The Rugby Championship 2017 In Retrospect
Another Rugby Championship done, another trophy to New Zealand.
As anticipated the overall run of the competition was very much like watching a Jean-Claude van Damme flick – the outcome is blatantly obvious from the start but it’s still fun to watch. There were however some interesting developments across all four nations as they looked to further their preparations for Rugby World Cup 2019 and some of them were notable:
Augustin Creevy’s side has retained its title as the punching bag for this tournament since its expansion despite one or two big wins last year. Many thought that the inclusion of an Argentinian side into Super Rugby would improve Los Pumas’ fortunes, but alas, it seems they have stagnated and are about to roll backwards. A points-difference of -125 on the final log tells a story of horrific defensive woes with not much to write home about regarding their limited attacking arsenal either. Discipline is also an ongoing issue. Coach Daniel Hourcade needs to tighten the reigns immediately as the swinging of the axe from above must be imminent by now.
Highlight of their tournament: Leading 16 – 15 against the All Blacks at half-time in Taranaki, Round 3.
Looking at the Wallabies lately one can’t help but feel there’s something big haunting their game. Michael Cheika is a knowledgeable coach with a great track record in the past, and with names like Polota-Nau, Coleman, Hooper, Genia, Foley, Beale, Kuridrani, Speight and Folau this team should resemble a freight-train running on jet-fuel. On paper it all lines up. On the pitch not so much and it’s testament to what can happen when things are going awry behind the curtain. The Australian Rugby Union needs to step up their game regarding their franchise management policies and growing the popularity of the sport within their borders if they are to remain competitive.
Highlight of their tournament: Their four-try fight back against New Zealand in Round 1 after being down 40 – 6 at halftime.
The All Blacks have been the benchmark team for at least the last ten years and more so recently, alongside England and an ever-improving Ireland, and 2017 has not been any different. If red-flags could be raised you’d have to dig for them. Defence at times seems to be slightly off the mark and their breakdown game could do with improvement as shown against South Africa in the last round. Yet, a team that occasionally operates at 90% and still walks away with the win is a sign of pure quality and professionalism. Looking at the results from their youth structures it seems the All Black rugby player factory will keep churning successfully for years to come.
Highlight of their tournament: Hard-pressed for one, but surely the 57 – 0 massacre of the Springboks stands out as it once again etched their names into the record books. Deserved champions.
Following the mass car-wreck that was 2016, the Springboks have had a gun to the head since their start to 2017 against France. South African supporters are a fickle bunch and nothing but straight victories would do. Early on the Boks delivered. Wins against the French were followed by two good thumps of Argentina and the first hiccup came in the form of Australia. Fast forward a week and their worst defeat to New Zealand followed, with many calling for the axing of several players and the entire coaching team. Despite being written off, their final test against the All Blacks saw the men in green and gold put up a stunning display of traditional forward-based dominance combined with expansive running from the backs to push the world champions to within one point. This young team is growing with every match and could well be a reckoning force come 2019.
Highlight of their tournament: The 24 – 25 “redemption” defeat to New Zealand in Cape Town. A nail-biting 90 minutes of sublime rugby that really could’ve gone either way.