RWC 2019: Wingers Bridge the gap for New Zealand and other South Africa talking points

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Reigning champions New Zealand were ruthless and clinical as they squashed South Africa to open up their Rugby World Cup defence with a 23-13 victory over the Springboks.

A Handre Pollard penalty opened the scoring in Yokohama City as Rassie Erasmus’ side stormed out of the blocks. But tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett in quick succession put the All Blacks in the ascendancy.

The Boks were much better after the interval and Pieter-Steph du Toit swan-dived over to get them back in it. But the All Blacks retained a degree of order with two late penalties keeping them in control.

Here are our talking points from an enthralling Test match.

NEW BOYS BRIDGE THE GAP

George Bridge scores to put the All Blacks in the lead.

George Bridge scores to put the All Blacks in the lead.

Eyebrows were raised on the eve of the game when Steve Hansen named Sevu Reece and George Bridge as his starting wings. Players with five (Bridge) and three (Reece) caps starting in the biggest tournament there is.

And yet, as has been the case throughout the years with All Blacks players, nothing fazes them. They are built to be the best. After the 2015 World Cup, rivals thought it was their time to close the gap following the retirements of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu.

Instead, Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown and Codie Taylor – among others – stepped in seamlessly to fill the void. So it should come as no surprise then that Reece and Bridge nervelessly entered the elite level and played like they had always belonged.

Crusaders flyer Reece, 22, made the third most metres of any player (59), behind only team-mate Lienert-Brown (63) and South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe (118). He also made the joint-most clean breaks (2) and it was his surging run down the right win that led to New Zealand’s opening try.

It was scored by his Crusaders colleague Bridge, 24, who beat three defenders during the game – as did Reece. Both were also more than effective in defence – Bridge missing just one of his eight attempted tackles.

Reliable Hansen lieutenant Rieko Ioane was supposedly going to get the nod against the Springboks. On this evidence the winger with 23 tries in 26 Tests is likely to stay waiting in the wings a little longer.

PRESSURE INTO POINTS FOR SOUTH AFRICA

Duane Vermeulen huffed and puffed for the Boks.

Duane Vermeulen huffed and puffed for the Boks.

The Boks sprung into life from the start and the first 20 minutes resembled something of a green battering ram hammering away at their black-shirted opponents.

But, when you’re on top against the All Blacks, capitalising on momentum is key. Erasmus’ side aren’t a bunch of rag-tag misfits just happy to be at a World Cup and catching the rusty defending champions off guard in their opener. The Rugby Championship victors have beaten and drawn against the world’s best side inside the last 12 months.

Their start was ferocious, hulking skipper Duane Vermeulen seemingly on a mission as he shed would-be tacklers aside. Where he led, others followed, Du Toit foraged for both opportunities to force any kind of hole in the All Blacks defence while Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert dominated the lineout.

But for all their battering, Pollard’s sole penalty was all they had to show for their hard work. Having looked flustered and fragile, two tries in four minutes flipped the script completely. While the 1995 and 2007 champions had been made to chip away at the black wall, New Zealand tore the green one down completely.

At 17-3 down the Springboks could have crumbled but they stood tall. Although there was a sense the clinical All Blacks were always in control and holding them at arm’s length – thanks to the brilliance of metronome Beauden Barrett. Speaking of…

BIG GAMES FROM BARRETT BROTHERS

Beauden Barrett (l) with brother Scott.

Beauden Barrett (l) with brother Scott.

Beauden, Scott and Jordie. Three of the five Barrett brothers are in Hansen’s World Cup squad. Beauden, Scott and Jordie created history last June when they became the first trio of brothers to start in the same Test for New Zealand, against France.

What isn’t so historical but incredibly impressive is that the Barrett brothers are – remarkably – the 47th set of siblings to play together in the famous black shirt. Sam, George and Luke Whitelock are the only other trio but never played in the same Test together.

Big men upholding a big name and a big tradition. It was fitting then that Beauden and Scott, who both started against South Africa, were instrumental to victory.

A lot was made of long-time Hurricanes and new Blues fly-half Beauden being shunted to full-back to accommodate Richie Mo’unga at 10. But if the Springboks thought that would lessen his impact they could not have been more wrong, as he put in a man-of-the-match performance.

Scott scored the second try and his 32 metres made was the sixth highest of those in black, while his 10 tackles was joint top among colleagues too. Winning his 32nd cap since his 2016 debut, he is now a lock for the second lock spot alongside Sam Whitelock – although that might change when Brodie Retallick returns.

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RWC 2019: Different shirt number, same Beauden Barrett brilliance for All Blacks

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The All Blacks got their 2019 Rugby World Cup off to a winning start as they turned on the style brilliantly to blitz the Springboks 23-13 in Yokohama City.

South Africa sprang into life against the two-time defending world champions but only had a Handre Pollard penalty to show for their early efforts. New Zealand then got into gear as George Bridge and Scott Barrett went over in quick succession.

The Boks were much better after the interval as two giants of world rugby put on a show, and Pieter-Steph du Toit swan-dived over to get them back in it. But the All Blacks retained a degree of order with two late penalties keeping them in control.

Here, we analyse a stunning performance from New Zealand talisman Beauden Barrett.

30-SECOND REPORT

A lot was made of Steve Hansen’s selections coming into a crucial World Cup opener against a side that have beaten them and secured a draw in the last 12 months.

