DYLAN JACK looks at what we learned from this past weekend’s Bledisloe Cup and Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked action.
Defence, discipline win Test matches
The fourth and final Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane also happened to be the most heated as both the All Blacks and Wallabies had players red- and yellow-carded.
Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Lachie Swinton were red-carded in the first half for similar dangerous tackles, while Wallabies wing Marika Koroibete and All Blacks lock Scott Barrett were yellow-carded.
Perhaps the difference between the two sides came in that the Wallabies were able to survive Koroibete’s yellow-card period without conceding, while the All Blacks collapsed while Barrett was in the sin bin.
Barrett’s yellow card for what was quite simply a stupid cynical foul at a breakdown in the 68th minute gave the Wallabies the initiative they needed, with Reece Hodge slotting the resulting penalty before Taniela Tupou barged his way over for the winning try.
It was yet another demonstration of how important both discipline and defence can be at the highest of levels of rugby.
Wallabies finding inner mettle
After suffering a record defeat by the All Blacks in Sydney, their second big loss to New Zealand in a row, the Wallabies travelled to Brisbane under pressure, with questions over the team’s experience and big-match temperament.
Coach Dave Rennie had made a couple of interesting selections, picking Reece Hodge at flyhalf – for only his second Test start in the No 10 jersey – and handing debuts to Swinton at flank and Tom Wright on the wing.
It was notable that after Wallabies’ victory, All Blacks coach Ian Foster made a point at Sunday’s media conference about the Australians’ provocation of his players. That was an echo of what assistant coach John Plumtree had said after the 16-16 draw in the first Bledisloe Cup match.
If anything, that would be a positive sign for Rennie, who has a record of instilling a hard and rather cynical edge in the teams he has coached.
Granted, it was against an All Blacks team missing their regular 9-10-12 combination of Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue. However, it shouldn’t take away from the vast improvements that the Wallabies showed in the set piece and on defence.
Humid conditions still affect Durban matches
There was plenty of hype going into the Super Rugby Unlocked clash between the Sharks and Cheetahs at Kings Park over the potential matchups of the opposition outside backs.
Unfortunately, despite an enterprising match what fans got was an error-filled contest, as humidity played havoc with both sides’ intentions to open up and spread the ball.
Ultimately the Sharks’ decision to use centre Marius Louw on the initial carry for momentum, before getting the ball to Curwin Bosch to boot the ball into the air and test the Cheetahs back three, turned out to be the correct tactic.
This is something fans of the Durban side are going to have to get used to during the Currie Cup in late November and December.
Stormers discover cutting edge
Following their lacklustre performances to start the season and a heavy defeat by the Vodacom Bulls, the Stormers went into their match against Griquas in Kimberley looking for a response.
Stormers coach John Dobson brought several new faces into their starting lineup – including debutant wing Angelo Davids, flank Marcel Theunissen, lock David Meihuizen and prop Neethling Fouche – hoping that the younger and eager players would give his side some energy.
As it happened, the Stormers put together what was easily their best attacking performance of the tournament so far, scoring six tries with their backline thriving in the space afforded them at Tafel Lager Park.
Dobson put it best when he said post-game that it was better to have the feeling that his side squandered a few opportunities, rather than struggled to create any.
Bulls go into Currie Cup as favourites
The Bulls went into half time of their local derby against the Lions in Johannesburg looking at potentially losing their second game of the season after a poor first-half performance, where they were dominated at the set piece and gave far too much territory to the Lions.
However, Jake White’s team came alive in the second half and reversed the half-time 15-10 scoreline to walk away as 30-25 winners. With the victory the Bulls further entrenched their place at the top of the Super Rugby Unlocked log, with six points separating them and the second-placed Stormers.
The Bulls will enjoy a bye this weekend before hosting the Pumas in the final round the following weekend, so it is more than likely that they will take the Super Rugby Unlocked crown.
However, it is their performances that, more than anything else, make them favourites for the Currie Cup title. The Bulls dismantled two of their title rivals in the Sharks and Stormers, while against the Cheetahs, Griquas and Lions, showed the kind of fight that is typical of a Jake White team. Even when they are not playing well, the Bulls find a way to win.
Photo: Sydney Sehibedi/Gallo Images