A Nichey Niche Convo: International Rugby #2



Diggity Doc: My ol' Wildcard homie, I'm glad we put off starting this convo until after the Chiefs vs Wales game last night. The Chiefs grabbed a pretty damn impressive win over Wales, both teams were effectively rolling out their 'B' teams and what not but that game followed on where the All Blacks win over Wales finished. Wales clearly don't have a whole lot of depth, which is why the All Blacks ran away in the last 20-odd minutes of that first Test as the benches were cleared and it doesn't really excite me about the rest of this series. How you feeling?

Wildcard: Doc, mate, first of all how great was it to see a tour game in a modern tour? Love these games... although when an international team is pumped like that by a franchise I can see why they don't play them all that often. Except for the Lions, I guess, they're always good for it. Yeah so Wales got stretched out and snapped like a flimsy rubber band, that's not the best sign for the next two tests. I'm not really feeling all that different though, I expected the All Blacks to be too good and while the Chiefs winning by that much was a surprise, that is not a team that we'll see in either of the next two tests. To be honest, nobody watches the All Blacks in this country to see the other team, right? It's all about those lads in the black jerseys and if one dude makes a single mistake then it's front page of the paper the next morning. That's stupid, but it comes from supporting a team with the highest expectations... in a way it's hard to get too pumped for any game unless it's against South Africa or Australia.

DD: I did find it kinda weird that after a rugged Test, some of Wales' players were expected to front up again a few days later and play another high-intensity game of footy. Hard to be sympathetic when I'm guessing that this was all initiated by Warren Gatland and the Welsh union or at the very least signed off by them. It's hard to see where the benefit is for Wales, but hey they've gotta deal with that. What did you take away from that All Blacks performance? It seemed business as usual in all facets really, besides a few lapses that would usually happen in the first Test of the year.

WC: I'd suppose the benefit is in being able to give the second XV a run where they might not otherwise get a go. Other than that, yeah. Dunno, but it's fun for us. I thought the All Blacks were mostly good, which I know isn't quite good enough, but it's hard to say whether the differences were from the new-look team for just first test rust for the new season. I'm thinking your point is the one to go with, and we'll see that confirmed or not if they slip it into next gear in the next couple games. I mean, as dangerous as we looked when we were able to get Naholo within sight of the try line or a few other occasions, there was some sloppiness there, turning over possession a few too many times and particularly in their defence. You don't often see an All Blacks team missing that many tackles. What do you think is more relevant: the first 60 minutes in which we battled and trailed or the last 20 when we completely rolled them?

DD: Well as we know chief, it's all about searching for that complete 80 minute performance ... meh. The All Blacks will always be challenged in that opening period/first 60 minutes because they are the benchmark and opposing teams will be fired up to ruffle their feathers. I'd go as far as to say that the final 20 minutes is what really separates the All Blacks from the rest of the rugby world and some of that is thanks to the talent and impact that comes off the bench while some of it is thanks to a culture/attitude that only the All Blacks possess. That's why that final stanza of the first Test really stood out because it showed that the foundations are still there. Kieran Read said something along the lines of noting with his fellow leaders around that 60 minute mark that they needed to ramp up their energy - get up off the deck and clear away from rucks quicker etc. That's the difference, that's what makes the All Blacks the All Blacks and from the first Test, it's all still there.

WC: Yeah, it was a bit of a strength during the World Cup, that same thing. In fact it's been building for a while now so it's far from a coincidence that they're able to pull away in those latter stages - especially given what you said about the bench. That's probably the key point. Wales' bench is the bench because they aren't good enough to make the first XV. NZ's bench is that because it's stacked with impact players. Beauden Barrett would start for any other team in the world, including Wales. There's a reason he's coming on for the late stages as an All Black while Gareth Anscombe is kitting up on the Welsh bench opposite him. Ardie Savea comes on and suddenly there's that extra force running at you, Charlie Faumuina doing the same thing in the front row. And it's not just that these guys bring energy, they bring a bit of skill as well, throwing the ball around. There was this one try towards the end, it was the last try I'm pretty sure, where Perenara takes it quickly from the ruck, whips it to Crockett who gets it swiftly to Faumuina as his outside defender rushes in. Big Charlie sees the overlap, runs it straight with a couple dummies and then gives it to Nathan Harris for the try in the corner. Every one of them bench players, cowabunga.