Chief among them was shunting the instrumental Barrett to full-back so as to allow another playmaker, Richie Mo’unga, to share dual playmaking abilities.

In essence Barrett was still the man, flawless in both defence and attack. With New Zealand under the cosh in the first 20 minutes he was coolness personified and was then in the thick of the action when the All Blacks burst into life with two tries in four minutes.

Under intense pressure following a Cheslin Kolbe break when South Africa rallied early in the second half, Barrett received possession in his own in-goal area after a superb tackle on Kolbe by Mo’unga.

Flustered? Flawless more like as the full-back ran it out of the danger zone and the Blacks almost broke loose.

A minute later he was taking a Sevu Reece pass on the right wing and launching his team forward, an outrageous banana grubber kick somehow stayed in play and almost led to a try-scoring chance.

STATS

Points – 3

Runs – 17

Metres made – 56

Carries – 16

Passes – 12

Handling errors – 0

Defenders beaten – 7

Tackles – 2

Missed tackles – 4

Turnovers conceded – 2

GOT RIGHT – STRING-PULLER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Think you’re safe from him, or his influence on a game is diminished by pushing him back to full-back while promoting Mo’unga to 10? Forget about it. Mo’unga is a marvellous talent who has some serious playmaking ability. He may even be wearing the hallowed No10 jersey at the beginning of this World Cup. But Barrett is still the brains.

The Blues star remains his nation’s most pivotal playmaker even if he may be sat deeper. In fact, at 15 he is able to scan the entire field ahead of him. And when you’re one of the game’s most gifted visionaries, you’re able to suddenly see method in Hansen’s madness.

Not only was Barrett coolness personified as South Africa squeezed early on, calmly clearing his lines when handed a hot potato by Reece, he was the conductor when New Zealand cranked the volume up.

He made 30 metres, with only Anton Lienert-Brown beating more defenders in the first half. Only three more players made more metres, only two beat more defenders.

GOT WRONG – RISKY BUSINESS 

A tiny blotch on his match card was allowing a degree of sloppiness to creep into his game. There was a glut of missed tackles (4) and two turnovers conceded in his own half, but it feels like we’re desperately clutching at straws just so we can find a flaw – which we are.

Because in reality Barrett could not be faulted. Against high quality opposition, you always expect to be tested, and New Zealand were. But for any fault found, Barrett was unflappable.

VERDICT

Wherever he bases himself on the field, Barrett can beat you – evidenced best by electing to run a turnover from the shadow of their own posts. There is nothing he doesn’t feel can be achieved.

There were a plethora of impressive pieces of play you could pick to highlight his influence. But an outrageous piece of play from an outrageous talent is Barrett in a nutshell.

9/10

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RWC 19: France open campaign with a win as Argentina's spirited comeback falls just short

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A hard-fought win for France in the World Cup.

France held off a spirited second-half comeback from Argentina to win their World Cup Pool C opener 23-21 at the Tokyo Stadium.

Les Bleus looked in total control at 20-3 after tries from Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont, with 20-year-old fly-half Romain Ntamack converting both before kicking two penalties.

However, the Pumas hit back soon after the restart when Guido Petti Pagadizavalgh bundled over from a line-out, before Argentina replacement hooker Julian Montoya touched down.

Penalties from Benjamin Urdapilleta then put Argentina ahead, before Camille Lopez’s drop goal saw France edge through the closing stages.

Argentina had been aiming to repeat their shock victory over Les Bleus in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup in France, where they went on to reach the semi-finals.

After a cagey start, Nicolas Sanchez kicked a penalty wide in the 12th minute.

The Stade Francais fly-half, though, was soon off the mark when an offside in the French defensive line gave him another penalty opportunity in front of the posts.

France produced an instant response to score the opening try in the 16th minute.

Peato Vakatawa showed some great footwork before finding Fickou on a break down the left to go over. Ntamack, son of former France international Emile, made the conversion to put his side 7-3 in front.

Les Bleus scored another flowing try when scrum-half Dupont finished off an impressive move in the corner.

Ntamack added a penalty to extend the advantage to 17-3 as the half-hour mark approached.

After Argentina failed to make the most of some sustained pressure, fly-half Ntamack continued to show a cool head to convert another penalty and send France into the break with a seemingly healthy 20-3 lead.

Argentina, though, reduced the deficit just two minutes into the second half following a well-worked line-out.

A long, high throw saw second-row Pagadizaval bundled over. Sanchez converted the angled kick to bring Argentina back within 10 points.

Argentina replacement hooker Julian Montoya came on to win his 50th cap – and made an instant impact from a driving maul to score after Pagadizaval had taken a line-out catch in the 54th minute.

While Sanchez missed the conversion chance, the Pumas continued their momentum.

After a breakaway opportunity was eventually halted, replacement Urdapilleta kicked a penalty, for an earlier infringement by Damian Penaud, to close the gap down to just two points.

France were starting to lose composure and lock Sebastien Vahaamahina gave away 10 yards for a push, which put the penalty in kicking range.

After a TMO review for Emiliano Boffelli’s jumping challenge on Penaud, Castres Olympique fly-half Urdapilleta sent a left-foot effort over as Argentina edged in front 21-20.

France, though, produced an instant response when replacement Camille Lopez sent a drop-kick just over the bar, with Ntamack then missing a penalty chance.

There was still time for more drama as Urdapilleta saw his long-range kick drop just the wrong side of the posts as France held out – before tempers boiled over at full-time with some scuffles.

Provided by Press Association Sports

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