Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes blogs on New Zealand's draw, downpours and England Women's World Cup win
Last Updated: 26/08/14 1:46pm
It was a case of unlucky 18 again for New Zealand. Not for the first time in recent years they have failed to win that 18th straight tier one Test match and not for the first time it has been their old Australian adversaries who have frustrated them.
Richie McCaw did his best to hide his disappointment post-match in Sydney. In drawing the match but losing the chance of a world record streak of Test wins, something special has slipped through their hands again – slipped being the word.
Conditions were against an All Black team at its best in dry conditions where it can bring its brilliant attacking game into play. Squelching around in Sydney did not suit (although Australia too has its share of dangerous operators on a dry ground).
There was undoubtedly a degree of levelling in terms of the pouring rain and the ever softening surface. Whether England will take encouragement from the fact that Australia found a way to hold New Zealand, or will worry about the undoubted development in their game and game management under Ewen McKenzie, is an interesting question.
Australia will face a tougher test in Auckland where New Zealand is a desperately difficult team to beat for various reasons.
In fact, Australia probably looked the more likely try scorers yet New Zealand was still the unluckier side. The Wallabies scrum craft deprived New Zealand of the advantage most likely to win the match; the wily ex-Wallaby front rower turned coach had his team holding on the engagement. Frequently New Zealand appeared to engage early as Australia held their distance. They pulled a slow one, so to speak, at the scrums.
Also, Nic White constantly fed the Australian scrum because it needed all eight sets of feet on the ground to push against the superior New Zealand scrum. Only once did referee, Jaco Peyper, penalise Australia for a crooked feed. The excellent Australian commentator, Greg Clark, described the free kick awarded as an “error”. It was anything but.
The Wallabies won the most significant strategic battle of the match by betting the house on referees doing what they usually do and ‘ticking the box’ for the assessor by showing they know the rules.
Be sure Steve Hansen will make this same point as vocally this week as Aaron Smith did to little avail during the game. Australia will face a tougher test in Auckland where New Zealand is a desperately difficult team to beat for various reasons.
Conditions in Pretoria were infinitely worse where South Africa and Argentina were subjected to some of the worst weather seen in this famous Test match arena for many years.
The Springboks scored a slick try in the first minutes of the game and that seven point margin saw them to a victory in which the possibility of bonus points for tries scored was always unlikely in the extreme.
Argentina has home advantage next weekend but, inspiring as their crowd can be, that will not help as much as conditions that clogged up the Springbok attacking machine.
One note of interest was the decision of South Africa to kick for the corner at 13-6 when a penalty would have taken them 10 points clear. The aggressive call misfired and Argentina twice came close to tries in the final minutes, leaving me with the impression that South Africa didn’t have Test match brains working quite as quickly as they would like.
World Cup winners
So much for the Southern Hemisphere – in the north it was women’s rugby to the Test fore as England beat a defiant Canada to win the Women’s World Cup.
Commiserations to the Canadians who nearly clambered back into the game when the tide seemed to be turning against them at 11-0 and congratulations to the England team that were, on the balance of 80 minutes, the deserving winners.
Rugby Europe Sevens, Manchester
SPECIAL OFFER! £5 off adult tickets (now just £10!) when you buy with Sky Tickets, plus no booking or delivery fees.
The tournament probably missed the presence of the New Zealand women in the final but that is the nature of tournament rugby. Ireland were hammered in the semi-final, failing to find the inspiration in consecutive games, but that victory not only eased England’s passage but also broke New Zealand’s recent women’s monopoly which was good news for the women’s game, if not The Black Ferns.
The competition was a success in terms of rising standards and increased media interest and, most of all, it was a triumph for the management of the team who have plotted their way meticulously to this victory.
Gary Street deserves his share of the recognition that will rightly be accorded to the women themselves, especially players like Maggie Alphonsi for whom this win was a pinnacle to one of the great women’s careers, and Emily Scarratt whose strength and stride marks her as one of the stars of the female game. Again, many congratulations to England.
Elsewhere, in France the European club scene began and I was fortunate enough to make trips to Bayonne and Montpellier. The slightly disappointing start of season gates we tend to see in the UK were not evident in France. The atmosphere in Bayonne was magnificent.
The Basque fans supporting their team as they have done for so long against the superstars of Toulon – the atmosphere of the occasion, the communal pride in the smaller towns adds the charms of the past to the money and glitz of the present as encapsulated by Toulon and their global gathering.
In the next few years, it will be fascinating as a neutral but worrying from the Test match perspective to see how far and fast the French Top 14 grows.
On a travel note, if you make it to Bayonne, taste the Basque Black Pudding. We hard-working broadcasters need the odd compensation for this life of graft…