Round 1 is done and dusted but what have we learned? The All Blacks are an eighty-minute side, Australia are a first-half side, Eben Etzebeth is world class, and Argentina are far off the pace.
Sky Sports’ rugby statistician, Rhodri Jeremiah, looks back on the numbers from the Rugby Championship’s first round.
Wallabies head coach, Michael Cheika, would have been delighted with his side’s first-half display in Sydney on Saturday, with Australia going into the sheds 6-5 in front. In fact, New Zealand were close to being nilled at the break before Aaron Smith’s touchdown spared their blushes.
How difficult is it to keep the All Blacks scoreless at half-time? The last time it happened was at Twickenham in November 2012. England were leading 12-0 at the break, with the hosts going on to record a famous 38-21 win.
A certain Chris Ashton was on the scoresheet that day. Many believe he should be involved this autumn – will he or won’t he, that is the question.
4:34 Highlights: Australia 13-38 New Zealand
First-half teams and eighty-minute teams
Australia’s defence leaked 33 points in the second half on Saturday. This is a big worry for Cheika and his defensive guru, Nathan Grey, and would have brought back memories of Murrayfield last November when the Wallabies conceded 36 second-half points in a 53-24 defeat to Scotland.
How does a team concede 33 points in a half? Well, one factor is that the Wallabies missed 41 tackles, which was the most in Round 1. The next worst were Argentina, who missed almost half that amount with 23. It goes to show, if you want to win in the Rugby Championship, you have to make your tackles.
New Zealand vs Australia
August 25, 2018, 8:00am
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You also have to maintain your intensity for the full 80 minutes, and none do that better than the All Blacks. Across the three Tests against France in June, 77 of their total 127 points came in the second half. If that wasn’t impressive enough, their defence was even better – Steve Hansen’s side only conceded seven second-half points in three Tests against the French.
The return of Etzebeth
One of the main talking points prior to South Africa’s game against Argentina was the return of Eben Etzebeth.
The second rower suffered nerve damage to his neck and shoulder in last year’s autumn international against Wales. His recovery took longer than initially expected, and as a result, he missed all three Tests against England in June and the entire 2018 Super Rugby campaign for the Stormers.
Prior to the game, Etzebeth commented: “It’s almost like the rugby world has forgotten about me. For me, I just love Springbok rugby and seeing them play and not being there, was very emotional.”
The Springboks have plenty of options at lock, so you can’t forgive them for moving on, but after Saturday’s performance, Etzebeth could well be the first name on Rassie Erasmus’ team sheet for some time to come. Etzebeth played the whole 80 minutes, was top ball-carrier in Durban overall (14), made the most metres by a forward (48m), beat three defenders, and made 10 tackles.
Argentina vs South Africa
August 25, 2018, 8:00pm
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Was anyone expecting such a solid return to the international arena? Erasmus admitted after the game that even he didn’t think Etzebeth would make that much of an impact.
“Everybody was saying to me, ‘How can we put him straight into this Test?’,” said Erasmus. “But we knew how fit he was and how hard he has worked and we were confident he would get through the game. But the way he played surprised us, especially for a guy who hasn’t played for so long.”
It was a case of same old for Argentina in the Rugby Championship. A dogged performance with a few standout individuals, but ultimately, a defeat at the close of play.
3:57 Highlights: South Africa 34-21 Argentina
The Pumas’ lineout would have been a particular cause of concern for their new head coach, Mario Ledesma. They won nine, but lost five on their own throw-in. Malcolm Marx wouldn’t have been impressed with his lineout throwing either; the Springbok had an 80% success rate, winning 12 but losing three along the way.
However, the worst offender of the round was Australia’s replacement hooker, Tolu Latu. He only played 35 minutes but lost six of his seven throws. Having said that, starting hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau didn’t fare much better – he won three and lost two of his throw-ins.
Looking ahead to Round 2, New Zealand host Australia in Bledisloe II at Eden Park and Argentina welcome South Africa to Mendoza. For me, it’s tough to see past the Kiwis for a second week in a row, and I’m calling a narrow victory for the Boks. Enjoy the games!