Key Moments From Historic Rugby Championship

Key Moments From Historic Rugby Championship

The All Blacks return to the top of the mountain, the Springboks fall from their perch, and the Wallabies put together a string of form from days gone.

Oct 6, 2021 by Alex Rees
Key Moments From Historic Rugby Championship

The 2021 Rugby Championship was one to remember—we saw the All Blacks return to the top of the mountain, the Springboks fall from their perch, and the Wallabies put together a string of form we haven’t seen since 2015. 

The Pumas were dismissed both on and off the field, leaving questions to be answered as Argentina moves toward France 2023. 

In a competition chock full of surprises, killer performances, and late-game drama, it’s impossible to encapsulate all of the action into just one article. But in an effort to provide a snapshot of the best moments, we’ve tried our best below:

Quade’s Heroics

If there’s one thing you can point to in reference to Australia's four-game win streak to close out the Rugby Championship, it has to be the re-emergence of 33 year-old flyhalf Quade Cooper. 

Selected to play in his first test since June 24, 2017, Cooper slotted in to take the reigns against the World No. 1 team South Africa. Like a fine wine, age only seemed to make the superstar 10’s game even tastier—a well-controlled, confident performance saw Cooper and the Wallabies claim victory over the Springboks in a 28-26 thriller. 

But it wasn’t simply the win that grabbed headlines. It was the manner in which Australia won. Cooper’s performance could only be described as clinical—a perfect 8/8 off the kicking tee and a monstrous 45m kick on the angle to win the game on the final play, cementing his return as nothing less than heroic. Toss in another win over South Africa and two comprehensive victories over the Pumas, and smart money says Quade was the out-half of the tournament. 

Match-Winning Kicks

It’s hard to recall a Rugby Championship that came down to as many last-second finishes as the 2021 edition. Following a slower opening two rounds, the last four weekends of the competition saw three games come down to a high-pressure kicking situation for the win. 

First was the Quade Cooper kick over the Springboks, but following his clutch performance were similarly spectacular finishes from the All Blacks’ Jordie Barrett and South Africa’s Elton Jantjies. Jordie landed a 40+ meter kick from out wide to nip the Boks at the end of Round 5, before Jantjies returned the favor with a scintillating drop-goal in the final round to propel South Africa in front of New Zealand. Let’s not forget Jordie Barrett’s own massive kick in that same game to reclaim the lead before Jantjies sealed the deal with a simple penalty at the death to finish the deal. 

The Northern Hemisphere may be known for its kicking prowess, but the Southerners showed this Rugby Championship they have the stones to perform when kicking matters most. 

Ardie Finishes Off Wonder Try

The final game of the 2021 TRC between New Zealand and South Africa had been crackling with energy from the kickoff. This wasn't the up 'n’ under Boks we'd seen since the 2019 RWC, and they had rocked the more fancied All Blacks early with a spectacular try from Damien De Allende. But the Kiwis had shaken it off and looked to be taking advantage of the more open game, especially in the 28th minute, when we saw a contender for try of the season.

From a relatively non-threatening lineout just inside the South Africa half, the ABs hit the gas pedal on first phase with a quick lineout drop to scrum half Brad Webber, and a bullet pass to the dangerous Beauden Barrett at first receiver. Barrett recalled his days of successive World Rugby Player of the Year awards with a lightning step-and-go inside the rush defense of opposite number Handre Pollard. His acceleration took him back outside, past the grasping arm of Duane Vermeulen, but the big Number 8’s meaty paw got enough of the runner to send him stumbling. A nifty, falling, backhanded offload found the streaking Reiko Ioane, in from the left wing to create the midfield mismatch. The powerful winger trampled through the attempted tackle of Bok fullback Willie Le Roux and made ground straight up the gut toward the posts as the Bok cover closed in. Showing the admirable composure and clinical finishing that the All Black's are known for, Ioane tossed a one-handed pass back to his right to hard-charging skipper Ardie Savea to rumble in beyond the despairing grab of giant South African lock Eben Etsebeth. Savea added an exclamation point with a flying dive to slam the ball down for the try.

To the Boks eternal credit, they absorbed that blow, and several others, to come back at the death to win the biggest and best game of 2021 (so far).

The Pumas Photo Snub

While not a highlight by any means, SANZAAR's decision has to be filed under “What Were They Thinking?!”

It's been a long and tough road for the Pumas since they last played a home game in August of 2019. A combination of RWC 2019 and the subsequent COVID pandemic saw them become the ultimate road warriors, playing in Japan, Australia and Europe. Things looked good after a first ever win against the powerful New Zealand All Blacks was followed up with a couple of hard-fought ties with Australia, and a successful 1-0-1 series against Wales in Cardiff. But this year's Rugby Championship has not been so kind to Argentina, with successive losses to South Africa (2) and New Zealand (2), bringing them to the fifth round at 0-4. But, that run of poor form surely didn't warrant a shocking snub from SANZAAR and hosts Rugby Australia.

To promote the weekend's games, including the historic 100th Test between New Zealand and South Africa, the organizers set up a photo shoot with the captains of the respective teams. There was Michael Hooper of Australia, Ardie Savea of New Zealand and Siya Kolisi of South Africa. But Mario Ledesma of Los Pumas was nowhere to be seen. A hasty press release apologized for the gaffe, citing travel delays for the Argentinian party, but clearly feelings were hurt and Los Pumas went into the game vs Australia feeling somewhat dejected. They got no pity from a resurgent Wallaby outfit, though, taking another 27-8 beating on their way to a final 0-6 record in the tournament. It's an unforgiving world at the top of World Rugby.