Three famous comebacks but very different outlooks for United, Wallabies and All Blacks

Alex Broun 09:21 08/10/2018
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A weekend of extraordinary comebacks – three games, two different sports, three stunning reversals.

But the results mean something very different to all three teams involved.

In Pretoria, the world champion All Blacks came from 17 points down in the last 18 minutes to steal an incredible 32-30 victory over South Africa.

In Manchester, a club divided, and mid-table in the Premier League, put their differences aside to be United for 45 minutes to come back from 2-0 down to squeeze a 3-2 victory over a luckless Newcastle United.

And in far-flung Salta in Argentina, most remarkable of all, under-performing Australia came back from 31-7 down at half-time to defeat the Pumas 45-34 in the biggest comeback in Rugby Championship-history.

For New Zealand, there was more than a touch of inevitability about their comeback.

They have been the No1 team in the world now for well over a decade and this is just one of many extraordinary comebacks by an extraordinary team.

It was also more than justice after the Springboks held on for a fortunate victory in Wellington three weeks earlier.

But despite the victory, the All Blacks air of invincibility has taken a real battering in the two matches against the Boks.

At Loftus Versfeld, the great New Zealand side looked something they don’t appear very often – vulnerable.

The Boks made metres every time they carted the ball up and became increasingly more confident and bold with every passing moment.

The All Blacks missed a decidedly un-All Black like 16 tackles, with some of the misses very glaring indeed.

If not for two very strange substitutions by Boks coach Rassie Erasmus, who hauled off both hooker Malcolm Marx and scrum-half Faf de Klerk in the crucial final ten minutes, South Africa could have been celebrating a very rare double over the world champs.

Steve Hansen should not rejoice in this result. Yes the All Blacks did show character and strength of belief to comeback and snatch a victory, but the final five-minutes cannot undo the poor 75 minutes leading up to it.

And the final result was more to do with Erasmus’ curious substitutions and some extremely poor game management from the Springboks.

Eddie Jones in England and Joe Schmidt in Ireland will have been watching this game with considerable interest and both will now believe that they can physically dominate the All Blacks.

And if they do that, both sides could be celebrating victories in November.

The All Blacks do have the considerable presence of Brodie Retallick and Joe Moody to return to the squad, but the ineffectiveness of captain Kieran Read in Pretoria was a troubling sign. As was New Zealand’s definite susceptibility to the rush defence.

Another Springbok coach perfected a similar rush defence back in 2007, Jake White, and it led to his side claiming the Rugby World Cup that year after the All Blacks were surprise losers in the quarter-final to France. Could we see a similar sequence of events next year?

South Africa meet New Zealand in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup at Japan 2019, and at this stage you would not rule an upset out. Remembering no team that has ever lifted the Webb Ellis Cup has lost a match earlier in the tournament.

For the other two comeback kings from the weekend, the results were stays of executions for their respective coaches.

Rumours circulated before both kick-offs that a loss would signal the end of Jose Mourinho’s reign at United and Michael Cheika’s time with the Wallabies.

Cheika is now being hailed as an inspirational master with his explosive half-time team talk the supposed difference between the appalling “Wallopies” of the first half and the marauding Men of Gold in the second period.

What Mourinho said to his deflated superstars at half-time is anyone’s guess. But his tactical substitutions of Marouane Fellaini and match-winner Alexis Sanchez clearly made a difference in the second half.

The United players also seemed to play with a lot more spirit in the second half.

But if that was to do with the Old Trafford crowd, who remained supportive throughout, or their mercurial Portuguese manager is again hard to know.

The real question is whether these stunning comebacks although bringing short term joy, will cause more long-term pain.

One comeback, however spectacular, does not solve the clear issues both with United and the Wallabies. They will need to come up with a string of positive results before the question marks around both teams start to subside.

The only problem is both now face difficult fixtures in their next outings.

The Wallabies face their nemesis, the All Blacks, in Japan on October 27. The Red Devils travel to the in-form and impressive Chelsea a week earlier.

And losses in those matches, unlike the All Blacks, will have the memories of recent comebacks fading away very fast indeed.

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