Wallabies shake up world scene with brilliant victory
Australia’s apparently shaky World Cup aspirations enjoyed a massive upswing courtesy of their courageous 27-19 defeat of New Zealand in Sydney, which saw the Wallabies snare the Rugby Championship trophy. The All Blacks led 6-3 after a tense, try-less first half, but the Wallabies scored three tries to two in a second half that featured the sin-binning of rival halfbacks Aaron Smith and Nick Phipps to clinch their first win over their long-time conquerors since 2011.
Prop Sekope Kepu, who was also binned during the first half, broke through for the first try of the match in the 43rd minute soon after Smith was despatched for a high tackle on Adam Ashley-Cooper. But a dazzling try-double by All Blacks wing debutant Nehe Milner-Skudder – either side of Ashley-Cooper’s magnificent finish to score from a Matt Toomua kick – saw the visitors grab a 19-17 lead with 15 minutes to go.
Replacement halfback Nic White made a sensational contribution, however, burying a long-range penalty attempt to nudge the Wallabies back in front, before slipping through for a crucial try with eight minutes to go that ultimately proved the clincher.
Cheika’s line-up coming together
After seeming unsure of the make-up of his best XV so far this season, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika would be feeling confident he is close to settling on his top squad. The David Pocock-Michael Hooper experiment was a resounding success, thoroughly outpointing revered opposites Kieran Read and Richie McCaw. Veteran locks James Horwill and Dean Mumm, recalled at the expense of Will Skelton and Rob Simmons, were superb in an outstanding collective effort from the engine-room.
The scrum-base duo of Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps were unconvincing but remain Cheika’s most reliable option, although the displays off the bench of Brumbies pair Nic White and Matt Toomua may force a rethink. But Matt Giteau enjoyed a tremendous night against a disappointing Sonny Bill Williams, while Tevita Kuridrani at centre and the back-three of Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell is seemingly locked in.
Bruised ABs regroup for Bledisloe defence at Eden Park
The Rugby Championship crown was relinquished for the first time since 2011, but the All Blacks will be hell-bent on retaining arguably the bigger prize in the Bledisloe Cup – which they have held since 2003 – at Eden Park this Saturday. On the strength of their Sydney display, there’s plenty of work for the world champs to do after an error-riddled performance. Megastars Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter were poor, while their vaunted pack was simply outplayed. A few changes are likely, but Ben Smith should be fine to take his place at fullback after a head knock forced him off midway through the second half.
Eden Park has been a graveyard for touring sides and Australia has found it an especially hostile venue, failing to win in Auckland since 1986. The Wallabies will also be wary of a backlash after the events of last season, copping a 51-20 thrashing at Eden Park after the sides drew 12-all at ANZ Stadium.
There is also a sense of relief across the Tasman that the All Blacks have got a loss out of the way before the World Cup, while it should be noted that no team has won the Tri-Nations or Rugby Championship and the World Cup in the same season. The Wallabies won the last Tri-Nations in 2011 before being bundled out of the World Cup by the All Blacks at the semi-final stage.
Pumas snare euphoric triumph over Boks
The Wallabies were unable to claim the honour of the weekend’s biggest international Rugby upset, with Argentina grabbing an extraordinary 37-25 victory over South Africa in Durban. The Pumas scored four tries to three as they converted a shock 27-13 halftime lead into a historic win – their first over the Springboks in 19 attempts and their first away success in four years of playing in the Rugby Championship. Argentine winger Juan Imhoff finished with a hat-trick, while South Africa’s stunning defeat was compounded by the loss of captain Jean de Villiers for four weeks with a broken jaw.
Ireland continue impressive charge to World Cup challenge
Ireland cemented their status as one of the teams to beat at this year’s World Cup with a 35-21 victory over Wales as both heavyweight nations began their build-up to the tournament in Cardiff. The visitors scored five tries to Wales’ three, building a 25-7 halftime lead before going on with the job. Ireland is the favourite to top their pool, which includes Six Nations rivals France and Italy, while Wales have their work cut out reaching the quarter-finals as they attempt to negotiate a pool that features England and Australia.
Fiji down Samoa to clinch Pacific Nations Cup
Fiji reclaimed the Pacific Nations Cup with a 39-29 upset of arch-rivals Samoa in the Vancouver-hosted final, clinching a five-tries-to-three result after leading 17-9 at halftime. Fiji has an uphill battle converting the success into a World Cup quarter-final berth, however, after being pitched into the ‘pool of death’ alongside England, Australia and Wales. But Samoa will fancy their chances of advancing from their pool, which features South Africa and Scotland.