The Chip And Chase - Taking Care Of Business, At Home

The Chip

If there's a negative about playing so much rugby leading into a World Cup, it's injuries. If there's a negative about sport in general, it's injuries and you can't do much about injuries but observe the reminder from the sporting gods that sport doesn't always participate in fairytales. 

In a game that won't go down in history, besides being the last time that Dan Carter and Richie McCaw played in their beloved Christchurch, we lost Waisake Naholo to a leg fracture, thus losing one of the feel good stories of 2015. In all sorts of ways, it sucks, but the clock keeps ticking and the All Blacks machine must continue to turn.

There are two ways to view the win against Argentina - in a Rugby Championship vacuum and in preparation for the World Cup. This is an angle that is playing out throughout the Rugby Championship as we're seeing teams juggle winning Test's while also juggling their squads to get the most out of them as a gaze is cast off into the future.

In that Rugby Championship vacuum, Friday night's win was a very solid win where the All Blacks played at a higher level than their opposition but weren't exactly near their best. Despite being below par, the All Blacks were able to grind out a win and fight off periods where their execution let them down to simply get the win. 

But The Chip And Chase only exists because we're heading towards a World Cup, so the vacuum doesn't mean so much to me. In terms of the bigger picture, we were given a nice example of an edge that the All Blacks have over the rugby world, an edge that Sonny Bill Williams surely must claim some credit for but an edge that you have to credit the entire All Blacks crew for implementing.

The willingness to offload puts the All Blacks in a nice little position where they already have opponents worrying too much. It remains to be seen whether this offloading will be a staple of their World Cup campaign, but from what we saw against Argentina, it should be as the Argentinians simply couldn't counter it. 

Offloading in rugby league is great, but it rugby, it's even more of a benefit as defenders look to crowd the ball runner as the tackle looks to be made. All the All Blacks know what's coming and are ready, meaning overlaps and quick transitions are easily worked, as they were against Argentina. The midfield of SBW and Ma'a Nonu are so hard to stop, but when you throw into the equation that they are either trying to offload or have received an offload and already have the jump on a defender, fucking good luck. 

The other area that was super impressive was the speed and mobility of the All Blacks forwards. I say that with a hesitation though because Argentina were horrible in this department, they were always battling to get numbers to the breakdown and clearly looked a yard or two off the pace. That hesitation however vanishes because when watching the All Blacks, you notice how fast they play. It honestly looks like they have all done a bump of coke and are all playing at a frantic pace, which is where the offloads also come into play.

Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino are easily the best back row in the world because they can get around the park with relative ease while still maintaining a slightly crazy level of physicality. 

Also instrumental in this aspect was TJ Perenara who definitely saw his stocks rise, considering that Aaron Smith is the kingpin of quick footy. Perenara was also quickly at the ruck and didn't fluff around once he got there as the ball was quickly in the hands of the next carrier.

Dan Carter was his classy self and despite being convinced after the game against Samoa that Carter had it in him to lead this World Cup campaign, I'm well and truly sure that he is ranked numero uno. It's now up to Beauden Barrett to make that decision a hard one for Steve Hansen, the ball's in Barrett's court as they say.

Naholo's injury offers a slight bit of clarity to the wing dramas. Israel Dagg showed that he's all good, despite the constant questioning of the kiwi public (#InShagWeTrust) and Dagg would have to forget how to play rugby to give up that 15 jersey to Ben Smith. So where does Ben Smith fit in? On the wing is the obvious answer and a wing combo of Smith and Julian Savea is extremely exciting given Savea's power and Smith's all round skill which could be used in funky ways. 

The spanner in this is Charles Piutau who was probably the low key best performer over the past two weeks. I don't think we are going to see Piutau get kicked to the curb for his decision to move to Europe following the World Cup as he's done alright in two games where the rest of the team has seen some rotation. Could Shag be fucking with Piutau? I doubt it and I think Piutau is part of their plans, especially considering that Piutau and Smith can both do the wing/fullback job admirably which is huge in a World Cup.

Brodie Rettalick and Luke Romano looked great, but we know that already. 

I'm giving the All Blacks a 6.5/10 for that win. They were far better than Argentina, but slipped up in the second half trying to defend mauls and when Argentina's unpredictable attacking play came off, the All Blacks were exposed a wee bit. 

