Another round of the Autumn Internationals has come and gone and once more there are a few talking points and for once talk of dirty play and refereeing doesn’t centre on the All Blacks, who finished their year with a hard fought win over the French.
The All Blacks Finish Their Year Off With A Win
Although the All Blacks left Paris with a win and despite what he says to the press, Steve Hansen has to be a little concerned at the apparent closing of the gap between the All Blacks and the Northern Hemisphere teams. Coming off a dominant defence of their Rugby Championship no doubt the Kiwis were expecting to blast away their Northern Hemisphere opponents but, Italy aside, this has not been the case. Yes, the All Blacks got revenge against the Irish at the Aviva but this match is going to be remembered as a collection of what ifs. Fast forward a week to Paris and again, although the All Blacks were victorious, more questions than answers were raised, most notably:
- Are the All Blacks as dangerous if both Israel Dagg and Ben Smith are missing? In my opinion no, they need at least one of these players on the pitch to provide the spark which can unpick opposing defences.
- How important are Brode and Sam Whitelock? These two locks are going to go down as amongst the best who have ever played the game and it is a testament to their characters that they don’t complain when the ball players get the limelight. Along with Kieran Reid they are the reason why the All Black defence is so impressive. Like Dagg and Ben Smith, if they both get injured the All Blacks will find themselves missing a key component to what makes them so daunting
- Has the Aaron Smith airport fiasco affected the player? Without a doubt but here at least there is some good news for the Kiwis. TJ Perenara, whilst not of Smith’s quality when the Highlander is at his best, is a more than capable replacement and would walk into most international sides.
- Has this been a good year for the All Blacks? Not really. They may have won the World Rugby team of the year but in the last few weeks their aura of total dominance has slipped. Last year most people would have been surprised if France had run the All Blacks so close, at the weekend I don’t think too many people were surprised at all.
- Should the All Blacks have won team of the year? Let’s wait and see what England do against Australia
The Red Cards and Penalties at Twickenham
England’s match against Argentina had more plot twists and considerably better acting than Shortland Street but what it also had was a group of officials who, in the main, had a good game and were not afraid of making the big decisions.
To send a player off after only five minutes takes balls as this could have completely ruined the game but Pascal Gauzere got the decision spot on. Elliot Daly may argue, and it must be noted that neither Daly or anyone associated with England are complaining about the decision, that the contact was accidental but it was foolish and most importantly dangerous and he deserved to be sent off because it was dangerous and not because of how the Argentinian player landed.
Later in the game there was a similar incident with Johnny May being taken out in the air but this only resulted in a penalty because May landed on his side. This is a ludicrous rule where the outcome of an act of dangerous play is taken into account when deciding on the punishment. A dangerous tackle is a dangerous tackle, intent may be considered but it doesn’t matter if one injures an opponent more than another, they should be both receive the same punishment. It is these types of grey areas in the game which I feel are letting the match officials down and allowing modern players to manage the referees.
Has the Northern Hemisphere pulled level with the Southern Hemisphere?
It is fair to say South Africa and Argentina will be heading home shell shocked by their performances on tour. To lose to England was perhaps expected, as the current incarnation of the Springboks is not even an average team compared to their predecessors, but to return to South Africa without a win has got to send shockwaves through the country.
Argentina may not have expected to win all of their matches they would have felt confident of beating Scotland and let’s be honest they lost against England despite playing against a team reduced to fourteen men after only five minutes.
Despite the soundbites Steve Hansen gives out he will not be too pleased with how their Northern tour panned out which just leaves Australia, who may yet claim to have had a successful tour if they manage to beat England at the weekend.
For years the Rugby Championship has been applauded whilst the Six Nations has been derided on this side of the equator but in the last month England, Ireland and even Scotland and Wales have shown that when they play their games against the supposed Southern Hemisphere heavyweights they can compete and win. These game plans may not always be successful all of the time but they will be more successful more often than trying to play the likes of New Zealand and Australia at their own games.
Team of the Week
After all I have just written about the Southern Hemisphere teams you may be surprised I am nominating one as my team of the week but Tonga deserve to be mentioned for their thrilling last minute win over Italy.
It has been well documented in the press about how Tier 2 teams don’t get the big games they deserve so to see Tonga get the win in Padua was fantastic. Italy being in the Six Nations hasn’t really worked for them yet, and I would be great to see the likes of Georgia being able to challenge for their place but the lack of matches the Pacific Island teams play is an injustice. I know there will be financial constraints but expanding the Rugby Championship to include the winners of a pre-tournament, tournament amongst the likes of Japan, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would allow these countries to have more games and provide a carrot to strive towards.