Wednesday, 30 September 2009

2009 Tri Nations wrap-up

Well, last weekend's 33-6 trouncing of the Wallabies by the All Blacks wrapped up this year's Tri Nations tournament. It was a great one for the Springboks, who won it for only the third time, underlining their deserved spot as World Champions and at the top of the IRB rankings. For the All Blacks and Wallabies it was obviously less satisfying, particularly for the Wallabies - at the beginning of the tournament, some thought they may be the team to watch. But unfortunately, in spite of playing brilliantly in patches, they just couldn't put it together consistently enough to threaten for the title. Still, they remain a dangerous team, and I expect them to continue to improve, as long as they don't do anything stupid (like axing Robbie Deans).

So in the end the points table looks like this:

South Africa6510121
New Zealand6330113

And here's a reminder of the results of each game:

All Blacks 22 - 16 Wallabies
Springboks 28 - 19 All Blacks
Springboks 31 - 19 All Blacks
Springboks 29 - 17 Wallabies
Wallabies 18 - 19 All Blacks
Wallabies 25 - 32 Springboks
Wallabies 21 - 6 Springboks
All Blacks 29 - 32 Springboks
All Blacks 33 - 6 Wallabies

Autumn Internationals

The tri nations teams now have a few weeks break from internationals before the annual north versus south series known as the rugby autumn internationals kicks off. No doubt the players will be released back to their clubs to participate in their domestic competitions, while the coaching staff frantically plan ahead for the upcoming matches.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Springboks clinch 2009 Tri Nations

The Springboks squeezed out another win over the All Blacks on Saturday in an "epic" (in the words of John Smit) test match in Hamilton, to clinch the 2009 Tri Nations tournament, only the third time in the tournament's history that they've managed to win it. It was a must-win game for the All Blacks to have any chance of an unlikely come-from-behind steal of the cup, but they had to win and prevent the Springboks from getting any points on the log to stand a chance. Satisfyingly for Springbok fans, their team went out with real belief and commitment to not just defend their position on the points table, but to win the game - which they did by 32 points to 29.

Springbok brilliance

The Springbok victory was built on their usual pressure game, coupled with a few moments of individual brilliance to score:

  • Francois "bazooka" Steyn: we've come to expect long-range kicks from the audacious fullback, but three 50m-plus kicks in a match? Must be some kind of record! And he missed an equally long drop-goal attempt in the second half - but not by all that much!

  • Fourie "sniper" du Preez: his try was brilliant. First he put up the kick, then challenged for the catch, doing enough to disrupt Rokocoko's catch. Bakkies Botha then carried strongly to within a couple metres of the line, only for Du Preez to once again get his hands on the ball for a quick snipe to claim the try.

  • Jean "interceptor" de Villiers: As he's done so often in the past, he read the All Blacks move to perfection for an easy steal and run in to score under the posts.

Apart from the significance of the match in the context of this year's Tri Nations tournament, it was also a special moment for a couple of other reasons:

  • It was the third Springbok victory in a row over the All Blacks - when last did that happen?

  • As long as he's been playing for the Springboks, this was John Smit's first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand! Lately there's been a lot of hype about how the Springboks are the world's best team yadda yadda, but let's not forget the All Blacks have had the edge over them in the last few years, particularly in the Tri Nations.

All Blacks not too shabby

Although the All Blacks couldn't quite do enough to win the match, they played their part in a gripping encounter, looking particularly dangerous with the ball in hand. They had a fair amount of success spreading it wide to outflank the Springbok defence (which, it must be said, was awesome on the day), and won the second half. Unfortunately they were once again let down by a misfiring lineout which took away a lot of their momentum, or the result could have been different. Although at the moment they're not quite the force they have been for so long, this is still an awesome team that'll beat most teams any day of the week.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Australia 25 - 32 South Africa: Tri Nations Round 6 Result

The Springboks continued their unbeaten run in Tri Nations 2009 with an impressive win over the Wallabies at the Subiaco Oval in Perth on Saturday, to snuff out any chance they may have had of making a late bid for the trophy. In the process the Springboks put away the pattern which has been so successful for them up to now and instead dusted off their running game to score the tournament's first four-try bonus point.

Springbok tries

Two of the Springbok tries were a direct result of their normal pressure game: the first came as scrumhalf Fourie du Preez seized on a momentary lapse in concentration from the Wallaby defence to take a quick tap and crash over for a close-range individual effort. The second came as Wallaby wing Lachie Turner was unable to control a high catch and knocked the ball straight into the waiting arms of opposite number Bryan Habana who cruised over for an easy touchdown.

The other two Springbok tries were simple set-piece moves which were executed extremely well, to see first Jacque Fourie and then Bryan Habana run through the Wallaby defence without a hand on them. After all the recent criticism about the Springboks' "boring" style of play, it was thrilling to see them running the ball and scoring some excellent tries, and I'm sure the guys enjoyed it too!

Wallabies come back

At 6-22 down at half-time, the Wallabies looked completely out of the game. They'd been outplayed by the red-hot Boks, and their own mistakes had kept them on the back foot for most of the half. However, that all changed after the break and they ran out with renewed intensity and were rewarded shortly with the first of two Matt Giteau tries. After that they waited until the last five minutes of the game for a quick two-try blitz to gain their third losing bonus point for finishing within seven points of the opposition.

That they got so close is a testament to the Wallabies fighting spirit. The fact is they won the half 19-10, and while some of that may be attributed to the Springboks taking their foot off the gas, the Wallabies played very well in patches, as they've done throughout this Tri Nations. They've been regularly winning the first half of their matches - perhaps they're overdue for a game where they win both halves?

Wallaby scrumhalf problems

Scrumhalf Luke Burgess did not have a good game - his passing was imprecise, laboured and inconsistent, and one feels this had a lot to do with the Wallabies' lack of momentum in the first half. Flyhalf Matt Giteau had a poor first half too; without making excuses for him, one wonders how much of this was due to the service he was getting from Burgess? I wouldn't be surprised to see a different player starting at number 9 next week - Will Genia has looked good whenever he's come on, so perhaps he has earned a chance? With the Wallabies' chances in this Tri Nations now gone, they surely don't have a lot to lose, and should focus on using the remaining matches to build some momentum going into the second half of the season.

Springbok scrum problems

The Springboks didn't have things all their own way either. They were again outscrummed by the Wallabies, and conceded numerous penalties in this area of the game. There are still lingering doubts about John Smit's ability at prop, and this is something of a dilemma for the coaching staff. There is no doubting Smit's value as captain of the team, but you can't have a player on the field who's not on top of his own game. For now the situation is still under control, but if the scrum becomes an area of weakness that other teams can target, it will undermine the rest of the Springbok game, as it did to an extent on Saturday, and something will have to be done. Either Smit will have to move back to hooker, or perhaps the captaincy could be handed over to another player while Smit plays himself out in the first 50 to 60 minutes, to allow an impact player on in the closing stages.

State of the tournament

It's now hard to see the Springboks not winning this tournament. The All Blacks will have to win their remaining two matches with bonus points, and also rely on the Springboks losing their remaining two. Of course, this is not at all outside the realms of possibility, but with the way the Boks are playing at the moment, you'd have to back them to at least pick up a couple of bonus points, which will be enough to see them home. To be honest though, I believe they're aiming for far more than that, and will not be satisfied with less than at least one more win, if not a clean sweep.