2021 South Africa vs New Zealand All Blacks

The Rugby Championship: Thoughts, Lessons, and Questions (So Far)

The Rugby Championship: Thoughts, Lessons, and Questions (So Far)

South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina have all taken separate paths during the current Rugby Championships, but all have been compelling.

Sep 22, 2021 by Alex Rees
The Rugby Championship: Thoughts, Lessons, and Questions (So Far)

After the first four rounds of the Rugby Championship, we’ve seen the world champs lose their grip; the alpha dogs reclaim their dominance, and a sleeping giant awakens. With two more big weekends of rugby left for the Southern Hemisphere’s finest, we’re in for a treat—with plenty more questions to answer. 

As it stands now, the All Blacks lead the standings with a perfect 4-0 record, bolstered by a quartet of bonus point victories over the Wallabies and the Pumas—not including an additional victory over Australia in the first of three Bledisloe tests. 

South Africa remains in second place, but with two massive tests against the All Blacks looming, that spot doesn’t feel so secure—particularly considering the Boks are in the midst of a two-game losing streak following a pair of unsavory outings against the Wallabies. 

The Wallabies, much maligned over the course of Dave Rennie’s short tenure, finally showcased what this team can be with two fantastic wins over the reigning world champs. The emergence, or “re-emergence” of Quade Cooper has been a revelation for the Aussies. Once heralded as the next coming, Cooper has had a long and winding road back to test rugby and is reminding us all that he’s the top fly-half in Australian rugby. 

Finally, the Pumas remain in the cellar of the Rugby Championship and look unlikely to finish any higher than fourth. It can be said that Argentina is going through a bit of a rebuild, trying to find their identity for the future. The individual talent is always there for the Pumas, but at the moment they’re short on cohesion—as we get closer to the 2023 World Cup, these issues will be ironed out, but for now it’s tough sledding for the South Amercians. 

With four games done and dusted, here are three lessons we’ve identified thus far:

The All Blacks Are Coming Together

Following an eight-point win over the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe Cup test, ponderings once again circulated around the All Blacks that “the luster has worn off” or that they “are more vulnerable than ever.” After a 2020 that saw New Zealand win just 50% of its games, there was genuine concern for Ian Foster’s side moving forward. Boy was that an overreaction. 

As they so often do, the ABs withstood adversity to come out stronger on the back end, and now look as good as they have since before the British Lions series in 2017. Guys like Akira and Rieko Ioane, alongside David Havili and Ardie Savea are stepping up to become those irreplaceable contributors that have held together the legendary All Blacks teams of the past. Throw in the pure class of Retallick, Whitelock, Mo’unga, and Barrett, and this All Blacks unit is chock full of leadership and consistency. 

The Springboks Miss Cheslin Kolbe

While the absence of World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit is certainly noticeable, the man the Springboks are really missing is lightning rod Cheslin Kolbe. So much of South Africa’s game is predicated on defense, territory, and goalkicking, and while that’s a strong tactic, it can only take you so far on its own—just ask Wales. What differentiates South Africa from other defensive-minded teams, however, is their ability to manufacture tries when the game breaks down, or when there is a loose ball. And most of the time who is responsible for that? 

If you guessed Cheslin Kolbe, then we’re on the same page!

There’s not a player on the planet, 15s or 7s, who thrives in the open field quite like the former Toulouse superstar. If there was something missing for the Boks in the past two games against the Wallabies, it was that scintillating spark out wide that Kolbe provides. Whether he’s on the counter-attack, chasing kicks, collecting loose balls, or simply put in one-on-one situations on the wing, Cheslin Kolbe is constantly putting the other team under pressure. 

Should he make it back for the final two rounds of the Rugby Championship, this Boks team will more closely resemble the one that won the World Cup. 

The Wallabies Are Coming Back Around

World Rugby just doesn’t feel quite right when the Wallabies are down. In the same way that no one likes the Red Sox, but they still don’t want to see them struggling—it just makes things more interesting when they’re competitive. 

Well, good news. Australia appears to have come back around. A tough three-game sweep at the hands of the All Blacks looked worse on paper than it really did on the field; who’s to say the Wallabies don’t nip a game off the ABs if they stop passing the ball to the men in black?

This Australia team that first assembled under Dave Rennie was extremely young at the time, but one year later they’re starting to really come together while established veterans like Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, and Michael Hooper are providing the stability they need to express themselves. Oh, and did we mention Quade Cooper? The Electric Tasmanian is entering a new phase of his career, defined by smart, accurate, and composed execution. 

It’s good to see the green and gold get their confidence. 

Following the last two rounds, we’ll hopefully have answers to these burning questions:

Barrett or Mo’unga?

Will South Africa need to rebuild?

Is Quade Cooper the man for 2023?