DYLAN JACK looks at what we learned from this past weekend’s Tri-Nations and Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked action.
Argentina harness power of patriotism
Argentina overturned the odds to produce one of their finest performances and beat the All Blacks for the first time in their history in Sydney.
Argentina came into the weekend having not played a formal Test match since the 2019 World Cup pool stages over 12 months ago. What’s more, many of their Jaguares-contracted players had not played since Super Rugby was halted in March and did most of their preparation for the Tri-Nations in their own backyards at home.
When they did assemble for training camps, those were heavily disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and positive tests within the camp, so Argentina were (somewhat justifiably) written off by pundits and journalists alike.
However, much like the Springboks did during their World Cup campaign, Argentina embraced the challenges and on Saturday produced a performance filled with both passion and precision.
As captain Pablo Matera explained in his post-match interview, the performance was all about providing hope for their supporters back in Argentina and showing youngsters just how much one can achieve with hard work and commitment.
All Blacks have a discipline problem
At the other end of the scale, the All Blacks will have plenty to ponder over the next two weeks as the defeat by Argentina condemned them to back-to-back Test losses for the first time since 2011.
One of the major issues facing Ian Foster’s side is that referees have started to pick up on the cynical side of their game, which, when overlooked, often gave them an edge over their opponents.
It cost New Zealand against Australia when lock Scott Barrett was yellow-carded in the final 15 minutes, during which the Wallabies scored a penalty and a try, and cost them again in Sydney as Nicolas Sanchez punished them with an unerring performance off the kicking tee.
Of course, there are deeper structural issues equally to blame, but the All Blacks are going to have to seriously discuss their disciplinary issues before their re-match with Argentina at the end of November.
Brodie Retallick is vital to All Blacks’ 2023 hopes
It is often said that you can truly tell the value of a player by his absence from the team. If that is true, then the All Blacks will be hoping that Brodie Retallick is at his best for the next World Cup in 2023.
As part of his new contract with New Zealand Rugby until 2023, Retallick is currently on a two-year sabbatical in Japan with Top League side Kobelco Steelers in 2020 and 2021.
The All Blacks were hammered backwards against Argentina and very rarely have the New Zealanders looked so rattled to the point that even their set piece started to crumble.
Retallick is a player in a class of his own as an ‘enforcer’ lock and it is no surprise that when he plays, the All Blacks generally look a better team.
Bosch has Test-match BMT, Willemse finding groove
Over the past weekend of Super Rugby Unlocked two of South Africa’s young flyhalves delivered fantastic performances.
In Kimberley, Curwin Bosch held his nerve to slot a penalty after the hooter to give the Sharks a dramatic 34-33 win over Griquas. This came a week after Bosch slotted a 60-metre penalty to see the Sharks seal a win over the Cheetahs in Durban.
Having been backed to play at flyhalf in 2020, Bosch has been in excellent form throughout the year for the Sharks and his performance against Griquas was yet another demonstration that he has the big-match temperament for Test rugby.
Meanwhile, at Newlands, Damian Willemse produced arguably his best performance of the year at flyhalf to help the Stormers stay with the chasing pack by beating the Cheetahs.
Not only was Willemse typically dangerous when given the opportunity to run – picking up a try assist with a delightful offload to Warrick Gelant – but, most importantly, he managed the game well and kept his pack moving forward with a number of clever kicks in behind the Cheetahs defence.
Willemse was among the players heavily criticised by fans following the Stormers’ lacklustre start to the competition, but his performance on Saturday was yet another demonstration of his immense potential as a flyhalf. Of course, it is now key that he shows a bit of consistency in form going into the Super Rugby finale and Currie Cup.
Griquas, Pumas can claim a big scalp
Having come into the Super Rugby Unlocked tournament on the back of playing no formal rugby in 2020, the Pumas and Griquas were largely expected to be the competition’s whipping boys.
However, both teams have given a seriously good account of themselves in the early stages of South Africa’s domestic season and can count themselves unlucky not to have beaten one of the so-called bigger unions.
Griquas were excellent against the Vodacom Bulls in the opening weekend in Pretoria and were cruelly denied what would have been a deserved win against the Sharks by a late penalty. Meanwhile, the Pumas have also had a couple of heavy losses, but outplayed the Stormers for 65 minutes in the third round of the competition before slumping badly in the final 15 minutes and losing the match.
Going into the Currie Cup, both teams will have picked up some confidence from their performances and will know that they have the potential to bag a big scalp.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images/Getty Images