DD: And you had Tuipolotu breaking the line, flipping a pass to Read to score under the posts. I think we'll see the All Blacks put together a more dominant opening stanza and then it'll be scary what happens later on in the second Test. Our Southern Hemisphere sweep of the first round of Test footy didn't quite eventuate, bloody Australia and South Africa huh?

WC: Haha, no. Not at all. I didn't catch any of the South Africa - Ireland game but I did for the Oz - England one and that's shaping up as a fascinating series. From Eddie Jones running around in pre-game practice to the way the Aussie media fully took the piss out of everything English rugby only to lose to them. I'm surprised that was the case though, I thought Australia had them for talent but they never found that next level. Loving the way Bernard Foley's been playing the last 12 months though. It's funny because all the build up about how many retirements the ABs have had and how different they could look... they're probably the most stable of all these teams as the new World Cup cycle begins.

DD: Oh that's a very interesting point there Wildcard because it's not like the All Blacks are the only team who has a bunch of players leaving after a World Cup right? Australia certainly have a few while South Africa seem to be fighting a much tougher battle as they have a similar situation on their hands, but don't quite have the talent underneath to limit the impact of the departures. Then you have a team like England who have been forced to switch things up because they weren't very good at the last World Cup and obviously a new coach was brought in. Whether it's my pride or a sixth-sense, I just can't believe that England will tip up Australia again this series. As you said, Foley is playing well and so is halfback Nick Phipps, there's Israel Folau who isn't too far behind Ben Smith in the battle to be the world's best fullback. Australia still feel like the second best international rugby team in the world, while England feels like a volatile team that could produce wins like they did against Australia and - even though we haven't seen it yet - could see their lacklustre goal-kicking style not quite get the job done.

WC: South Africa's is the slept in situation, isn't it? They gave us a tougher run at the World Cup than Aussie did, to my mind anyway, and if it weren't for their own changes then I'd be challenging your Australia = #2 assertion there. But that in context, can't really argue - and that's in the wake of the England loss. I mean, if Wales had beaten NZ then nobody would have been arguing that they're the new top dogs of world rugby, rather that they'd had one superb result. England do need to repeat the dose now, and they have two tests to do it. Which they can... But the same things that we fear in Australia are still there. Should be a fascinating series though, it has been so far, that's for sure. How many non-NZ Super Rugby teams would beat Wales, you reckon? Because I think we both talked down the effect of the NZ dominance of that comp on the international stuff (I definitely did) except that last week seemed to back it up with us winning and Oz and SAF both going down (admittedly to teams probably with the slight edge on Wales).

DD: That's a great theory to run with throughout our conversations and yeah, the opening round definitely made the case for a correlation between the lack of strength in Australia and SA's Super Rugby teams and their national team ... while the Chiefs beat Wales. It's also probably important to note that yes, Ireland and England could be better than Wales so it's still an extremely murky situation, hence I'm interested to see how it pans out. How are you feeling about this weekend's action? We're 2-2 so far with Argentina beating Italy, los Pumas face France this week so we can roll with this North vs South thingy.

WC: Mate I was gonna bring that up myself, should be a tougher test there, but I love them Pumas and watching Lionel Messi nutmeg a goalie even after he was flagged offside just for the hell of it (while Brazil got dumped out of the tourney) in pretty keen on all Argie sports these days. So while we had a roughie last week as a hemisphere, I wouldn't be shocked if the south indeed rises again with the sweep that was promised. I just wouldn't be surprised if it were 1-3 either, hard to say this early. I believe we've also got Scotland vs Japan too, with Japan now an honourable member of our gang. They're the skinny kid that we let hang around coz they're parents are rich and they don't get in the way so why not. It's worked out pretty well because all five games seem well matched... except for that All Blacks but that's about par for the course. For the record, I get the feeling the Scots will ruin the sweep.

DD: So the skinny kid that we let hang around 'cos he's rich, won't actually help us out? I've gotta agree in that I think we'll see everything even back out after a hectic opening round of Test rugby. The Aussies will be the symbol of my theory as I think Michael Cheika will extract vast improvements out of them throughout the week. I know Eddie Jones started the whole Japanese resurgence and all but I'd love to see Japan enjoy success without him ... and England lose. With that I bid you farewell, I also extent the arm of invitation for a Australia vs England viewing party. Feel free to have  a nap through the All Blacks test as dinner will be served at 9:20pm. Bon voyage.

WC: Well the skinny rich kid isn't really adding anything to the gang, but the teacher said to be nice to then so we did. Now he's gotta fight his own battle this week... you never know. Mate, I'll be there at 9.19, not a minute later. Looking forward to it. See ya then, champ.