a heroic victory.
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
The Springboks were confident that they were more powerful upfront, especially with the late withdrawal of Adam Coleman, and that proved to be the case – at least in the first half.
South Africa sought the contact while the Wallabies tried to play an up-tempo ball-in-hand game. But Australia, especially with so many changes and the greasy conditions, did not have the combination or skills to play an All Blacks brand of rugby.
The Wallabies fought hard to stay in the game and in the second half it was surprisingly Australia’s bench, with big contributions from young front-rowers Fainga’a and Tupou, that turned the tide.
Australia’s scrum in the second half was a different beast to the first and made a crucial contribution at the death.
For simple guts Australia get full marks. To lose three of your top stars – David Pocock on the day before the game, and Coleman and Israel Folau on match day itself, and still win: hats off to Messrs Cheika and Hooper. Courageous effort.
It will be hard for Rassie Erasmus to find anything worthwhile in this performance. Mapimpi’s try was well taken but the school-boy mistake to gift Toomua his try was comical and kept the Wallabies in the game at a crucial point. Error-strewn.