Just on that maul-defence, Justin Marshall highlighted early in the game that the All Blacks effectively stopped an Argentinian maul by pushing down one side, kinda spinning the maul and just generally disrupting it. Marshall then forgot this when Argentina scored twice, but that's not the point. Richie McCaw's try came from a perfectly executed line-out move, but the two Argentinian tries came as the All Blacks over-committed to one side, as they had done successfully before. This will be interesting to watch against South Africa who are obviously very good at the ol' maul. 

An 80 minute domination would have taken their rating to 7/10 as they still fluffed a fair amount on attack, and Shag would want his bench to not let the standard slip as badly as it did. 

The Chase

The All Blacks got a 6.5/10 and Argentina got, well if you ask me when I'm feeling generous - 4/10 but in all honestly they were a 3/10.

There were some very good patches where they showed potential which could come with more time and high intensity game action which will come in the Rugby Championship, but there were also many, far too many times when shit just got strange. Some horrible options were taken and they were made to pay for it, by the time that they decided to show up it was far too late as their labouring nature around the field gave them little hope at the breakdown.

This does come with an asterix of sorts as it became clear that they definitely have an eye on the bigger picture and they weren't too fussed with pushing the All Blacks. This might have been influence by the fact that they were out of the contest after 30 minutes, but it looked like they are still working through a few things and it would be wrong to make any major judgements about Argentina after that first up game.

We also had Australia beating South Africa, which in my eyes was a much more enjoyable game to watch. South Africa definitely followed the Argies down the 'strange decision' path and in a way handed Australia a bunch of opportunities as they gave up numerous penalties and errors in the last 10 minutes.

Australia look the closest to the All Blacks in attack, not in terms of effectiveness but they share a few patterns and plays. Both teams have shown a fondness for the NRL's second man play but the Australians tended to go from sideline to sideline where the All Blacks were able to straighten things up. 

One of the biggest headaches for Wallabies coach Michael Cheika centres on the first five/second five spot. Matt Giteau was pretty solid and looks like he hasn't lost much through his time in Europe while Matt Toomua was also impressive when he came on for Quade Cooper. Toomua was eager to run the footy and the Wallabies didn't lose much with his kicking game. Cooper looked a bit too keen to sit in the pocket and kick, which goes against his strengths as a dynamic ball runner who can create something from nothing.

Another possible headache that was eased like a swift decision to reach for the panadol/herb is halfback. Will Genia came off injured and Nick Phibbs was a standout performer for the Wallabies when he entered. With Genia requiring surgery on his knee, Phibbs will get plenty of gametime and could seal that halfback spot.

Boy oh boy, the Wallabies have a very good defensive fullback in Israel Folau. Midfield bombs belong to Folau, he wins them with ease and his big body gives the Wallabies a bit of go forward when Folau is given the ball. I'll be very interested to see how teams combat this and whether they bother kicking to Folau or target their kicks elsewhere.

Lastly on the Wallabies, I don't think it's a coincidence that they started to find their way back into the game with Michael Hooper and David Pocock on the field together with Scott Fardy. Scott Higginbottom is a big lump of a lad who offers a bit of mongrel, but when Pocock came on, the Wallabies didn't lose much in terms of physicality and added a world-class ball winner. Keep an eye on this one, I don't think Cheika is going to roll out Hooper/Pocock in every game, thus giving opponents a chance to suss it out and I wouldn't be surprised if he played this card sparingly in the Rugby Championship.

As for South Africa, well I liked everything about them up until the last 10 minutes. Their scrum, before the bench was brought on, largely dominated the Australians and their massive back row of Schalk Burger, Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee were in the midst of everything.

Two backs that really stood out were Willie Le Roux and Jesse Kriel. Le Roux offers a bit of everything at fullback and when the Springboks have the ball on attack, Le Roux can easily become a ball player which gives the Boks a bit of an x-factor as teams won't be able to load up the pressure on first five Handre Pollard, who was also pretty good. Kriel got a lot of traffic thrown his way and was up to task on defence. 

It goes without saying for the Springboks that their line-out and scrums were top notch, that tight five of Victor Matfield, Eden Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will be tough for any opponent. But like the Hooper/Pocock situation with the Wallabies, I'm not sure coach Heyneke Meyer will be rolling them out a whole lot over the Rugby Championship. 

It felt, in very general terms that Argentina and the Springboks were the most eager to test combinations and different players. They weren't so concerned with the result. 

There were a few other fixtures as well with  Japan beating Canada 20-6, Fiji beating Tonga 30-22 and Samoa beating USA 21-16.